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The Truth About Childless Women

Nearly 46 percent of American women through age 44 are childless. That’s up from 35 percent in 1976.

All reasons this generation of women are not bearing children at the same rate their mothers did are valid. Some young women and just not at a point in their lives where motherhood is choice they’d like to make. Some are ‘fence-sitters,’ not sure about whether or not they want children. Some are childfree by choice. Some are gay and need to take a potentially longer and less traditional route to motherhood. Some are suffering from biological infertility. And some, like me, are what I call “circumstantially infertile.”

I want children. I always have. At age 12 I purchased baby name books in preparation for the son and twin daughters I dreamed to be a mother to one day. I was a nanny, camp counselor and frequent babysitter. I would make up songs to sing to the kids I babysat that would become ‘our thing’ or visit the kids even when I wasn’t officially working for their parents. By age 21, I was hosting teen tour girls in my home. Motherhood was always a path I felt ready for.

At age 23, when interviewing for my first job in New York City, I inquired about maternity benefits to make sure it was the right place for me. I focused my career in the non-profit sector, hoping it would give me more flexibility in dating, marriage and motherhood. I dated men with traditional family values, men who have since gone on be fruitful and multiply.

By my mid-thirties, now in my third job working for some of the best companies in the world to make enough money to live in New York City, I was still unmarried. I wasn’t a mother. My work hours were longer, some days were spent overseas, and I was beginning to suffer the prejudice of being an ‘older’ woman. At 34, I was approached by a male who friend who said he wanted to set me up with a friend our age but I was just ‘too old.’ At 35, a man said he would date me if I agreed to freeze my eggs. At age 36, another man told me he’d (reluctantly) date me since I could probably still ‘pop one out.’ Now we all know these are exceptional instances but they were nevertheless embedded in my psyche.

The grief over not only not being a mother, but now also suffering from feeling ‘less than’ because I just simply hadn’t found love (or mutual love), was at times overwhelming. And as I saw couples younger than I getting sympathy for their biological infertility, I wondered why all I got was accusations of not doing enough, not trying hard enough. Trying too hard. Being too picky. Not being picky enough… And the hardest comment to defend: “You better hurry up!” (Hurry up and fall in love?)

While I have not suffered from biological infertility (as far as I know), I imagined my grief was at least as deep as couples trying to conceive as I didn’t have a love who shared the grief. Heck, I often didn’t even have a date to get closer to trying! Every month that passed, I grieved a loss. But I grieved alone. I have no husband (or male partner) to grieve with me. And lamenting my infertility to close friends who are parents or to family was never well-received.

Generation X is the first generation of women who have a choice to wait for love. Unlike many of our mothers, we earn enough to take care of ourselves (please don’t call us ‘career women’ as careers are as much a choice for women as they are for men.) But still, the assumption is still that all women who don’t have children don’t want children. There is a place between motherhood and choosing not to be a mother. And tens of millions of American women are there.

I’m 42 and still single and I have come to acknowledge the truth: it’s very possible I won’t have children of my own. I’ve grieved and have found my happiness on the other side. There are days that are still hard for me (Mother’s Day, the day a friend announces her pregnancy, when I hear a guy won’t date me because I’m too old to have kids, my birthdays, my monthly reminder…) but most days I’m happy. Very happy. I’m not in the wrong life being the wrong wife and trying to get out. I have no regrets.

My circumstances have left me infertile but they have not left me non-maternal. I love the children in my life with boundless adoration. If I was not meant to be a mother to 2.1 kids, then perhaps I was meant to be motherly to many more. From a girl in Tanzania I’ve adopted as a niece and email with many times a week, to the little ones down the hall in my apartment building, and of course to my amazing nephew and nieces by relation, I am an aunt.
I’m not childless, I’m childfull. I’m not a mother but I am maternal.

My infertility is circumstantial but my life is not barren. And to the women who are on the other side of hope, know that you are more powerful than your womb. You are maternal whether or not maternity ever comes. You are a woman and your love and how you choose to offer and receive it, is a gift.

And you're not alone.

XOXO,
Auntie Melanie

28 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The Truth About Childless Women”

  1. MouseHL July 13, 2011 at 1:57 am

    Thank you for writing this

    • Kietrawinn July 15, 2011 at 3:06 am

      Thank you for writing this. As many others have said, all to often women with infertility issues are dismissed and overlooked.  Blogs like this are empowering and have the ability to move women beyond their womb obscession.  More importantly, it helps us to become delivered from societal expectations of what the roles of women should be.

    • Kietrawinn July 15, 2011 at 3:06 am

      Thank you for writing this. As many others have said, all to often women with infertility issues are dismissed and overlooked.  Blogs like this are empowering and have the ability to move women beyond their womb obscession.  More importantly, it helps us to become delivered from societal expectations of what the roles of women should be.

  2. Lesley July 13, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Your timely and cogent commentary will resonate with millions of women. Having married late I tried immediately to conceive and went through a major surgery to accelrate the process but to no avail. Exposure to DES in utero most likely doomed my prospects to begin with. I made the decision there and then to be the best mentor I could be to the young lives that touched mine – of which there were and are many. How we chose to deal with the curves life throws us ultimately defines us and my cup runneth over!

  3. Lesley July 13, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Your timely and cogent commentary will resonate with millions of women. Having married late I tried immediately to conceive and went through a major surgery to accelrate the process but to no avail. Exposure to DES in utero most likely doomed my prospects to begin with. I made the decision there and then to be the best mentor I could be to the young lives that touched mine – of which there were and are many. How we chose to deal with the curves life throws us ultimately defines us and my cup runneth over!

  4. Stacey Walter July 13, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    Dear Auntie Melanie,
    Thank you so much for writing this. I just turned 43 and have been trying to grieve for my ‘circumstantial infertility’ for a couple years now.  It is so hard to explain to people, but you so eloquently put my feelings into words.  My first niece was born last year and I LOVE being an aunt. But like you, I find that it can be especially difficult on special occasions or in circumstances similar to those you mentioned.  I can’t wait to read your book and join the Savvy Auntie movement!

  5. Stacey Walter July 13, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    Dear Auntie Melanie,
    Thank you so much for writing this. I just turned 43 and have been trying to grieve for my ‘circumstantial infertility’ for a couple years now.  It is so hard to explain to people, but you so eloquently put my feelings into words.  My first niece was born last year and I LOVE being an aunt. But like you, I find that it can be especially difficult on special occasions or in circumstances similar to those you mentioned.  I can’t wait to read your book and join the Savvy Auntie movement!

  6. Linda Sue Williams July 14, 2011 at 3:26 am

    Dear Aunt Melanie,
    I wish you would write extensively about childless women. I am 58. I did not choose to be childless; it was chosen for me and was through an unpleasant, to say the least, experience. I have had people rudely ask me, in the presence of other people, why I have no children. I have had people assume I wanted none. I have had people assume I have been selfish. After five years of crying (starting age 28) I continued through another 20+ years of others’ probing and judging and this was just as painful as my inability to conceive. When you are the age when people have children and you do not it is impossible to have friends. If I had the time I would write a book. But it would only chastise and demean those who have done so to me. My own three sisters used it constantly as a weapon and bargaining chip. Everyone assumes I am rich. I have tons of time to volunteer and that I know nothing about children. I was once a child and the second mother to my sisters. Once, at  dinner party, a person piped up that People without children don’t know what it is like to send a child to college. I was soley responsible for my education and sustenance after age 18. I DID send a child to college, me, and it was difficult to to so at age 18. One woman, in a church, asked me why I have no children in the presence of 14 other women. I could go on and on. I’ve been told the Bible says Go forth and multiply, to which I have responded that in the Gospel of Matthew it states that the day will come when blessed is the empty womb of a woman. And I tell them just that now. And after that I hold my tongue to not tell them to stick it where the sun don’t shine. You are not alone. You are special. You have not produced 6 kids that will never have music lessons because of providing so much food and housing et al. I nurture naturally every chance that arrives and the hell with others. One has to be tough, not hard, tough. Peace to you and other women like us. Old Ivory

  7. Linda Sue Williams July 14, 2011 at 3:26 am

    Dear Aunt Melanie,
    I wish you would write extensively about childless women. I am 58. I did not choose to be childless; it was chosen for me and was through an unpleasant, to say the least, experience. I have had people rudely ask me, in the presence of other people, why I have no children. I have had people assume I wanted none. I have had people assume I have been selfish. After five years of crying (starting age 28) I continued through another 20+ years of others’ probing and judging and this was just as painful as my inability to conceive. When you are the age when people have children and you do not it is impossible to have friends. If I had the time I would write a book. But it would only chastise and demean those who have done so to me. My own three sisters used it constantly as a weapon and bargaining chip. Everyone assumes I am rich. I have tons of time to volunteer and that I know nothing about children. I was once a child and the second mother to my sisters. Once, at  dinner party, a person piped up that People without children don’t know what it is like to send a child to college. I was soley responsible for my education and sustenance after age 18. I DID send a child to college, me, and it was difficult to to so at age 18. One woman, in a church, asked me why I have no children in the presence of 14 other women. I could go on and on. I’ve been told the Bible says Go forth and multiply, to which I have responded that in the Gospel of Matthew it states that the day will come when blessed is the empty womb of a woman. And I tell them just that now. And after that I hold my tongue to not tell them to stick it where the sun don’t shine. You are not alone. You are special. You have not produced 6 kids that will never have music lessons because of providing so much food and housing et al. I nurture naturally every chance that arrives and the hell with others. One has to be tough, not hard, tough. Peace to you and other women like us. Old Ivory

  8. Linda Sue Williams July 14, 2011 at 3:26 am

    Dear Aunt Melanie,
    I wish you would write extensively about childless women. I am 58. I did not choose to be childless; it was chosen for me and was through an unpleasant, to say the least, experience. I have had people rudely ask me, in the presence of other people, why I have no children. I have had people assume I wanted none. I have had people assume I have been selfish. After five years of crying (starting age 28) I continued through another 20+ years of others’ probing and judging and this was just as painful as my inability to conceive. When you are the age when people have children and you do not it is impossible to have friends. If I had the time I would write a book. But it would only chastise and demean those who have done so to me. My own three sisters used it constantly as a weapon and bargaining chip. Everyone assumes I am rich. I have tons of time to volunteer and that I know nothing about children. I was once a child and the second mother to my sisters. Once, at  dinner party, a person piped up that People without children don’t know what it is like to send a child to college. I was soley responsible for my education and sustenance after age 18. I DID send a child to college, me, and it was difficult to to so at age 18. One woman, in a church, asked me why I have no children in the presence of 14 other women. I could go on and on. I’ve been told the Bible says Go forth and multiply, to which I have responded that in the Gospel of Matthew it states that the day will come when blessed is the empty womb of a woman. And I tell them just that now. And after that I hold my tongue to not tell them to stick it where the sun don’t shine. You are not alone. You are special. You have not produced 6 kids that will never have music lessons because of providing so much food and housing et al. I nurture naturally every chance that arrives and the hell with others. One has to be tough, not hard, tough. Peace to you and other women like us. Old Ivory

  9. carol July 15, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    LOVE your piece.  THANKS.   BRILLIANT.  I have thought about everything you just wrote about for many years.  I am a preschool teacher and taught preschool for 15 years before I became a mother.  I had my babies right around age 40 – but for many years I did not think I would have children.  I heard so many inaccurate, untrue and biased comments about motherhood/fertility, etc.. it drove me crazy.  People would say, “I can’t believe you are such a good preschool teacher and you don’t even have kids of your own.”  Or, when I needed to talk to a parent about an issue their child was having they might say, “Well, I don’t think you really get it because you don’t have kids of your own”.   How crazy.  I am a good teacher because I have worked with hundreds of kids and have studied child development for years and obtained masters degree in early childhood development.  I try very hard (now that I direct a program) to counter this bias.  Some of the BEST teachers I have known are women and men who do not have biological children but have chosen to have children in their lives in all sorts of ways including choosing a career with children. 

  10. carol July 15, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    LOVE your piece.  THANKS.   BRILLIANT.  I have thought about everything you just wrote about for many years.  I am a preschool teacher and taught preschool for 15 years before I became a mother.  I had my babies right around age 40 – but for many years I did not think I would have children.  I heard so many inaccurate, untrue and biased comments about motherhood/fertility, etc.. it drove me crazy.  People would say, “I can’t believe you are such a good preschool teacher and you don’t even have kids of your own.”  Or, when I needed to talk to a parent about an issue their child was having they might say, “Well, I don’t think you really get it because you don’t have kids of your own”.   How crazy.  I am a good teacher because I have worked with hundreds of kids and have studied child development for years and obtained masters degree in early childhood development.  I try very hard (now that I direct a program) to counter this bias.  Some of the BEST teachers I have known are women and men who do not have biological children but have chosen to have children in their lives in all sorts of ways including choosing a career with children. 

  11. Cookson111 July 18, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Thank you.  You have spoken to me in so many ways.  I plan to carry your article with me and share it with other friends. 

  12. Cookson111 July 18, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Thank you.  You have spoken to me in so many ways.  I plan to carry your article with me and share it with other friends. 

  13. hope July 27, 2011 at 3:12 am

    Very well written!  I am 35 and unmarried without children.  I have a mental health issue that consists of major depression at times and I would never ever wish it on any innocent child to have.  Doctors say there’s a 15% chance I could pass it on to my child and that’s too much of a chance for me.  I have a wonderful boyfriend who’s battled a life threatening illness and he faces the chance of passing it on to a child.  We both are very giving people and realize that if we were to go down the path of having our own child, it would be selfish because we wouldn’t be looking at the best interest in their health.  I am tired of hearing people assume that you have to take every risk to have a child. How about considering the child’s needs first and if you cannot provide them, then be a selfless person and think about not becoming a parent.  The world would be a better place if people took parenting more seriously and not just think of it as a stage of life. 

    • Mia August 22, 2011 at 4:53 pm

      What a wonderful post. You are truly a selfless and giving person, I wish you and your partner the very best. I am a parent (and an aunt) but I absolutely agree with you that “The world would be a better place if people took parenting more
      seriously and not just think of it as a stage of life”. Very well said.

  14. hope July 27, 2011 at 3:12 am

    Very well written!  I am 35 and unmarried without children.  I have a mental health issue that consists of major depression at times and I would never ever wish it on any innocent child to have.  Doctors say there’s a 15% chance I could pass it on to my child and that’s too much of a chance for me.  I have a wonderful boyfriend who’s battled a life threatening illness and he faces the chance of passing it on to a child.  We both are very giving people and realize that if we were to go down the path of having our own child, it would be selfish because we wouldn’t be looking at the best interest in their health.  I am tired of hearing people assume that you have to take every risk to have a child. How about considering the child’s needs first and if you cannot provide them, then be a selfless person and think about not becoming a parent.  The world would be a better place if people took parenting more seriously and not just think of it as a stage of life. 

    • Mia August 22, 2011 at 4:53 pm

      What a wonderful post. You are truly a selfless and giving person, I wish you and your partner the very best. I am a parent (and an aunt) but I absolutely agree with you that “The world would be a better place if people took parenting more
      seriously and not just think of it as a stage of life”. Very well said.

  15. Ei122651 August 21, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Thanks for writing this; I wish I was able to read this many years ago. At age 59, I still mourn daily for being childless, and have to live with the fact that it was due to poor choices I made, too cumbersome to review here.  The one thing that helped me to see this in what I now consider the best and only way to view this, was a comment made by my gynecologist, upon the formal declaration that my ovaries had shut down. I told her I was devastated at the realization that it was all over for me, and she asked me if I had nieces and nephews, which I do.  Then she told me “then, you have kids- your nieces and nephews are your children too- they are the closest thing to it”.  This is most true, not only in the biological sense. I would tell everyone who is lamenting the childless situation to think of this immediately upon the birth of a niece or nephew,to revel in that moment, and in every milestone in that child’s development that follows.  Every day, I think of the first time I held my oldest niece, and I thank my brothers in my heart daily for giving me the opportunity to share their children. 

    P.S. I just bought your book- you are such a good writer!

  16. Ei122651 August 21, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Thanks for writing this; I wish I was able to read this many years ago. At age 59, I still mourn daily for being childless, and have to live with the fact that it was due to poor choices I made, too cumbersome to review here.  The one thing that helped me to see this in what I now consider the best and only way to view this, was a comment made by my gynecologist, upon the formal declaration that my ovaries had shut down. I told her I was devastated at the realization that it was all over for me, and she asked me if I had nieces and nephews, which I do.  Then she told me “then, you have kids- your nieces and nephews are your children too- they are the closest thing to it”.  This is most true, not only in the biological sense. I would tell everyone who is lamenting the childless situation to think of this immediately upon the birth of a niece or nephew,to revel in that moment, and in every milestone in that child’s development that follows.  Every day, I think of the first time I held my oldest niece, and I thank my brothers in my heart daily for giving me the opportunity to share their children. 

    P.S. I just bought your book- you are such a good writer!

  17. Ei122651 August 21, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Thanks for writing this; I wish I was able to read this many years ago. At age 59, I still mourn daily for being childless, and have to live with the fact that it was due to poor choices I made, too cumbersome to review here.  The one thing that helped me to see this in what I now consider the best and only way to view this, was a comment made by my gynecologist, upon the formal declaration that my ovaries had shut down. I told her I was devastated at the realization that it was all over for me, and she asked me if I had nieces and nephews, which I do.  Then she told me “then, you have kids- your nieces and nephews are your children too- they are the closest thing to it”.  This is most true, not only in the biological sense. I would tell everyone who is lamenting the childless situation to think of this immediately upon the birth of a niece or nephew,to revel in that moment, and in every milestone in that child’s development that follows.  Every day, I think of the first time I held my oldest niece, and I thank my brothers in my heart daily for giving me the opportunity to share their children. 

    P.S. I just bought your book- you are such a good writer!

  18. Ecjl88 August 25, 2011 at 11:23 am

    I am 37, have found myself pregnant twice under unfavourable circumstances, but twice miscarried.  So all of the stress of the two blue lines and none of the glory.  I am with a man who says he wants children but ran a mile when I got pregnant.  I fear I am going to have to leave him to chance finding someone who does and will commit quickly to the propect.  That is hard.  I can’t even consider not being a mother at the moment.  That way, for me, lies madness.  I don’t understand how people get their heads around it.  All my friends and family have already started talking about adoption (like they’ve given up on me already) and seem quite shocked when I say that’s not enough for me (although I would, of course, if I  needed to).  So I hope I don’t find myself at 42 and in the same situation as you, but if I do, I hope that I have a supportive partner and that I deal with it as sanely and rationally as you have. 

  19. Ecjl88 August 25, 2011 at 11:23 am

    I am 37, have found myself pregnant twice under unfavourable circumstances, but twice miscarried.  So all of the stress of the two blue lines and none of the glory.  I am with a man who says he wants children but ran a mile when I got pregnant.  I fear I am going to have to leave him to chance finding someone who does and will commit quickly to the propect.  That is hard.  I can’t even consider not being a mother at the moment.  That way, for me, lies madness.  I don’t understand how people get their heads around it.  All my friends and family have already started talking about adoption (like they’ve given up on me already) and seem quite shocked when I say that’s not enough for me (although I would, of course, if I  needed to).  So I hope I don’t find myself at 42 and in the same situation as you, but if I do, I hope that I have a supportive partner and that I deal with it as sanely and rationally as you have. 

  20. Susan September 1, 2011 at 7:40 am

    I have just celebrated being an Aunt for 2 and half decades with the arrival of my fifth gorgeous nephew, and of course the 25th birthday of first nephew (and godson). These two events have made me reflect of late on being  ‘Auntie’, as at also 42, single, and child-free, I must get my head (and heart) comfortable with this being my (sort of) maternal outlet. These kids are precious to me, and I realise that as a family we are fortunate to have been blessed with six healthy, happy and very funny boys ,and one girl, courtesy of my brothers, sister and their spouses. I am not ‘through the other side’ quite yet, and reconciled that this will be it, and feel guilty that 1. I turned down being god-mother to my nephew 2 years ago because it felt like a poor consoliation prize, and 2. I cried with self pity and anger, when I was shared the happy news that my latest nephew was on the way.   What is it about this age ’42’ and babies?? I suppose at 40 we still have peers who are popping out bubs, and the crazy thought that if ‘I can turn this around in 6 months,’ and have a speedy courtship,engagement,wedding and babymaking, we can cram it all in and catchup!!

    Thanks Mel for your gorgeous article, its the conversation that most Aunts-only women like me would love to have, you have definitely given a much needed forum for this topic.

  21. Susan September 1, 2011 at 7:40 am

    I have just celebrated being an Aunt for 2 and half decades with the arrival of my fifth gorgeous nephew, and of course the 25th birthday of first nephew (and godson). These two events have made me reflect of late on being  ‘Auntie’, as at also 42, single, and child-free, I must get my head (and heart) comfortable with this being my (sort of) maternal outlet. These kids are precious to me, and I realise that as a family we are fortunate to have been blessed with six healthy, happy and very funny boys ,and one girl, courtesy of my brothers, sister and their spouses. I am not ‘through the other side’ quite yet, and reconciled that this will be it, and feel guilty that 1. I turned down being god-mother to my nephew 2 years ago because it felt like a poor consoliation prize, and 2. I cried with self pity and anger, when I was shared the happy news that my latest nephew was on the way.   What is it about this age ’42’ and babies?? I suppose at 40 we still have peers who are popping out bubs, and the crazy thought that if ‘I can turn this around in 6 months,’ and have a speedy courtship,engagement,wedding and babymaking, we can cram it all in and catchup!!

    Thanks Mel for your gorgeous article, its the conversation that most Aunts-only women like me would love to have, you have definitely given a much needed forum for this topic.

  22. Chanda M. DeFoor September 23, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Awesome blog post! Thank you for opening up to the world with your story and for providing a “place” for those of us in the same boat.

  23. Chanda M. DeFoor September 23, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Awesome blog post! Thank you for opening up to the world with your story and for providing a “place” for those of us in the same boat.

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