Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

The Shame of Childlessness April 23, 2011

This post was originally published on 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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18 Responses to “The Shame of Childlessness”

  1. Valerie Says:

    I’d say I sometimes feel shame – but I try to beat it back with a stick! Luckily my family is pretty loving and supportive. But sometimes I have these vague feelings that seem to come from nowhere. I feel like I’ve had to fight to finally get to the point of believing that I am a whole person who is equally valuable and can hold her head high.

  2. Aja Gold Says:

    OMG! Absolutely! Shame is a huge part of how I view myself now. The shame of not being a good wife and daughter. I missed a family function recently because, previously, an uncle had jokingly asked “so when are you going to have a baby? You’re 40!” Hearing that question once is hard enough, but when he did again – I almost broke down in tears. The insensitivity was excruciating. I know that shame is an emotion that comes from inside myself. But it’s really hard to find a world that doesn’t foster it.

    • Tracy Says:

      I’ve decided that the next time someone tells me I’d better start trying to have a baby now or I won’t be able to soon, I’ll say something like, “You’d better start trying to lose some weight now or it will never come off”. They are both equally insulting. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have the guts to say it, however I might say something like (if I think the person is capable of sensitivity): “I’m not sure if you’re aware, but that question is like saying, I need to lose 10 pounds, or I spend too much on clothes”. People just don’t think before they open their mouths.

  3. Kathryn Says:

    Yes, for myself, my husband, my MIL. With my own family, no, because i haven’t much connection to them anyway.

    I know how much i want children, my husband wants children, and i know my MIL deeply desires to be a grandma, too.

    Ah, well, we all have things in this life we bear.

  4. Jill H. Says:

    Personally I have no shame for my decision, it is the thing I’m most proud of. And MY family is super-supportive. My mom and my aunts especially, they’re with me 100%. My mom told me about the Essure operation, which I’m so glad I got.
    But my husband’s family cannot stand us not having a baby. It’s hard for me to spend time with them, knowing how they feel. And every time I’m with them they talk about all the grandchildren their friends are having. It’s clear that I am crushing their dreams by not giving them a grandchild and making someone to carry their fantastically special genes into the mess the rest of this century will be. Everyone in their family knows it and holds it against me too. But he’s on my side and we’re staying married.
    The hardest part is where we live. My family is all far away, but his parents live 3 miles from us and we have to see them all the time. One of my mother-in-law’s friends volunteers at the same place I do and the hateful way she acts to me is so obvious. I have to ask for different jobs to do, with different people, not baby-boomer aged ladies who’s greatest achievement is the kids they’ve raised and the grandkids they’re getting now. I always look forward to someday getting away from these people, it might not be til they’re dead though.

  5. Rach Says:

    not so much shame but definitely failure – failure at not being able to do something so apparently natural – my body is a failure, i’m’ a failure as a wife, a daughter and as a woman…

  6. Lee Cockrum Says:

    I am childless-not-by-choice. My husband has a child by a previous marriage. Although he loves her, he was not sure he wanted kids, but his ex didn’t really care about that. Anyway, I don’t feel ashamed, but sad, angry, envious etc, those feelings are strong.

    Right now I am looking forward to getting past Mother’s day for another year.

  7. Mali Says:

    For a long time I was childless-by-choice, then ultimately, it was not-by-choice. Shame was there (more from the way other people treat you than the way I view myself) but isn’t so much now. As one of the others said – I try to beat it off with a stick, and view my situation now as one of survival, which is a badge that should be worn with pride.

  8. Steph Says:

    I definitley have shame/anger, particularly with my mother-in-law. We chose to keep our fertility choices to ourselves. For a most of our marriage, we were childless-by-choice, and thought when we were ready we would start trying, we felt it was very personal, and didn’t involve either of our families in our choices. 3 years ago my MIL took it upon herself to tell us it was “time for us to start a family, you are getting older and you will regret your choices”…she went on to tell us we were shallow and asked “what kind of memories are we really creating”…(she’s crying while saying all of this)..needless to say I was speechless, but did tell her to mind her own business. I can’t help but feel judged every time I see her, still…

  9. Jenny Says:

    Not shame, but failure, as Rach said before me. My infertility is of unknown cause, and doctors can’t find a thing wrong. I feel like my body has failed me, I’ve failed my husband and family, and I’m helpless to do anything about it. I don’t feel like this all the time, but it creeps up on me now and then.

    • Steph Says:

      Jenny, this is a separate topic in itself but, have you had your thyroid and thyroid antibodies checked? when I hear women talk about unknown causes, this is something some dr.’s fail to test for.

  10. Aja Gold Says:

    The last thing my thereapist asked me (before I decided to stop going) was something to the effect of “don’t you feel better at least knowing that you tried (fertility treatments)?” My answer, NO! Because now I know that it’s because of me that we don’t have kids. Before trying, I could believe that it was both of us, or bad timing. Now I know that it’s my body that couldn’t nurture the embryos (they were doing fine for the first few days in the petri dish). That’s when shame hits like a tsunami.

    • Valerie Says:

      Hey Aja, reading what you write I hurt. I know it’s easy to feel like a failure, but don’t let an imperfect body make you feel as if you have something to be ashamed of. It’s not because of “you” that you can’t have kids – it’s because of your imperfect body that “you” happen to live in. We are not our bodies. We can be whole, worthy and wonderful people – even if our bodies are imperfect.

  11. Jill H. Says:

    I’m sorry I commented here. Women who are proud of not adding another consumer, precious lil #7-billion, to this mess of a century are clearly not who this discussion was meant for.
    Someone too good to give the next 80 years to her innocent child should find another blog to talk with, sorry! I wish I could delete my comment up there.

    • Kathryn Says:

      I don’t know why you’d say this. This site is largely for women who wanted children but did not have them, but it is not exclusive to that. Many of the posts focus simply on living childless/childfree. No one is critical of your response.

      I’m sorry your inlaws make life difficult for you. Even when folks make this choice (to live without children) other folks tend to make it hard for them in this society.

  12. CJ Says:

    My reasons for childlessness are numerous. I am the product of a single mother and I have no illusions regarding how ‘great’ children are. Growing up, I got the impression my mother would have been a much happier person if she’d never had kids. She says she doesn’t regret having us, but looking back, I think that if she’d had more options open to her in the 60’s, she would have taken them rather than marrying, having two kids, and then divorcing and having to be the tired, stress-out sole breadwinner for those children. There was always the understanding that if I had a child, I would have to make some kind of contingency plans in the back of my mind, because there would always be the potential for ending up a single parent with limited resources and the constant fear of losing my job. I saw what parenthood did to my mother and it wasn’t pretty.

    Then there are the health problems I have, the crappy genetics in my family and the possibility that my children would be born with a propensity for an illness that is currently treatable but incurable (Type 1 diabetes, Chron’s, severe asthma, various autoimmune diseases like severe psoriasis) thanks to my awful genes. I’m not sure I could look at my child in the doctor’s office after a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes and tell him ‘I knew there was a chance you’d end up with an illness that will make you dependent on a very expensive drug that has to be injected several times a day, but I was selfish and wanted biological offspring all the same. I’m really sorry’. My father unwittingly passed Type 1 diabetes on to me and it’s been a nightmare to try to live with this condition over the last 30 years. I can give my father a pass because there was no way of knowing, in ’69, the chances of passing on this kind of illness to one’s offspring. Given what we know now of the genetics behind Type 1, there is no way in hell I would even take a remote chance of having a child that would suffer from the same illness. I can’t bring myself to take that chance and possibly sentence a kid to a life of shots, insulin reactions and the lifestyle that has to go with the treatment protocol for Type 1 diabetes. I just couldn’t do that to a child. Maybe my decision smacks of eugenics and I get varying reactions from people when I tell them this, from the admiring ‘Wow, that was a brave/gutsy/good thing to do’ to the appalled ‘Why would you deny life to someone just because they might have a disease? You’re playing God here!’. I don’t really have an answer to that other than ‘Because I can and because I believe it to be the best, most educated course of action.’

    Finally, in 2009, Nature herself settled the issue of whether I and my husband should have biological children. My periods had been as regular as clockwork, thanks to the Pill, for over two decades. That changed in 2008, with the onset of pre-menopause. Type 1 women go though it earlier than their non-diabetic peers, as the condition ages you internally. My periods became very heavy, then irregular, then began to last for months at a time. My boss at the time, a man, was unsympathic when I tried to explain why I was rushing to the bathroom at work and bleeding through my clothing twice a day. I became anemic. Trips to a gynecologist resulting in an attempt to fix the problem with a different pill (made the problem worse), an IUD (painfully inserted and painfully rejected twice by my body) and finally, the decision to remove my uterus and fallopian tubes to end the constant blood loss. After surgery, my doctor explained they had found a cyst the size of a fist. Given the position of my uterus (would have made getting pregnant difficult at best and carrying a child dangerous), the size of the cyst, and the underlying issue of trying to have an issue-free pregnancy while being a Type 1 diabetic, having a child physically wasn’t in the cards. If making a decision based on my health, the potential health of the baby and the financial strain that would result from having two Type 1 diabetics in the family is ‘playing God’, then so be it. Better that than having no say at all.

    Incidentlaly, I love not having to endure periods any longer. Just thought I’d throw that out there for any women considering the procedure who wonder what life on the other side of a hysterectory is like. Lvoe not having to tote around the tampons, pads, cleaning cloths and other period paraphenalia that goes with having a menstrual cycle. I also love not having to down an extra pill every day to try to regulate said cycle. I’ve wondered, aloud sometimes to my husband, if not having to consider all of this stuff is something men take for granted. He just looked at me quizzically and asked ‘you women have to think about this stuff ALL of the time?’ I took that as a ‘yes’ answer. He’s a bit clueless sometimes, but I do love him.

    Inevitably, once I tell people that I’m not having children biologically, they usually say ‘Well, you can always adopt’. Adoption brings with it another host of issues that we have neither the money nor the willingness to bare our lives to the state in order to obtain a child. For instance, my husband is a gun collector and that alone might make an agency reluctant to place a child with us, even though all of the firearms we have are kept under lock and key. We also keep parrots (three Severe macwas who aren’t exactly thrilled with small children trying to touch them and will bite) and we might have to give up our pets. Since we adopted two of them from a rescue organization with the understanding that we would be their ‘forever home’, would adopting a child negate a previous commitment we’d already made to take care of another couple of vulnerable creatuers with special needs?

    Do I feel shame about not having kids? Not as much as I thought I would feel. I feel no shame about not forcing a kid to live with an incurable illness. I feel no shame about not contributing to the overpopulation of our species, given the shortage of resources we humans are going to face in the next century. My yonger sister already has two girls and my younger borther and his wife are trying for kids, so I consider my role in life to be ‘zany Aunt C.J.’ and lavish gifts and love on my nices and nephews, to enjoy the fun parts of being a parent without all of the tedious clean-up and worry and reponsibility that goes along with it. I do sometimes consider the problem of whether or not I’ll be cared for in my old age, but then again, I have an illness that might make that worry a moot point and even biological parents never get a guarantee that their children will care about them once they’re old and gray. I’m not someone that should have kids, period and I’m at least grateful that I’m able to make that choice rather than having the decision made for me by someone else. In an ideal world, I would have had a loving supportive husband in my 20’s, I would have been free of a terrible illness that complicates everything I do and I would have the resources needed to raise a child to be a productive, healthy citizen without having to also work a full-time job and pull another 8-hours of housework a day on the ‘second shift’. But we don’t live in an ideal world and my decisions about my own reproduction are based on the fact that the world is unfair, sometimes cruel and often unpredictable. No women should be made to feel shame because she made her reproductive decisions, either to have children or to remain childless based on the realities of the world and her own personal circumstances.

  13. chax Says:

    i got married knowing well that my husband was declared sterile by doctors, i had a deep love for him and he also did, but the pressure from outside is so much, they make me feel worthless, when women talk of their children they mock me,that is really so so painful.anyway all those who are childless lets enjoy our marriages as we live once,our marriages are the only source of happiness so lets enjoy and rise above the shame.i love u all.

  14. Joe B Kimbro Says:

    There is no shame. If God hasn’t left you the time and person to have children with then it isn’t your fault. It just isn’t your time to have a child. God wants children in the world which is a reason why he has tried to attach shame to those that dont want to have kids with an ugly girlfriend etc. Maybe if he put a nice girl or boy into their life things would have been different. I don’t see any shame in you, in fact, I think overpopulation is a real issue now-a-days. No shame needed. With Love,

    Joe the childless and will be childless without shame


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