This blog post was written by Merle Bombardieri, LICSW Private Practice, Lexington, former Clinical Director of National RESOLVE. Author of The Baby Decision.
I have found that mistaken assumptions about childfree living after infertility add to the feeling that their future happiness is riding on this very cycle. So I am offering this article not only to people who are currently considering choosing childfree, but also to provide a little relief, to take that edge of desperation off each cycle of treatment.
If you are reading this only because your partner has upset by bringing up this choice, accurate information can temper your feelings of threat, anger, and terror, so you can consider this and other alternatives with clearer eyes.
Myth #1 If we wound up childfree after infertility we would be dooming ourselves to misery. Without a child, we would always suffer the way we suffer now. Life would feel empty and bitter.
Reality: Childlessness itself is only a fraction of your current unhappiness, assuming you’re like most people going through infertility. Other sources of your current troubles would disappear if you stopped trying: Life wouldn’t be on hold any more. You wouldn’t be living with the uncertainty that makes it hard to accept a promotion, plan a major trip, or take on creative projects. Your months wouldn’t be divided into slices of hope and despair once you’re off the roller coaster. You would enjoy new bursts of energy when treatment and grief are no longer exhausting you. You and your partner would have time to enjoy your relationship in this very moment rather than planning a future cycle.
Even better, were you to make this decision, once you and your partner progressed through disappointment, grief and acceptance, you would feel more or the hope and joy you had before infertility. You would not only thoroughly enjoy the good things already present in your life but also find new activities and relationships that added pleasure and meaning to your life.
Myth # 2 We will be completely cut off from our friends who are having kids. We will have nothing in common with them.
Reality: Not all parents want to talk about diapers and hang out only with people with young families. They may still enjoy socializing with you, and value the intellectual stimulation of hearing about your life and work. You can also see them without their children if you see them when they have a babysitter or if they are working parents, have lunch with them near the office.
Also, in “Childfree Living the Road not Taken” (provide link to recent RESOLVE ENTRY ON CHILDFREE. Lynn Wood) says that when your friend’s children are a little older, you’ll have more in common with them again.
Myth # 3 We will have no children in our lives. We won’t have a sense of family. We’ll be clueless about the younger generation. There will be no one to take care of us when we’re old.
REALITY: You can choose to spend as little or as much time with children through family, friends and volunteer work. You may find that once you have made your decision, you enjoy nieces and nephews or friend’s children for the unique little beings they are, no longer a reminder of the child you were trying to have.
Regarding family experiences, you can enjoy holidays with your own extended family, with friends or neighbors inviting you to celebrate with their families. You can create your own “found” family celebrations with other people who are childfree, or whose children are grown.
What about old age? Consider investing the money you would have spent on your children so that you will be able to afford the best options for aging at home, high quality assisted livings. You could also to hire geriatric case managers, social work consultants who are superb advocates who offer a treasury of referrals. And you may find that nieces and nephews or other young people you have mentored or been friends with will step into the adult child role, when you need them. Church, temple, or other communities you are involved in add more security and support.
Myth # 4. We’ll look stupid if after all we’ve been through to have a child, we don’t pursue adoption or other options.
REALITY. People will understand that you made the right choice. If much that mattered to you about parenting was having a child who looked like you and carried on both of the family genes, or you longed for pregnancy and nursing, compassionate people can understand that you could try hard for your original dream, then choose to be a family of two once your fertility quest came to an end.
MYTH # 5. We’ll never get over our grief. And if my partner forced this choice on me, I won’t be able to forgive him or her.
REALITY. As long as you’re willing to face it, you will adapt to the loss. You’ll work your way through anger, sadness and letting go of the child you won’t have. A psychotherapist specializing in infertility can help you do this in a few focused sessions, if this isn’t something you do on your own. If you’ve agreed to the childfree choice only because your partner has essentially imposed this on you, this is going to require a lot of love and hard work before you reach acceptance and a new couple equilibrium. Even if you two agree that childfree is the best possible decision for you as a couple, it is a devastating loss for one of you. You may share grief about not having a biological child who shares your genes, but one of you is going to be angry at the other and grieving the fantasy child who might have resulted from an alternative path. A psychotherapist specializing in infertility can guide you toward healing. The partner who wanted to be childfree must express deep gratitude to you and willingness to support you and make meaningful sacrifices for you. For example, a wife might say, “I want to spend Saturdays with my niece and nephew, and I want your support.”
Couples who are willing to do the psychological work find that life becomes enjoyable again. Despite the suffering and disappointment they have been through, they take advantage of the closeness and quality of their relationship (uninterrupted by the stresses of child care) —a benefit reported by most childfree people.
- “Childfree Decision Making” available for free at resolve.org. This is an article I wrote while I was Clinical Director of RESOLVE, applying the concepts from my book The Baby Decision (New York: Rawson/Scribner’s 1981, 2nd edition to be released in November 2014) specifically to those facing a childfree choice after infertility.
- Sweet Grapes by Jean and Michael Carter