By Judy Einzig, LCSW
Navigating the emotional journey towards being happy in a life without children involves a process of grieving. When individuals who have struggled with infertility face a life without children, it's usually by default. It's a loss of their dream. They often feel depressed, and their anguish is rarely understood. Outsiders incorrectly assume that people without children have chosen not to have them.
Many people, especially women, connect their value in life with the activity of parenting. Society esteems and rewards those who raise children, often ignoring those who pursue other paths to form a worthwhile life. But it is precisely this step in the direction of another path that one must take when moving toward resolution.
When you move in the direction of living without children, you may want to consider where you will direct the energies that you would have used to parent your child. Make an agreement with your spouse to identify and prioritize what each of you will agree to do to continue to nurture these maternal/paternal instincts. Give each other the space to grow and pursue these feelings.
Resolution often involves couples building children into their lives: relatives, children of friends, children in need in the community. They appreciate that their involvements enable them to be free to do other things while maintaining a balance in their lives.
Living without children is an opening into a world of possibilities. There's a reinvigoration of connections with people. You begin to feel whole again. You may experience a sense of liberation. Suddenly they see a dazzling array of life's exciting possibilities, some of which wouldn't be possible with a child. As this realization sinks in, a huge surge of energy and excitement often is released. There's a re-engagement with life broader than engaging solely with an individual child. Many people become more creative.
With this release, people move beyond their grief over the loss of their dream. They put their energy into what excites them about their lives: work, extended family, other children, friends, community service, travel, their interests and passions. They use their money for life's pleasures or for charity.
By shifting their perspective on life, they realize that their sense of vitality as people can get passed on to one person or it can get passed on to the world and the culture in a variety of ways. One woman said, "I used to think that the only way it really made a difference that you were here on earth is to have children. I don't think that any more. There are lots of paths."
In accepting a life without children, you learn to live your life looking forward rather than looking back. With emotional resolution, reminders of the lack of children, such as anniversaries of miscarriages, no longer have a sting. It's important to look forward with happiness and value, no matter what' s in your life: children, job, or marital status.
For some, the emotional resolution leads to a spiritual expansion. There's often an expanded feeling of love, accepting the whole world as our family rather than the modern narrowing to the very few people with whom we feel connected. One woman expressed this transition. "When I'd wanted a child, I thought that the emotional tie with a child was the only route to deep happiness and human connection. It is one way, probably the most common way. But it's only one way. We can create others."
Our heart's journey teaches us that our life's dream of "family" can assume many forms. When you're young, you dream that you'll reach all your goals. In midlife, you face your dashed hopes and dreams such as: children, a knight in shining armor, fame, or career goals. You grieve these losses and accept your life as it is, along with the choices that you've made in the past that led to this situation. You make peace with your life and yourself.