As a childfree woman, not by choice, I’ve experienced pity and sympathy when sharing my story. And while I get that many can’t fathom my experience, I don’t get how it makes me pitiful. Instead, there’s this expectation that I should feel broken and empty. Or that maybe I didn’t want it enough and gave up. Additionally, I’ve had discussions with people that worry about me becoming unfulfilled in life or not settled, which is linked to my childlessness. These assumptions are insulting and show how little others understand childfree people, not by choice.
I’m a childfree woman, not a bitter harpy
Despite what many think, being an infertile childfree woman doesn’t equate to bitterness. Yes, there was a time when I wanted to be a mother. And, the majority of my actions and life decisions were based on my pursuit of becoming pregnant and building a family. However, after years of struggling with infertility and endometriosis, I’ve learned that the traditional path to motherhood isn’t in the cards for me.
Realizing this was painful, and it hurt. There was a lot of anger and frustration, and I grieved. Honestly, I grieved throughout my struggles with infertility, and after my ovary removal surgery, it reached a fever pitch. I cried many tears and was angry about how things worked out. But eventually, my grief ran its course, and I got to a point where I had to let go.
So, I let go and worked on healing and finding peace by creating a new normal for my life. It wasn’t easy, but I’m happy to say that I’m joyful and content with myself, my marriage, and life. And, I don’t have to fake my way through it while I secretly harbor resentment towards women with children or fall apart whenever I see a child. I have no ill feelings towards women with children. But, I feel I have less to offer them in terms of friendship and feel it’s challenging to relate because our lives are pretty different from one another.
And while seeing children isn’t triggering for me, I wonder how life would be different if I did have them. I think this is natural and normal, and I’ll probably always ponder this. But, I can maintain this open curiosity without feeling grief or bitterness and still preserve my joy as a childfree woman, not by choice.
Not pursuing fertility treatments doesn’t mean I gave up
Life is about choices, and I stand firm on the fact that I chose what was best for me. The decision not to pursue fertility treatments was a joint decision between my husband and me. And, I can confidently say we made this decision after weighing all our options.
From a health standpoint pursuing fertility treatments would pose a risk and increase the likelihood of issues with worsening endometriosis and recurrence of fibroids and cysts. Secondly, if you didn’t know, fertility treatments are expensive. Despite how easy it is to recommend IVF as a fertility option, it’s not easily accessible. Fertility treatments cost upwards of $15,000 or more per cycle. And once you consider the success rate of assisted reproductive therapies such as IUI and IVF, you begin to calculate the mounting costs and the financial impact.
Another reason these treatments weren’t for us was due to the mental and emotional trauma I had been through with endometriosis and my surgery. I wasn’t in a good space mentally or emotionally to pursue motherhood naturally or artificially. Unbeknownst to my family, I’d struggled with many chronic pain and health issues for much of my life. And to finally live in a body that didn’t hurt every day was freeing. The thought of voluntarily undergoing a process as intense as IVF didn’t seem like a good idea considering where I was mentally and emotionally post-surgery.
These are the main reasons we chose childfree after infertility, and I don’t regret it. Prioritizing my health as a childfree woman over doing what was expected of me and pushing beyond my boundaries and limitations has saved me from mental anguish and regret. So, I don’t feel I gave up but made wise decisions about what my husband and I needed and determined that what we have now is enough.
It’s possible to have an identity and be a childfree woman
Frequently motherhood is a defining characteristic for a person as though it’s their sole purpose for existing. However, I believe your identity shouldn’t be built on an assigned role or title. As complex creatures, it’s vital to know that there’s so much more to us than our roles to others.
And, while I’m an infertile childfree woman, my identity isn’t built on these rather other characteristics such as my personality, integrity, passion, and capacity to love others. Additionally, my purpose is built on my desires and goals for what I want to get out of life. So there’s limitless space for self-discovery and growth, making my life far from empty and purposeless.
Furthermore, having a child-free marriage means my husband and I get to prioritize our relationship in a way that wouldn’t be possible if we did have children. We have goals and passions as a couple that we can pursue at abandon. And, we can devote our spare time to building up our marriage and strengthening our bond as a couple. I’m in no way insinuating that it’s impossible to do this if you’re married with kids. However, being in a childfree marriage does allow the allocation of more time and resources in contrast to the traditional family dynamic.
My life didn’t end; it’s just different
Perhaps the biggest thing I want to clarify is that being a childfree woman not by choice hasn’t ended my life. But, there was a point in my journey when I did believe my life was over. At the height of my grief, I felt bitter and resentful. But, I fully intended to pursue motherhood against all odds. And, I did believe that my identity was built on whether I was a mother or not.
But once I moved past the grief and pain brought on by infertility and endometriosis, I quickly learned that all these things were false. It was fear of the unknown because we don’t talk about infertility, and we don’t talk about childlessness after infertility. Instead, we like to focus on the ideal happy ending with the rainbow baby. We forget that other happy endings are allowed, like those that end without a baby.
And, these endings aren’t even endings. They’re beginnings because the future is wide open. You get the opportunity to make your life into whatever you want. So, whether you travel, transition to your dream career, or settle into quiet, simple living, it’s all good.
So, please don’t pity me or assume I’m harboring some secret brokenness. I’m not. I’ve learned that there’s more to life than motherhood. And, deciding to step away from pursuing it was best for me. It’s possible to find fulfillment, joy, happiness, and love outside of mothering a child.
References & Suggested Reading
The New York Times They Didn’t Have Children and, Most Said, They Don’t Have Regrets July 23, 2018, by Claire Cain Miller
Elle, The Motherhood Rejection: “We Didn’t Need A Baby To Make Us Feel Complete” July 14, 2020 by Emma Gannon
Vanity Fair, Life without Children: Some by Chance, Some by Choice August 30, 2021 by Anne Lora Scagliusi
Thank you, this is the most insightful article I have read on this subject. I am child free, and it is a complex story, not about infertility, but complex nonetheless. Thank you for creating this nuanced, and clear portrait of life without children, not by choice, or maybe kind of sort of by choice.
I’m discovering that childlessness is a nuanced topic for each person. It’s so sticky and messy. I’m glad that you enjoyed the article.