03 October, 2022

Complicated choices lead to childlessness

Sue at Childless by Marriage recently wrote a piece titled Childless by Marriage vs Childless by Infertility. She concluded that the main difference between being childless by marriage rather than by infertility was choice. I didn't comment on her post, (though I read and comment regularly on her blog, and would love to see her here), because this one felt very specifically directed towards people who see themselves as childless by marriage. I understand the comfort that can come from talking to people who understand, who have been through similar experiences, and I didn't want to disturb that. Rather, I thought I might explore this issue here, putting my slightly different point of view.

When my husband and I got married, I was young, just graduated from university. I wasn't prepared at the time to discuss children, because I was far from ready, and I couldn't and didn't guarantee I would ever be ready. My husband married me anyway. So he was childless by marriage for years. Little did we know that when I would be ready, my body wouldn't be.

I have heard this this a lot. Women who talk about how carefully they avoided pregnancy in their 20s, only to find in their 30s that they had difficulties conceiving or carrying to term. I don't know if I had tried to get pregnant when I was younger if it would have been possible. It's a pointless question now anyway.

So we then dealt with pregnancy loss and infertility. The issues were mine - I kept having ectopic pregnancies, and then after the trauma of my second ectopic, my body effectively shut up reproductive shop! I have an online friend who had a compatibility issue with her husband that caused their combined infertility. But in most cases, the issue usually lies with one partner or other (or is unexplained). So the other partner, in our case this was my husband, then became childless by marriage. He wasn't infertile, after all. He was childless only because he was married to me. I worried that he would leave me, then I worried that by staying with me, I was denying him the children he so wanted. I wasn't alone in these thoughts. I've seen many many women grapple with the same issue over the years. My husband made the decision to stay, in just the same way as any of the childless by marriage partners who also chose to stay with the one they love. He had a choice. 

If we had lived elsewhere, there might have been more decisions or issues to discuss. Should we go further with IVF options? Should we look at donor egg, or surrogacy? These weren't issues in New Zealand, where assisted reproduction is carefully regulated. But at each step, there are choices to be made. Should we try? How much do we spend?  And at each step, there is a risk of opposing views, or differing limits, and doors closing.

We discussed adoption. Briefly. We had differing views on this. But I knew that I wanted my husband in my life more than I wanted any potential adopted child, knowing how difficult adoption can be. So did our roles switch then? Was I childless by marriage? Potentially. I might have had a choice, but it didn't feel like one. There was no question for me. I chose my husband.

So, we don't have children. Infertility/pregnancy loss is just one of the reasons for that. Anyone who has been through this can see that it can be very complicated. Whether someone is childless by marriage, chance, or circumstance, or all of the above, there will be a list of reasons why they don't have children.  They probably don't know for sure if infertility might have been one of those reasons - after all, none of us assumed infertility would be a problem until it was. We assume we are fertile until evidence is presented that proves otherwise. Does it matter? Not really, because none of these choices feel like choices. Those who are childless by marriage might choose love, and not having children becomes a consequence of that, rather than being their first choice. Life is very complicated, and the issue of choice is really complicated too. I guess it's why I don't really like labels, because things are never quite as clear-cut as they might seem.

I don't feel that how we got here is as important as what our lives look like now. We have all faced difficult decisions and difficult circumstances, and will continue to do so in this pronatalist society. Which is why I feel real solidarity with those who are involuntarily childless for whatever reason. And hope that we can all live full and happy No Kidding lives.

1 comment:

  1. Oooh, so thought-provoking. I always struggle with idea of "choosing" to be childfree. I guess in the end I chose to stop pursuing, but it was after all the choices I had made to try so hard to have children turned up fruitless. I ran myself into the ground with the choice to keep trying for children. So it seems disingenuous when it's like, "I chose not to have children" because it came out of having no choice.

    I hear you on the 20s vs later piece -- in my extended family so many of my cousins had babies super young, like 18-22 young, and then not so much later. It makes life look very, very different though, so like you said, not worth thinking on too much because what good is being briefly fertile if it's not the time?

    I agree. Life is super complicated. There are so many twists and turns and ultimately we choose those twists as they come based on what's thrown at us, which we don't choose.

    Great post!