How we're re-building a life without children

November 27 | Guest post by Julia Renee
How we're re-building a life without children
California Redwoods Sun-rays and Sky by Elena Kulikova

I'm not a parent, but I want to be. However, after five years of trying to get pregnant and going in circles about the pros and cons of adoption, my partner and I decided it was best for us to stop trying. We're not preventing pregnancy, so there is still a chance, but the statistics are not on our side given the amount of time we've been trying and our respective ages.

When we began this journey, I was in my mid-30s and my husband was in his mid-40s. He was very clear from the beginning that he wanted children but that when he turned 50, he would be done with the process. I agreed, thinking I'd get pregnant in the first couple of years. Three years of preparing for a child and trying to conceive, and two years of exploring other options that didn't seem to work left us childless when we hit the deadline. And while I didn't take it as a strict deadline, it did give me an opportunity to explore every option given to me and it showed me that the chances were slim to none.

It was no longer about my frustration and questioning about why it wasn't me, now it was a reminder of what I would never have.

Even though I accepted the decision and it felt right for us, I was completely distraught (and hysterical at times) and depressed for months. Pregnancy announcements, which were always difficult, were worse. It was no longer about my frustration and questioning about why it wasn't me, now it was a reminder of what I would never have. After months of this, I finally decided I couldn't live the rest of my life mourning what I didn't have — if I can't have a kid, then I'd have the kind of life that (I thought) would be hard to have with a child in tow. That was two years ago and things are much better on my psyche. Pregnancy announcements don't render me bedridden and I'm very happy with where my life is.

While it may not work for everyone, these are the things I did that brought me here…

We evaluated every aspect of our life

We both knew we wanted to stay married and our dog is amazing, but everything else was evaluated with a fine-toothed comb. The question became "What do I need to do to be happy with the life I have now, assuming no children of our own will come?"

Our jobs

What do I need to do to be happy with the life I have now?

Am I staying in my current job because I love it or because it's stable? If money weren't an object, is this the job I would have? As it turns out, I love what I do, but was staying with the company because of health benefits and the promise of a flexible schedule if I had children. For most of my adult life, my dream was to be able to stay home and write, which for various reasons, was incredibly difficult to do working full-time at my job. Once I realized this, I immediately started preparing to work as a freelance writer and editor.

Our living arrangements

Did we want to stay living where we were? Did we want to stay in my house? Should we sell the house, buy an RV, and travel the country? We explored every dream we had and decided whether now was the right time to make it happen. The first thing to go was the 2,200 square-foot house we bought thinking we'd have children.

Spending time with kids

We love kids even though we don't have any of our own, so we're making it a point to spend time with the kids in our lives. Between us, we have eight nieces and nephews and two great-nieces. We do our best to go to softball and soccer games, to take them to breakfast, to spoil them (within reason), and do fun things with them when we can.

Entertainment and travel

We want to travel more. We want to spend weekends going to conventions and Renaissance Faires and car shows, which all cost money and which we often avoided because of the cost.

We're now two years post-deadline and we live in a cute (and smaller) house in a place we love, I'm working as a freelance writer, and we're pondering where our vacation will be this year. Is it the life we envisioned when we got married? No, but it's still pretty amazing, and that is enough to keep me grateful when I'm reminded there's not a little one running around our house.

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  1. What a great post, so many bells ringing.

    While I never got to the trying stage I so relate to going from always wanting children to learning to live with never having them and being ok with it. It is amazing how different your life can be and how, amazingly, given time, you can cope with it.

    I had truly terrible obliteratingly painful and irregular periods from aged 11 until I had a hysterectomy in my late thirties. I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome in my mid-twenties and incorrectly took this as meaning I was definitely infertile and went through a grieving for the children I’d never have. But what this allowed me to do was, eventually, imagine a life without them and start living it. Later in my thirties I was diagnosed with Endometriosis and Adenemyosis and things got much worse and eventually I had a hysterectomy. I had settled by this time with a partner who didn’t want children and I was totally fine with that. I thought I’d already done my grieving (and this is a grief) but in the run-up the hysterectomy I was hit hard, it was a huge thing to choose an action that removed all possible chances forever. However, when I came round in the hospital I just knew it was right and I felt a totally unexpected peace I had been waiting for so long.

    There will always be a part of me that I wishes I’d had children but it’s not a regret that takes over my life. I LOVE being an Aunt and my siblings have provided me with quite a brood! Pregnant people and babies are both lovely and, sometimes, a little painful for me, but mostly lovely. Like all grief though, it took time to get here. I can never answer the question “are you child free or child-less”” without disgorging an essay, because I’m neither and both. It is amazing what contradictions you can actually live. Much love to anyone suffering with any aspect of all this right now xx

    4 agree
  2. Thank you so much for this! My husband and I wanted to have a child together (we each brought a teenage child to the marriage) but in the last few years it's become clear that isn't going to happen. Both of us have chronic health issues that would make raising another child while caring for ourselves extremely difficult if not impossible. It took me a long time and a lot of sobbing to get to a place where that reality doesn't hurt me so badly.

    I think your suggestions are great! It seems counter-intuitive that spending time with other people's kids would be helpful, but spending time with my 2 year old nephew has been very healing for me. I also found therapy to be really helpful, so I would also recommend that if it's available.

    There are days that I am still sad, but that terrible ache is gone.

    1 agrees
    • I'm so glad it's helpful! For us, spending time with nieces/nephews and children of close friends has been incredibly healing because they're part "ours" (since they're part of our tribe). The kids know us from when they're babies/very young and they find us fun in ways their parents are not. The ache for children hasn't gone away completely, but more days than not, I can look at something in my life and be incredibly grateful for what I have. Here's hoping things continue to get better for you and your partner.

  3. Love, love, love this. You're really creating the life you have, which is not something most people can say they've ever done. Most people end up where they think they "should" be, or where they just kind of end up. One of the things I love so much about OBH is that it shows us how other people create their lives, often from scratch, avoiding cultural pressures and abandoning cultural norms.

    But… where is the author's info???? I'd love to know more about her and see that freelance writing!

    3 agree
  4. Thank you for a post that didn't end with a child. As an infertile woman who has stopped trying (and with a trans husband there is really no change of an oopsie baby) I really need to hear the light at the end of the tunnel type stories. Half the time when I go to read something it ends with "after x years of trying we now have our miracle baby!" Well sometimes that miracle doesn't happen and we have to find ways to rebuild. Thank you!

    3 agree
    • I love that too, Esther!

      I wanted to share something – not sure if it's useful for you or not, but it's something I picked up from some leadership classes, as well as something I've started to notice around me.

      "Infertile" is a word that can imply you're "missing" something, and can bring just a little negativity every time. Words like the one OBH uses frequently ("child-free") sort of put it in a more neutral or positive light.

      I've also seen it pointed out around "uncircumcised" – it implies that the person is *lacking* circumcision, rather than *having* something ("intact"). Again, not sure if this helpful, but wanted to share it.

      And, I too love the MIRACLE at the end of this story – healing, a completely unique life, chosen from scratch!
      <3 to you and your hubby!

  5. This is an awesome article! I'm sorry that things did not work out as you had hoped but I'm so glad that you are living your life in the present and to the fullest!

    I'm in a slightly different boat but the outcome is the same. (I hope it feels appropriate and respectful considering the conditions are different.) I had lived these past ten years preparing for kids, at least in the back of my mind — house, job, town, travel, money, and even the people I was dating. A year and a half ago I realized that, while I had hoped I'd want to raise kids more as time went on, the exact opposite was true. Having children is still an option, although it would be difficult for various reasons; it would also have to be very intentional as my partner and I are both biologically female and neither wants to have children.

    I, too, started by jettisoning the house and children's toys I had been accumulating. Since then, those toys have brought so much joy to others and me, too. Now I'm planning a move with a new location and new job. I suddenly have so much freedom and access to all the money that I had been saving. Wow, it's exhilarating!! I actually feel less compelled to travel because I've already been to many places and no longer have an imagined deadline like before. I definitely want to stay with my partner but also am so happy to feel free of any deadlines that might relate to age and its potential effect on having children biologically.

    I've started telling people this past year, which has been the biggest step. (No one ever expected me to have children but I did!) As a teacher, I'm around kids all day and I love this. If they ask about kids (and it's come up a few times), I explain that I love children but having my own isn't for me, that they are great, that parenting is the hardest and most important job, etc. all depending on the audience. I believe all of these this, and they always listen and never criticize. It's actually pretty cool! I don't have nieces or nephews yet but I will soon; I've volunteered to be their designated guardian in case of emergency. I love seeing my friends' children… and then going home!

    Thanks for the chance to share and for writing a piece that made me think and that I can relate to so well. I wish you and your husband even more happiness as you continue on your journey!

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