2. What Does Childless Not By Choice Mean?

May 7, 2024

Today we are diving into the complex topic of being childless not by choice. I will outline key differences between being childless by choice and childless by circumstance. We will explore the complexity behind the factors leading to childlessness, including societal pressure, relationship dynamics, health issues, and financial constraints.

In this episode, my goal is to validate your grief and pain, regardless of your situation. Do not compare your situation to others and minimize your pain. I want to empower you to define your experience on your own terms without internalizing societal judgment.

Learn more or book a free, no-obligation call to talk about what a coaching experience could look like for you HERE.

Childless not by choice
Key Episode Takeaways:
  • If you are childless, there is nothing less about you.
  • Decisions that lead to involuntary childlessness are often complex.
  • Whatever situation you are in, your pain is valid. Pain is pain.
  • Don’t compare your situation to others and minimize your pain.
Listen to the Full Episode:
Full Episode Transcript:

2. What Does Childless Not By Choice Mean?

All right. Welcome back. I am Gail Miller. Just a quick intro for those who don't know me. I am a woman who is childless by circumstance, childless not by choice. I am a life coach and physician. And my story is one of, uh, life did not turn out the way I had planned as I thought I would, might become a single mom. That did not work out, and I married later in life, married someone who had three children of his own and decided he did not want any more children. So here I got to a point of, um, having to deal with that grief and come out on the other side to a point where I can both honor my grief and enjoy the wonderful life that I have. So here we are today, what I want to talk about is what is childless not by choice? Um So let me start with I was a master, I mean a master at beating myself up for not pushing through my desire to have a child and first try to have one as a single woman and then try hard to convince a partner or my husband who did not want any more children, but I let others influence me. So I not only ended up with grief at this loss of the life I had planned, I ended up really angry with myself And I also allowed other influences, outside influences to convince me that there was an additional layer of blame for myself. I ended up believing that my childlessness was by choice. Um, Because I had made choices, technically and I'm going to talk about that, you know, what that means, but, um, not standing up for my desires to have a biological child of my own, you know, either as a single woman or after we got married, all of that is viewed by so many others as choices that I made and therefore, I'm at fault. And I took it all in, as many of you also do, and I allowed that to color my view of myself. I had so much blame for myself, so many if onlys, woulda, coulda, shouldas, and they kept playing over in my head, like, you know, one of those songs that you hear in the morning, that you actually don't like, and it's an annoying song, but you can't get it out of your head for the rest of the day. Except it wasn't just one morning and it never ended when the day was over. So it was annoying. It was frustrating. It was painful and it compounded the blame and the, the shame that I felt. And then I found fault with every choice I had made in my life. Um, so I had come to the belief that, well, I deserve to be childless because of these choices that I made that were all wrong ones, of course. And the truth is that although everything in life is a choice, there are decisions and these decisions about having a child, often, most of the time, are made between competing options that neither one is what we want. So the decisions we make are based on the information we have at that time, um, and they're influenced by circumstances we can't change. Um, But I had to learn that, I had to recognize that to understand that beating myself up over this was a mindset. I needed to change. So often they're not often, there's never a shortage of judgment in life for any given situation, and that is equally true for women who fall under this term that we commonly use for those of us who wanted to become moms, still want to be moms, but for whatever reason, can't. And that term that's commonly used is childless not by choice and it's also a term with no shortage of criticism for both that term and for the women who identify in this group. The word childlessness or childless itself has an implied negativity and it's a significant one. The less part of childless it gives a message, or for some it gives a message of being less than. And that message we often internalize because we get that message from outside And then also within ourselves we even without the outside messages we also feel that but even if we don't, we end up feeling that way if we didn't start out that way we end up feeling that way even if not conscious and that is because of the message from society that women without children are less than. And so we internalize it, but we are not. That may be how society sees us, but if you are childless, there is nothing less about you. And then there's the term child free. Commonly, it's that's a term used for women who choose not to have children. Not always, but for many women without children who want to be moms, that doesn't feel like it fits either. Um, that the child free, the free part, again, that from messages externally and often internally, that free part feels like you're celebrating not having kids when, of course, that's not how you feel when you're childless not by choice. Or it gives this sense of freedom that people assume childless women have. But even if there is some freedom to this life, it's not one that you or I ever asked for. Though the bottom line is childlessness doesn't define us or our worth. Fertility status doesn't determine anyone's value, yet the word childless feels so negative. And it seems to perpetuate society's view that we're not equal. And then child free seems equally wrong, just for different reasons, though. So on an individual level, there's often this, like, I don't know what to call myself. Nothing feels right. I don't want to say childless because I'm not less than. Um, or I don't want to perpetuate that idea that we're less than and child free doesn't feel right. So there's often this like, what, what do I call myself? And then the term childless not by choice as a whole brings with it a whole nother level of criticism of anyone in this group that it can be really shocking. I mean in in some ways it's expected. It shouldn't be shocking because again, there's never a shortage of others loving to criticize what they themselves are not going through. What they themselves have no idea what it entails, what it feels like, um, and yet that judgment is endless. And the criticism is directed at the not by choice part. Critics, and again, there's endless critics, will argue, well, you made choices in your lives, and that's what led you to being childless. Therefore, not having children is by choice. Okay. No. It's anything but a simple matter of choice. It is often, in fact, almost always complex. Situations are not straightforward and there's no right answer for most people who reach this point of unwanted childlessness. Their situations were not simple, straightforward, oh, just do this. And this is what you can have. Um, no, you reach this point from decisions that ultimately did turn into unwanted childlessness, but the decisions were based on what options were available and how they affected your life. The decisions were based on the information that you had at the time and as with everything else in life, no benefit of a crystal ball. The decisions that lead to childlessness, involuntary childlessness are often complex. They are influenced by a myriad of factors; personal desires, society and family expectations, health issues, financial considerations, relationship dynamics. It is never a simple, oh, if you had just done this, then you'd have children. That's not the case. Decisions about this aren't made lightly. They're made by taking into account all of the implications. Individuals and couples weigh the possible outcomes and consequences before making a decision that they believe is right for them and no one else is in that person's or that couple's shoes to know what all of the factors were, to know how all of those factors play into things, play into decision making, and to know, oh, well, again, oh, if you had just done this, this is, you know, where it would have brought you. No, that's not the case. And often, again, in fact, probably most of the time the outcomes that require decision making are usually between situations, none of which are favorable. So for example, it's common for those of us who are in the childless not by choice group to be criticized for not adopting and then being told, well, you're childless by choice because you could have adopted. Just adopt. Okay, first of all, there is no such thing as just adopt. It is not a simple process. It has multiple implications and it takes, just the process itself takes a toll for those who choose to adopt, to decide they want to adopt or to try to adopt the process itself takes a huge toll. And it's often not the outcome that's wanted. Adoptions even after the complex process that it is, adoptions fall through So there is no such thing as as we'll just adopt. And adopting is not the right thing for everyone. And again, until you are in those shoes, it's not your place to make that decision or judgment for anyone else. And even if you, you are someone who has adopted, you are not in someone else's shoes. So what worked for you, what was right for you isn't right for everyone else, and it's not simple. Um, for those women or couples who have who, had infertility and did not go through IVF um, there's endless criticism. Again, no understanding of the financial and health implications of IVF. For women who have not frozen their eggs. I mean, immediately after Jennifer Aniston came out, and told her story, I heard from several people, aren't you sorry that you didn't freeze your eggs? Well, first of all, really, why would you say that to someone you know has this pain, and now you're adding to it, to the you did the wrong thing. But also again, there's no understanding on the part of the people saying this, what that entails. The stressors, both physically, emotionally, not to mention financially, and the fact that there is no guarantee, even with freezing your eggs, that you will get a child out of it. And the judgment is non stop. Women who choose not to become single moms are condemned. And often, the ones shaming women who didn't become single moms are the same ones who chastise those women who are. I mean, seriously, the hypocrisy is limitless just as the judgment is. And then there are those people who have gone through IVF, one cycle, multiple cycles, that were unsuccessful and made the decision to stop. And they are told, well, you made the decision, you chose to stop, so you're childless by choice. IVF places an indescribable burden on every aspect of life. Financial, physical, emotional, um, and for many that pain doesn't ever end. Even for those women who do have a child after IVF, the effects of it are long lasting. Um, so Yes, others will criticize anyone who decided I can't continue with IVF with statements like, but you chose to stop, don't give up, keep going. One woman went to, um, to a physician for something that was completely unrelated to fertility, her reproductive status, but it came out as part of the conversation that they had gone through multiple cycles of IVF and were taking a break and they don't know if they're going to restart or just this is what their life is. And this physician said to this woman, Oh, because they had, I think they had been trying for three years and this physician said, Oh, I have a friend who's been doing this for 10 years IVF, you're at the beginning. What you've done is nothing. Okay, no, full stop. There's not an ounce of truth to that. And that judgment was uncalled for, was flat out wrong and was something that should never have been said. But, it happens all the time. And then there's the group of women who are childless not by choice, didn't go through fertility treatments, but had pregnancy losses. And like IVF, pregnancy loss results in enormous strain on every, absolutely every aspect of life, regardless of how far along the pregnancy was. The loss, the pain of it is present. It's sharp. It's never ending. And yet there's always comments like, well, at least you weren't far along if it was early or, at least you didn't deliver a baby and then lose your child. The invalidation of this pain never stops. It's really hard for me to, to imagine how anyone cannot recognize the pain of a pregnancy loss, any loss. But that pain is real, and it's devastating, and it's everlasting. And then imagine going through that, the pain doesn't go away, it's not something you can put yourself through again, only to be told by someone, well, you had a choice. And then there's another whole category of women who are childless, not by choice, they are actually childless by circumstance. Those who are not childless because of unsuccessful fertility treatments or pregnancy loss, instead, they are childless because of their circumstances, whatever they were. Whatever they were, those circumstances left them, including myself, without children. And there's an endless list of those situations that would leave someone being involuntarily childless besides infertility and pregnancy. pregnancy loss. Aging out for those who did not find the right partner and do not want to become a single parent for whatever reason, um, having a parent or a partner rather who doesn't want to become a parent, having a partner who has children from another relationship and doesn't want more, chronic illness that will make pregnancy dangerous. Um, genetic disorders that would be passed down, having had a hysterectomy for medical reasons. Okay, that the list of reasons other than infertility and pregnancy loss that would bring someone to be childless not by choice, like the judgment that comes with being childless not by choice is endless. In my situation, as I aged and considered single parenthood, I had to decide between losing my job or being a single parent with no support and no job. When I got married, I found I had a husband who didn't want another child. Did I have a choice all along? Well, technically I did, but it was always a choice between two, um, bad situations, two unpleasant situations. But for those who are childless by circumstance, there is another layer of pain that we frequently pile on ourselves and that is the comparison game. We not only question everything we did, we blame ourselves, we see ourselves as unworthy of saying we're in pain because we didn't go through the trauma of fertility treatments or the agony of pregnancy loss. It's not just others who condemn us for not taking action, we do it to ourselves as well. Our self view is often of someone who doesn't deserve understanding. We beat ourselves down for things we did and didn't do and the decisions we made and pile on even more self hate and more guilt for the pain we feel. And too many women who are childless by circumstance struggle to say we're childless not by choice because we see our choices as bringing us to this point, but we see in action because we didn't do IVF, didn't try to adopt, whatever. We see that as okay, our pain is less than. Um, So the this comparison game, we internalize it. If others, even if others don't do that to us, we compare ourselves and we replay scenarios in our minds and of course wonder if things could turn out differently. And that self doubt leads to a cycle of self hate and guilt because we punish ourselves for perceived shortcomings. Just as women who have gone through IVF unsuccessfully will often internalize other people saying well you stopped IVF so you know you chose this, no. Unfortunately, none of us has to look too far to find a never ending supply of other people criticizing, blaming, piling more guilt on us, and then accusing us of having chosen to be childless. The reality is that even with thoughtful deliberation, outcome of being childless doesn't align with hopes or expectations. And it leads to feelings of loss, to grief, to a never ending longing. So in essence, while it may be technically accurate to say that childlessness is by choice because you made the decision to do something or to not do something, it ignores the complexity that's inherent in the decision making process. It's difficult to categorize childlessness in a simple way because it involves a combination of circumstances, none of which is ideal. Do I keep going with the physically, emotionally, financially, devastating effects of IVF? Or do I say enough? I can't go through this anymore. Do I go through the pain of dealing with a chronic medical disorder that could leave me completely disabled to have a child. I mean, these are just some of the decisions that are made that no one else in your shoes understands or should be judging. When women who are childless not by choice are told that they did have a choice, they made choices, it undermines experiences, minimizes struggles, and invalidates pain and grief. And it fails to acknowledge the complexity of reproductive choices. So my three takeaways for those of you who are childless not by choice, for those of you who care about someone who is childless not by choice; one, there is no right or wrong term for your situation of not having children. Call yourself childless, child free, not a mom, without children, whatever you choose to say, that feels right to you, it is right. Forget the outside world. Forget what they think, how they judge you, what they would call you. Whatever you choose to say about yourself as not having a child, make it what feels right to you. The second takeaway is whatever road brought you to being childless when you don't want to be, your pain is valid. Pain is pain. Period. Full stop. Don't compare your situation to others and minimize your pain. And the third takeaway, becoming childless not by choice happened after complex and uncertain circumstances. Don't internalize what others judge about whether this was by choice or not. Don't minimize yourself or your struggles. You matter. All right, that is it for today, and I look forward to being with you next week. Bye..