Childless by Marriage: A powerful book on love and sacrifice

by sockii

Author Sue Fagalde Lick discusses a rarely talked about group of childless individuals: those who wanted children but their partners don't.

There are many different ways a woman can find herself childless in life.

A woman might by childless by infertility, and choose not to undergo demanding and expensive fertility treatments—or those treatments failed her. Adoption may or may not be a viable option for that woman as well.

A woman might be childless by circumstance—not finding a suitable partner with whom to parent a child during her fertile years, or not being in a stable enough life situation to be a parent.

A woman can also be childless by choice, or "childfree". She knows she doesn't want to be a parent or wouldn't be a good one, and is happy with that decision, feeling no regret or remorse for it.

But a woman can also find herself childless by marriage, a situation which is much less talked about in the media today than infertility or the "childfree lifestyle". A woman may wish to have children but falls in love with someone who doesn't. Maybe he's had children in a past relationship and has no desire for more with a new spouse. Maybe he is the one affected by infertility and isn't interested in seeking treatment. Or, perhaps he has known all his life he does not want to be a parent, and he will not change his mind for a partner.

Being childless by marriage is perhaps more common than you think, because it is so rarely discussed, so taboo a subject still to talk about today. A woman who finds herself in this situation can struggle with many different emotions and conflicts, particularly if she did not know of her partner's true feelings on the subject before committing to him. In that case, what should she do: stand by her love for her partner, even if it means sacrificing her dreams of being a mother? Or should she walk away from the relationship and seek someone else, someone whom she may not love as much but who will fulfill her desires for motherhood?

These are some of the questions raised and issues discussed in Childless by Marriage, an excellent book written by Sue Fagalde Lick. She writes from the experience of her own life, as a woman who married twice—both times to men who would not consent to fathering a child with her. Sue shares her life story and struggles with being childless by marriage, but also tackles more general questions of what being childless means in today's society. She interviewed many other women for the book as well, some of whom shared similar experiences to hers, others who were childless through other circumstances in life or by choice. All together the book paints a detailed and intense portrait of the pain felt by many women find themselves left out of the sisterhoods of not just "mothers" but also the more talked about "childless by choice" or "childless by infertility" communities.

"When you skip a part of life that most women have experience throughout history, you have to notice that your life is different and always will be."

- Sue Fagalde Lick, Childless by Marriage

In the introduction to her book, Sue tells the reader that this is not a "sociological study" or "how-to" for women dealing with infertility, but rather a "precautionary tale" about how being childless affects all aspects of a woman's life. It is clear that her childless fate is not one she has fully accepted, even once she has moved past menopause and the possibility of bearing a child of her own is gone. So while at times she celebrates the freedom to pursue her own interests that she enjoyed while not a mother, there is deep regret and lingering doubts as well.

Sue married her first husband fairly early in life, and their circumstances were such that her husband kept putting off talk of having children. It was never time, they never had a good enough place to live, enough money to support a family, etc. Then he ended up having an affair and leaving her. Time passed and Sue met Fred, a man who seemed absolutely perfect and she knew was the love of her life. The problem was Fred was fifteen years older than her, and already had several children with his first wife. He had no desire to be a new father again. His children were old enough that it was difficult for Sue to form any real bond with them, and being a "step-mother" did not fill the desire she had to be a mother. Then, just when they should have been settling into happy later years together, Fred fell victim to early onset Alzheimer's Disease. Sue found herself caring for the man she loved as he regressed further and further, until she ended up having to act more like a mother than a spouse to a man who could no longer take care of himself.

If you fell in love with someone who disagreed with you on the subject of having children, what would you do?

Image courtesy anitapeppers at morguefileThere is a great deal in Sue's story which resonated deeply with me. I also found a partner who was considerably older than me, yet was perfect in every way when it came to our interests, desires, and passions in life. Except that when getting pregnant didn't happen naturally after several years of trying (or at least, not trying to prevent it), he was not interested in pursuing alternative family building options. I've had to struggle with many of the emotions and feelings that Sue describes in her book: feeling left out of a part of life most people take for granted; being the "odd duck in that room full of Canada Geese" when women get together and all talk becomes centered around their kids and grandkids; wondering who will remember you or if your life will have any lasting meaning without procreating; and perhaps most importantly, accepting that perhaps our desire for children was not as strong as we thought, if we were willing to stay with a partner out of love even if it meant ruling out parenthood.

Like Sue, I have enjoyed the comfort afforded to me in being with a partner who gives us a stable enough life that I can put my time more fully into my artistic and writing pursuits. We have our responsibilities and commitments, but also enjoy the freedom afforded to us by not being tied down to the commitment (and costs) of parenthood. Every choice in life has its positives and negatives, and one cannot have everything that we might desire. "If I spent my life creating other people, I would not have time to create myself," Sue states near the end of Childless by Marriage, and much of the time I feel that way as well.

But that doesn't mean I don't often feel those tinges of regret and longing. And these are very real feelings that need to be acknowledged and accepted in our lives.

If I had any quibbles with the book, it's that the structure sometimes feels a little disjointed. It starts out largely autobiographical, beginning with Sue's childhood and going through to her second marriage to Fred. But then it seems to skip around quite a bit through the second half of the book, with chapters on more general issues of being childless: whether being a "dog mom" can be a parenting substitute, planning for elderly issues when we don't have children to take care of our needs, the annual pain of Mother's Day, making the conscious choice to be childfree. Eventually we get back to her story with Fred and its sad conclusion, but I felt almost at times like there were two separate books here that got jumbled together: one an autobiography of a childless woman, the other more of a general study of the social issues of childlessness.

Sue also seems to have difficulty fulling accepting the viewpoint of consciously childfree women. While she acknowledges their point of view and what they see as the benefits of their lifestyle, I always had the feeling that she did not fully agree with their point of view, that she felt in many cases they should think twice about the choice they'd made before they got too old and came to regret it. I do understand that it can be difficult to see woman happily reject their ability to do something when we've had that choice taken away from us by circumstance or illness. But I think it colors the text at time in a way that was unnecessary, and may turn off readers who may be coming from a more childfree point-of-view.

Today, the author maintains a blog also titled Childless by Marriage, where she continues the discussion on this difficult subject. It is well worth checking out, and to read some of the very thoughtful and intense comments and conversations there from women all around the world.


The Latest Posts from the Childless by Marriage Blog

Does your partner really understand how you feel about not having children? Do they sympathize or tell you to “get over it?” I got to thinking about this after l...
My friend, whom I love, insisted on showing me a video on her phone of her grandchild babbling nonsense. I reacted in much the same way my father would have. A head no...
Dear friends, This is my last Childless by Marriage post of 2022. We could rehash all the previous posts. In June, for example, we talked about the Supreme Court’...
Renewal. What does that word mean to you? A fresh start? A new way of seeing or doing things? It seems like we ought to be discussing this in the spring, not in the mi...

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Updated: 01/31/2017, sockii
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