Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

The Shame of Childlessness July 31, 2010

Recently, a friend confided that shame plays a big part in her life because of her childlessness. She told me:

“I think my Mom is embarrassed that I never had children, especially since there is “no good reason” why I didn’t.   It somehow reflects on her–her nurturing, her mothering skills, etc.  Instead of seeing it purely as my choice, there is a negative connotation for choosing not to have kids.  I think it is the same negative aspersion put on women who never marry. What is wrong with her?”

If you’re childless-by-choice, have you experienced this kind of shame? Are your family and friends supportive of your decision?   What about if you’re childless-not-by choice? Does shame play a role in your life too?

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9 Responses to “The Shame of Childlessness”

  1. vicki s Says:

    I’m. CNBC and shame is an issue for me. Maybe its more a self-imposed shame but I do feel it from loved ones from time to time.

  2. Aja Gold Says:

    Definitely feel the same. Lately, I’ve had a hard time visiting my parents. Feeling horrible for not living up to the expectation of having grandchildren for them.

  3. Kel Says:

    It was my choice and my family/friends were not supportive. They didn’t pressure me but in time comments slipped here and there, I’ve been told they didn’t understand the purpose of my life. People with children seem to declare this heightened sense of morality….people “like me” are selfish on some level, or there is something wrong lurking.

    Some of these comments were fairly devastating to be honest. These friendships dissolved over time. I’m not ashamed but I have felt embarrassed, frustrated and embarrassed.

  4. happynenes Says:

    Yes, definitely have felt ashamed.

    I feel like a lot of times people assume that if you are infertile, you must have done something to be infertile. (I STRONGLY disagree with this.) But I’ve overheard this kind of thing a lot and it really steams me. People can be so stupid.

    Sometimes when I tell my story to people, I feel like they are thinking I must have slept around a lot or partied to hard or SOMETHING dissolute in order to have such a reproductive catastrophe.

  5. Jennifer Gill Says:

    Shame is a big factor for me as well; in fact, it may be the biggest reason I am childless. While I haven’t had a completely debauched and wanton life (perhaps by some standards), I have been the “black sheep” of the family, and the main reason I’ve not actively pursued children is that I’ve never felt good enough. So being childless feels like a judgment, and the irony is that I’m the one who sentenced myself. I was never pressured to have children; it was actually quite the opposite. I wanted most of all to be a mother, but was encouraged to be independent and career-minded. That never really took, but didn’t have me hunting down the kind of men who wanted a family, either. Not until later, anyway, when they found younger women to settle down with. Family gatherings are very hard; both my younger siblings have children (both of my man’s younger siblings do too), and while I know I am loved, it seems that the focus is more and more on the people (the grandkids) with a future. And rightfully so. There seems to be an interminable string of birthdays and holidays that nobody can understand why we’re not first in line for with a culinary masterpiece to share – you know, because they do it all AND bring up children. The hardest part is not actually being menopausal, so there is still the damnable “possibility” that people feel they must encourage – sure, it’s conceivable (haha) for a human to have a child at 45, but what of the risks for the baby? And is it really fair to even think of becoming poor, aging parents? In an already overpopulated world, how is that not selfish?

  6. Lindsey S. Says:

    I definitely have the shame from my family, but I wonder like Vicki if some of mine is self imposed. I have never really enjoyed being around babies or little children. And knowing this my family used to tease me about it, which shamed me even more. My Mom’s teasing has anger behind it, so I get the message loud and clear that I have not met her expectations. Now that I am older – 54, and a great grandchild has just arrived, I don’t feel like the spotlight is on me anymore. I have done some work to understand why I am not comfortable around little children, but the knowledge did not change how I felt or do away with the shame.

  7. nktrygg Says:

    with over 9 billion people in the world, there is no shame to not contributing to over population

  8. mina Says:

    yes definitely. A lot of that is self imposed but it gets mixed up with reactions from other people.

    My experience is comparable to Jennifer Gills. I was with a man for 10 years. there were some medical issues (on his side). our sex life wasn’t great but i thought the relationship was. I went to university and i wanted to apply what i’d learned. I wouldn’t call myself career minded but i want to do something interesting in life and be dedicated to the work i do. I didn’t want to shock employers by falling pregnant shortly after starting work for them and since i changed jobs a few times after a short stay after uni, i waited some more with the baby-making. At 33 we gave it a start. Now i’m 38. My boyfriend declared last year he didn’t really want children, never wanted any, just went along with me and anyway wasn’t sure about the relationship anymore.
    we split up 2 months ago.
    So i’m 38 with no child and not even a partner.

    What people around us don’t seem to understand is that infertility is not a fact – and one to be simply amended with medical help – but a PROCESS.

    Which leads to reactions like, “oh you’re a typical modern woman you only thought of kids at a late age” (33?? what???).
    Which in turn makes me feel like total looser. Because during the process, which lead up to me being childless by circumstance, there were so many instances where i COULD have made another choice. And i can keep asking myself forever “what if….” (i had left that man earlier/had met another man/had started babymaking earlier/he would have behaved differently/blahblahblah).

    But i didn’t because there is no real choice in it. Nobody expects to experience something like i/we did. So you don’t make your so-called “choices” accordingly.

  9. lmanterfield Says:

    Thank you all for sharing your thoughts so honestly and eloquently. I’m proud of you for speaking out. xx


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