I’m grieving for the kids that we now can’t have. How do I cope?

Guest post by Carly
My husband and I have been trying to conceive for three years now, with only one success (which ended in a miscarriage). Kids have always been in our plans, ever since we got married. However, thanks to some recent events in our household we’ve discovered that my mental health isn’t anywhere near as stable as I thought it was. And we had to make the difficult decision that we can’t have kids, because we’re both concerned that a baby wouldn’t be safe alone with me for long periods of time.

I know that this is the right choice to make, for my sanity if nothing else. But I feel like I’m grieving for the life we planned, and the kids that won’t be a part of it. I’m struggling to focus on the life I do have, because I can’t stop thinking about the way things aren’t going to be. Any advice? -Kyo

This is tough one! First, I’m sorry about your struggle and I am sending good thoughts for your physical and mental well being. I’m not much of a therapist, so just a few brief thoughts. Plus, everyone is so different that my coping mechanisms might not work at all for you!

But here are some ideas:

1. Read “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron

I’ve turned to this book over and over again during various mental and physical struggles. Basically, as part of your healing, you’ll have to learn to live the suffering and understand that it does come and go — and that’s okay! That’s life. I can’t summarize very well, but here’s an excerpt from her book:

Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

2. It’s good to remember to live day by day and force yourself to do a few things

No matter how cheesy, like: exercise, write a gratitude journal, get enough sleep, call your family/friends once a week even if you really don’t feel like it.

3. Don’t forget to share with your partner

And also check in with them to see how they’re coping. They may be grieving too, and while you’ll cope differently, you can support each other. If you can afford it, maybe a few therapy sessions?

4. Volunteer!

In my own personal drama about whether to have kids, my friend posed an interesting question: Rather than have kids, can you express your need to nurture/care in some other way? I instantly had an answer (which for me was to volunteer as a girl scout troop leader and to get some cats). But as a coping mechanism, can you volunteer somewhere — even just for a few hours a month? Volunteering can do a few things: get you out of your head for a few hours, help you get perspective if you work with people less fortunate, help you express your need to nurture or care for others.

Just a few thoughts. Good luck!

Comments on I’m grieving for the kids that we now can’t have. How do I cope?

  1. I think like any chronic illness that takes away your best laid plans, you need to allow yourself to grieve for a while without punishing yourself for feeling that way.

    Once you’re ready, reengage with with things in your current life, any hobbies you’ve lapsed on, people you haven’t seen in a while. Get back in touch with your life as it is to appreciate the little things again.

    If you can, I’d also suggest seeing someone in a therapist/counselling role that could simultaneously help you with your diagnosis and these repercussions. They can probably offer more avenues of help

  2. I’ll tell you a secret. The scenario you’ve described is my worst fear.
    I’m young, I married young, and I’m not ready to have kids yet, but I have a chronic genetic mental illness that is being treated with pills I cannot take while pregnant or breastfeeding. My husband has also recently shown signs of clinical depression, which is a blow to his pride as well as a new difficulty that we will have to cope with as a couple and as future parents.
    My mother is still wracked with guilt over being undiagnosed and unmedicated while she was raising her children. She didn’t know until I was ten. I hate to say it, but it did some damage. I love my mother, but that’s life.
    It’s a documented fact that some people simply aren’t meant to be parents, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show love in your own way. Animals, as someone mentioned, are a great outlet for nurturing, especially cats, because they are independent enough to wait until your support group gets there on your bad days, and there on your good days just as happy to see you.
    A strong support group around you is also a good thing to have, in the no shit Sherlock portion of this comment. People don’t always have to know what you’re going through to be able to be there for you, and sometimes all you need is easy company.
    And if you ever do decide to change your mind (Not because your decision is invalid, but because sometimes that just happens.), remember that there are lots of ways to have and raise a child, and very few of them are completely wrong. You could foster older children, even teenagers, if your concern is an infant’s safety. You could hire a live-in caretaker for yourself and the child if that’s the concern.
    What I’m saying is, you feelings are valid, and you should grieve, but there may be ways to fulfill that part of your life, and your plan, if that’s still what you want.

    • I’m in the same boat. My mom was undiagnosed too until 2001 when I was diagnosed with my various mental illnesses (my entire family went out for treatment – it just took someone to say “wait a second here, something is not right with us). My husband and I thought about kids but ultimately it was my decision. Yes, we made it as a team, but the real decisions was because I couldn’t put children through my mood swings, depression, anger, and then the highs of being excited and anxious. I just couldn’t do it.

      Last summer I got my tubes tied. A year later I still grieve for not having the choice anymore. It really only comes up at certain times but the grief is real. And to grieve is important. It’s a definite loss.

      If anything, know that you’re not alone. That it sucks ass. That it’s super sad. But that you’re not alone.

  3. Honestly, if you haven’t already, seek professional help. Myself, I miscarried 3 times before I finally had my son when I was 41 years old. In addition to this I had an abusive husband. What helped me until I had the courage to leave him was journaling. Capturing your thoughts, feelings, concerns down on paper is really therapeutic. You don’t need any special writing abilities, but I would advise against doing it on a computer. The physical endeavor of writing by hand is an important part of the task. I think subconsciously it gives you the reassurance that you are doing something about dealing with your issues. Typing on a computer does not give this satisfaction because your focus can easily shift to watching out for spelling and grammatical errors. I also find that doing other things with my hands can be stress reducing. I crochet, sew, needlefelt and a myriad of other hand crafts. I could only have the one child, but with my crafts I can create other things. The process is soothing and therapeutic. Also, as a Christian, I have learned to place my faith in the Lord and the plan He has for me. We can never know in advance what the plan is, hence the faith that He has a plan for each of us. I have not always liked how things have transpired in my life but I have learned important lessons and when I trust Him things always work out.
    I wish you luck and I will be praying for you.


  4. Oh, how I feel you. For me it was a car accident that broke me and it is still hard to accept three years later.

    What is tough is following your head that *knows* it would not be a good idea, for you, the child, and your family, when your heart *wants* the rainbows and unicorns motherhood is idealized to be. (Which it isn’t, it’s tough!)

    Remember you are doing the right thing. You will feel judged and viewed as “weak” or self-centered by some insensitive people and that is the worst for me because I already feel so guilty to be “thinking only of myself.”

    But you aren’t. You are thinking of this child, that needs a strong mom capable of caring for him\her. You are not taking the easy road. You are taking the even harder one of sacrifice. You are choosing to place your kid above yourself and your youthful hopes and plans. It is extremely difficult to admit your limitations, especially if others are of the attitude you should just “suck it up.” It is heartbreaking, and you have a RIGHT to grieve. You are a beautiful loving person to be able to do this. No-one is in your head. No-one has a right to judge.

    As a side-note (that didn’t help me nearly as much as I would have liked it!) as the child of a mentally ill mom, I know how devastating it can be when your parent can’t or won’t act as a responsible adult.

    Finally, make sure to connect with your partner about this. But be firm in your decision, while acknowledging his feelings.

    Be strong.


    • Regarding being criticized, you would also be criticized for having kids, so it’s a wash. No matter what you do, somebody’s against it, so you might as well follow your own guidance.

      • Right? That has been my experience the last year. I have tried to explain why it’s healthier for me, my marriage and that not-child to not be a parent but people always think about the rainbows and unicorns. Especially parents of grown children who might have forgotten how hard it is to have a baby and work full time and keep house and and and and….

        As I told someone recently, I know me best. I know what is best for my life, my health and wellness, it’s not a light decision, but it’s been made. I can either carry on and find my joy in other things or not. (Still, take time to grieve, it’s important to let yourself heal.)

  5. I’m so sorry for your losses – your miscarriage and your dream of having kids with your husband.

    It’s okay to grieve. It will fade and then something else will remind you and it will hurt all over again.

    As others have said, if you aren’t in therapy now, seek it out. This is hard shit to deal with for anyone.

    Write things down in a journal (I’m also a fan of pen and paper for this instead of typing).

    Talk to your husband, don’t shut him out. I know my inclination when I’m hurting is to keep it to myself, which makes it doubly hard when it’s a difficult subject to talk about out loud even if I were in an empty room.

  6. That majorly sucks and I am so sorry. When I originally saw this post, I was at the fertility doctor for a followup on an ectopic pregnancy, which came 6 months after a miscarriage. So, our situations and feelings may be different but I FEEL you.

    In addition to the advice above, try to find a few really supportive friends/family and let them know what is going on and straight up ask them to check in with you every few weeks to see how you’re doing and remind you that they love you. With the ectopic pregnancy (which, thankfully, miscarried naturally) I bled for weeks and the hardest part for me, after the initial grief of losing the pregnancy that took rounds of fertility treatments to get, was that I had constant reminders of it every time I went to the bathroom or a stupid pad bunched up funny. For everyone else, even my super-supportive husband, there was initial sadness but that was kinda a one-shot deal. I wasn’t ever-present for them. I’ve had three friends who have checked in to see how I’m doing and that has been great. Our parents (with whom we’re quite close) seem to go out of their way to avoid the topic and it made me feel shitty.

    It is going to be tough because babies/pregnant are everywhere, so don’t feel like you need to push yourself to be there for kid-centric activities. If it is someone close, they’ll understand and if they’re not, well they’re not that close to begin with. My sister in law recently announced she’s due around the time I would have been and it’s killing me because my husband’s family is so superclose. Even if adoption or fostering is in the cards for you, I understand the strong (albeit often illogical) drive to be pregnant and give birth to your children.

    Finally, don’t feel like you have to censor your feelings around people because you don’t want to “bum people out” or the like. That’s what friends are for.

  7. Grieving is totally normal. It is right to grieve for a lost path; you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t. The problem is if it is causing you to stop walking the path that is right for you right now. The family doc in me wants you to have a solid form of birth control, so that is one less thing to worry about (5 or 3 year IUD or Nexplanon). Is it not a possibility ever or just now? Because that also changes the approach. As you are taking time to get your health in order, focusing on that may be the best. I am getting older and am now at the point were we would have to do it or not. So in my preparations I am working to be at my best health (mentally and physically). We are still actively contracepting for at least to more months. As I’m older and have PCOS there are a bunch of situations against my conceiving. But I’m also focusing on getting healthy for me. Even if we don’t have a small person, I’ll be glad to be at my healthiest adult self entering my 40’s. But do give yourself permission to grieve.


  8. I feel you, oh how I feel you.

    My husband and I have tried to conceive, I have PCOS and he is trans (we like to say he has a low sperm count). Fertility treatments are expensive and while we are planning to give it one more try next year I am doubtful about how well it will work. I ride the line of being hopeful for the future but not trying to get my hopes too high. They have already come crashing down before and it is hard to pick myself back up.

    To make things even more interesting my husband has children from a previous relationship and due to our age difference they are adults. His son and his wife are expecting their first child in December. It is so hard to be happy for them and not feel completely envious. There are days where I am just overjoyed to be a Bubbe (Jewish Grandma) but then I ask myself how can I be when I am not a mother. I also have a weird envy about DNA, even if I have a child it won’t have my husband’s DNA but this grandchild does. It’s completely irrational but feelings sometimes are.

    It is complicated and messy. Having a good therapist helps. We got a dog last year, we already had two cats but the dog has become “my baby”. He is hyper and kind of anxious but he distracts me from the ugly thoughts and he forces me to get outside and take a walk. My husband is very good at letting me feel the feels and cry it all out. Most days I do ok but sometimes not so much. It’s important to know that it is ok not to feel ok.

    One thing that has helped me is to try and plan fun things for the future that doesn’t involve children. Even the little things, like being able to sleep in on days off or decide to randomly go away for the weekend. Those are things that are difficult if not impossible to do with children. I also try to remember that there are many ways to be a part of a child’s life, not all of them involve parenting. Volunteering at a Boys and Girls Club or tutoring or some other type of volunteering that involves children brings them into your world. I am a Children’s Librarian and doing storytime and being involved in that way helps me remember that I don’t have to be a parent to help raise children. I inspire a love of learning and reading even if these children aren’t my own.

    I don’t know if any of this rambling actually helps but I know it does help to talk about it. The ability or inability to have a child is so often not talked about and that can just make it worse. I wish you well and hope you find the healing that you need.

  9. I am so sorry that you have had to make this decision, but You are so brave to have made it. The easier path would have been to just get pregnant instead of being honest with yourself and really looking at your life. That is so honest and brave and responsible to have to admit those things about ourselves even when it blocks our deepest desires.

    I just want to give you a big hug. I don’t have much advice and I am in a similar situation myself and currently a bit lost in the woods. I have a toddler (after 3 years and IVF) and while I desperately want a second I am coming to the point where I realize that it is likely not the best thing for my family or my mental health. Being honest about my limitations has been very hard.

    It is a heartbreaking decision and sometimes you have to let your heart break, grieve and pick up the pieces to decide what your new future is going to look like.

  10. First of all, I’m sorry for your loss. A miscarriage is a terrible thing to have to go through, and it wouldn’t have made your decision any easier.

    I can relate to the grief of childlessness. I am barren, myself, plus it’s probably just as well, because by the time I got my own mental health issues under sufficient control to not traumatize a child, I was too old to become a mother anyway.

    I cope by mothering teens online. I forbid them to give me any contact information before they reach 18, because that is a bad habit to encourage–I know I’m not an axe-murderess, but they don’t know that. I listen to their issues, give what support and counsel that I can, and just be there for them. I also celebrate their joys, and answer whatever questions I can. They confide more to me precisely because I’m not their mother and they’re not within swatting range. Some of the things they’ve gotten tangled up with makes my hair stand on end, but step by step we get through it.

    Some of these online relationships last into adulthood and we become fast friends. In one case a girl who had lost her mother became my cyberniece and our relationship has become strong and wonderful for both of us. She grew up into a splendid young woman! I sent her my wedding-veil for whenever she might need it, because she’s the closest thing to a daughter that I will ever have. She has sent me mother’s day cards. Emotionally speaking, we have been there for each other at need, and it is good.

  11. A specific kind of volunteering that might work for you could be mentoring kids with your kind of mental health problems. Because over the years you learn how to cope with this or that part of it, and for them it’s all new and terrifying. I do a lot of informal conversation with kids recovering from PTSD, and it has been helpful for both them and me, measurably so, resulting in things like a reduction in nightmares and triggers for all concerned.

  12. Bless you – I wish I could reach out and hug you right now.

    I am proud of you for making a logical decision based on your health and current circumstances–which unfortunately puts an end to a dream you and your partner had. No one wants mental health issues. Everyone wants the “and in the end I triumphed and everything is great!” story and not what is more common…making the best choices one can make in less-than-perfect situations and sometimes life has limitations.

    Grieving for the end of a hope is natural and normal. Don’t lose sight of that. Too many people want to act as though grieving is a sign of weakness, something one should rush through right away and get to the next stage. But this is an unwanted change, and it will take getting used to. If you have mental health issues on top of this, of course it will take longer to process.

    I’m not sure this is something you are ready to hear or not, but something that can be very helpful is learning to be mindful. It’s a number of ideas and concepts, (and helpful meditations, yoga, exercise, etc.) but much of it focuses on staying on the NOW. Too often we are either prisoners of the past or zooming forwards towards the future. But then we miss all we have of NOW. The past is gone, the future not yet here, and all we have is this moment. Right now you are sad for a future that you envisioned, although it was not ever real. So many things could have happened that would never make that future happen anyway. It’s easy to get caught up in “what might have been”, but the truth is that all too often, our best plans aren’t guaranteed to work as we dream…and that is not always a bad thing.

    Hopefully, with some time, reflection, and hopefully support, you can come to peace that making a good decision is often not an easy one. Perhaps you can see alternate possibilities open up for you now that one is closed. A choice is not an end, it is the beginning of a new series of choices.

  13. Having children is easy, after all, any fool can have lots of children.

    I’m sorry that you had wanted children, had fertility issues, then discovered that actually having them might not be safe for the child, much less yourself.

    I wish more people would be like you and decide that they aren’t able to properly care for a child, and either give them up for adoption or just take the care to not get pregnant in the first place.

    I figured out that babies are a LOT of work when my sister was born just before my 4th birthday. I had enough trouble sleeping as it was, without having to get up and feed a baby all night long.

    I chose to not have children. I didn’t figure I’d make a very good mother. As I got older I discovered that I have inherited migraines and allergies, food allergies are my worst allergies. As a reasoning adult, I realized that even if I was prepared to give up my life to have a child, should I curse said child with these things that have made my own life so difficult?

    Always remember, almost anyone can have a baby. You have learned that if you were to have a child, it wouldn’t be safe for the child. As much as you would’ve loved to have had one, you have taken yourself out of the gene pool for all the right reasons.

    You can decide if you want to be miserable because you are doing the right thing or if you are going to move on.

    Give yourself a chance to mourn the lost of your dream. Take all the time you need to do it. There isn’t a set amount of time it takes to mourn this dream and never let anyone tell you to “get over it.”

    There are times when I have wished that I had a child. I never wanted an infant, but a child old enough to be “house broken” as I refer to it. I even have had a few dreams about adopting, but I know I would be a lousy parent.

    There are ways to interact with children without being a parent or being left with a child overly long.

    Do you or your spouse have siblings? Do they have children?
    Does your area hospital have a program for adults to come in a hold a sick infant?
    Consider seeing if there are any programs at area libraries to read to children?

    If nothing else, consider adopting a pet…

    I’m sure there are many other programs out there you could get involved if my suggests aren’t to your liking.

    Never do anything you don’t want to explain to the paramedics.

    • “Having children is easy, after all, any fool can have lots of children”

      Entirely untrue and incredibly thoughtless. The fool writing this comment can’t seem to have kids and neither can a number of commenters.

        • You’re missing the point. When you say ‘any fool’, that assumes anyone can have kids and that is simply untrue. There are plenty of us (fools or not) for whom that is not a medical reality, despite our best efforts.

          • Did you read my whole response? I realize there are lots of people out there who want kids and can’t have them. Lots of people who would make a wonderful parent, but can’t have their own children for what EVER reason. I have known a LOT of adopted people, children and adults. One of my folks friends adopted older children that had been removed from their fool parents who could have child, after child and couldn’t/wouldn’t/whatever take good care of them.

            I believe adoption to be a wonderful thing, I also realize that adopting an older child can be difficult – I watched it happen after all.

            Babies are difficult, even when you don’t have them yourself. A new mother is often expected to get up and take care of that baby, soon after having it.

            I had insomnia my entire life. I may have only been 4 when my sister was born, but I was awaken for many of those late night feedings/diaper changes.

            Heck, I have raised 5 bottle baby kittens, a singleton and a litter of 4, and, while I was in my early 50’s when I did it, and I only had about 3 weeks of the middle of the night bottles for them, I was exhausted all the time.

            I consider my cats my children, I would protect them the best I could, however I could. Having said that, if a human child was in danger, I would do my best to get that child out of danger. I have run into the street to get a toddler out of it.

            After Megan Finley mourns the loss of her prospective children, she has some options. A foster parent for older children, a pet parent, even an adoptive parent. Becoming a mentor perhaps? A scout leader? My sister never married but had a Girl Scout troop for a while, I’d guess she probably was a great troop leader. I don’t know what kind of job she has, but there are options out there to help children without being a parent.

            Parenthood is a good thing, but just because you can have a kid, doesn’t mean you SHOULD have one.

            Twins run in my family, skipping generations. One of my cousin’s had twins, and considering my crazy body had been doing in my youth, I suspect that I’d’ve been a good candidate to have twins. But I considered my inherited severe allergies and inherited migraines among many other things, before deciding that children wouldn’t be a good idea.

            Its like people have told me since I was in college that I’d’ve been a good nurse. The answer to that was “No. No, I would not make a good nurse.” In recent years I’ve meet fools who have gone into Home Health and nurses aides and they probably should’ve gone into a different field because they were lousy at the job. The reason I knew I wouldn’t be a good nurse is because I care too much, I would either hurt myself doing the job or I’d burn out. And, considering that I managed to hurt myself doing data entry, I can’t even imagine what I’d manage to do to myself in nursing…

            Never do anything you don’t want to explain to the paramedics.

  14. I feel like you want to get over this hump, but, since you said ‘recent’ events, I wonder how much time you’ve given yourself to grieve. Sometimes you do need to wallow in your grief.

  15. I’m so sorry. Thank you for sharing this though. I know it will help other people to hear you discuss your mental illness, particularly the way you’ve couched it as “unavoidable tragedy” and not “something you should have prevented but didn’t”.

    I’ve never had this particular problem so all I can offer you is what I do when I’m grieving in general. I give myself space for lots and lots of crying, preferably by myself. Crying actually releases endorphins. If you’re ever cried so hard that you reached that place were you can’t cry anymore, where you’re oddly calm, then you’ll know what I mean. It’s nature’s remedy for grief.

    The first time I did this was accidental. My mother died when I was in college and I spent a summer traveling back and forth to my family’s home ( an 8 hr trip ). I would cry until I couldn’t cry anymore then wait and start crying again, over and over, the whole way. I didn’t have a plan to do this. I didn’t know about endorphins. I just didn’t have a way to stop it.

    It’s harder to do now that I’m older. For one thing I don’t usually have 8 hour blocks of free time! Also it seems like it’s harder to let go and harder to sustain the crying until you reach that “can’t cry anymore” stage. But I remember that summer and how therapeutic it was and try nonetheless.

  16. THIS.

    My husband and I are in a similar position of facing the fact we cannot responsibly have children. When we realized this, I felt like my entire future got ripped away from me. It took me over 6 months to even get to the point where I could talk about it without crying. You need to take time to mourn, but try to keep communication open with the people who really matter. I definitely drowned a bit and wasn’t able to see/appreciate how my husband was also struggling. People will definitely misunderstand, so that unconditional support was much needed. I also came up with an end-the-conversation-right-now sentence to stop the judging without getting too personal and crying. I’d tell people “Unless my situation in life drastically changes, there is no possible way that we can responsibly raise a child.” Deadpanning and maintaining eye contact is pretty effective at getting people to realize it’s none of their business.

  17. A few years ago my ovaries attempted to stage a coup. They were getting really adamant about me fulfilling biological imperative by having babies.
    I did so much research from different birthing options to different parenting philosophies to what kind of education the hypothetical child might be best suited.
    Then I did something really hard, but something I do in any possibly life changing event; I did a cost/benefit pro/con list that would apply to any biological child of mine. (adoption costs money and they would have screened me out due to some medical issues.)
    I wrote down every person I am related to and next to their name I made a list of what they had. We go big on massive illnesses and disabilities in my family. Then I wrote down what I know about my husband’s family; not much there, high strung with ADHD.
    I haven’t elaborated on my side of the family because it would literally exhaust me to type that much and probably exhaust you to read it.
    After making that list and comparing good and bad I decided that, for me personally, giving birth to a child biologically related to me would be wrong. I wrestle with my genetic heritage every single day and it isn’t sunshine and roses and puppies and rainbows. I didn’t want that for a hypothetical child of mine.
    My extremely severe PCOS would have made conception impossible. (yep, a specialist took a look at my ovaries once upon a time and said “Don’t use this as birth control but the odds that you would conceive without medical intervention is less than 1%, even with medical intervention you have almost no chance at all)

  18. I hear you and it was probably a very difficult decision I’m sorry you have to go through this. I am a mentally ill, disabled stay at home mom. We had been trying for 2 years when I finally got a pregnancy to take…If we had not been successful at that time….or I had really grasped how much Crohn’s and PTSD would change my life we could have made a different decision. You are so brave to change the path you are on to reflect what’s really happening in your life. 11 years ago I was in denial….so focused on our plan our goal I didn’t really stop to think …is this still a good idea? I think your brilliant and I hope people are supportive. Good luck and take care of yourself. Kate

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