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I know there are people who never wanted kids. Some of them joyfully call themselves "child free" and they delight in writing blog posts about how horrible it is when someone disrupts their kid-free peace with a small human on an airplane or in a restaurant.
In a moving essay, "My Secret Grief. Over 35. Single. And Childless" author Melanie Notkin writes about an entirely different kind of childlessness, the kind that comes not from choice or from infertility, but from circumstance.
Her grief at watching her fertility slip by is profound and heartbreaking. She is not "child free." She is childless. And it sucks.
I found this paragraph especially insightful because it helped me to understand a misconception I have about women who never end up having kids but claim to have wanted them. Notkin writes:
Grief over not being able to have children is acceptable for couples going through biological infertility. Grief over childlessness for a single woman in her thirties and forties is not as accepted. Instead, it's assumed we just don't understand that our fertility has a limited lifespan and we are simply being reckless with chance. We're labeled "career women" as if we graduated college, burned our bras and got jobs to exhibit some sort of feminist muscle. Or, it's assumed we're not 'trying hard enough,' or we're 'being too picky.' The latest trend is to assume we don't really want children because we haven't frozen our eggs, adopted or had a biological baby as a single woman.
I hate to admit it, but I think I've had some of these feelings and judgements about friends who want children but are watching their childbearing years go by. I've always sort of assumed that they say they want children, but if they really did then they would do something about it--adopt, freeze eggs, contemplate co-parenting, or go for the turkey baster approach.
That's just about as lovely as my size double-zero friend suggesting that I just eat less if I want to lose weight. Easy to say, but completely naive. Not to mention irritating.
Of course you can want something very badly and still have completely legitimate limits on what you would do to get it. Even when it comes to having children. Some women are cut out for single motherhood. Some are not. And certainly no one is at fault for deciding not to adopt.
Ms. Notkin's essay is a good reminder that we need to allow women to grieve the children they wanted and never had even if it's "just" because they didn't find the right mate in time. For many it's a loss, and a terrible one, regardless of the circumstances.
Nobody needs our pity, of course, but sympathy and understanding is always nice. Like bringing flowers to the hostess, it's never the wrong move.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.