As told to Kathleen Guthrie Woods
Grieving is not a rational act, although I sense many of us try to treat it as such. “If I act ‘as if’…if I will myself to…today will be different!” And then we get hit with a fresh wave of loss and feel as though all of our sanity is washed away.
Ann B.* understands this all to well. Even though she and her husband made very reasoned choices about why they are childfree, she continues to be knocked down by the weight of her lost dreams and to feel ashamed of her sadness.
I get that. I think you do too.
Ann’s hopes for the new year may sound a lot like yours. If you’ve been in her shoes, I hope you’ll share some of your journey with her in the Comments. If you’re in her shoes today, I hope Ann’s words remind you that you are not alone.
I want to wish you all a Happy New Year!, but that doesn’t feel quite right. Instead, my wish for you is that this new year comes with healing moments of gratitude, grace, and peace.
LWB: Describe your dream of motherhood.
Ann: I always wanted to be a mother. I work in elementary school education. I am surrounded by children in my personal and professional life. Most of all, I wanted to hold to my husband’s child in my arms. It was not to be.
LWB: Are you childfree by choice, chance, or circumstance?
Ann: Chance and choice. By chance: I have a medical condition, which, when well-controlled, does not interfere with my ability to live a full and happy life. By choice: I decided that the risk to my health (of pregnancy, which may exacerbate my condition), the risk to a fetus of birth defects (caused by medication I take for the condition), and the risk to my husband (of potentially caring for an unwell wife and a baby with special needs) was too great. We consulted many doctors and, ultimately, realized that having children was too risky.
LWB: Where are you on your journey now?
Ann: I am in denial about the need to grieve the loss of motherhood. I feel ashamed of my sadness, which comes in waves. I don’t believe I deserve to grieve because this was my decision, and life does not owe me anything. I know that life is full of hard choices and varying circumstances. I choose to stay busy to keep the depth of sadness at bay.
LWB: What’s the hardest part for you about not having children?
Ann: It changes. I go through phases of mourning losses. For example, never experiencing pregnancy or childbirth, never naming a baby, never seeing my husband’s character strengths passed on, never feeling pride at a concert, and the lack of rituals/milestones that accompany children. Other times, I feel less significant, less loving, less generous, and less deserving than women who balance the demands of motherhood. I find myself apologizing and downplaying my life experiences in conversation with mothers.
LWB: What have you learned about yourself?
Ann: I’ve learned that feelings are illogical and can’t be controlled by planning, research, or intellectual reasoning. It’s possible to feel guilt and shame about something that I still believe was the right and responsible decision. I’ve learned that feelings of loss will keep resurfacing until I am brave enough to face them and feel them.
LWB: What’s one thing you want other people to know about your being childfree?
Ann: “I have the humanity, compassion, and time to be your village. I have skills, experience, and knowledge to support your parenting journey. Don’t underestimate my capacity to love or serve your family. Please trust me and let me lighten your load.”
LWB: How do you answer “Do you have kids?”
Ann: “No”. Sometimes, this is followed by an awkward beat of silence because I haven’t prepared a short, socially appropriate 10-word explanation. I don’t want to make others feel that they have caused offense. I know it is a form of small talk; it is a friendly, genuine inquiry. I want to honor their intentions and guide the conversation to a place that is comfortable for all. However, I’m not there yet. I feel pain every time I hear the question.
LWB: What is your hope for yourself this coming year?
Ann: I would like to face my grief and stop denying the pain. I would like to use the grieving process to move towards healing.
*We allow each contributor to choose another name, if she wishes, to protect her privacy.
What are your hopes for yourself in this coming new year? We can all benefit from hearing about your experiences, plus we’d like to support you. Please visit the Our Stories page to get more information and the questionnaire, and consider sharing your story with women who truly understand what you’re going through.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with her childfree status.