- The physical and mental stress of trying to have a baby sent me to the emergency room.
- It seemed very different to be “child-free” than “childless,” and neither term felt quite right.
- While no single word perfectly captures my situation, “childless not by choice” resonates with me.
“I’m not willing to lose you for a future that may not ever happen. We need to stop this,” my husband said, crying as I lay on a gurney in the overcrowded hall of the emergency room, shaking from sky-high blood pressure and undergoing tests to detect heart-attack enzymes.
The physical and mental stress of our marathon efforts to have a desperately wanted child had led us to this moment, and still, I was reluctant to call it quits.
It meant I would go from “trying to have a baby” to “prospective adoptive parent” to childless. The word felt heavy in my mouth and kept that little voice in the back of my head alive, whispering, “Don’t give up! Never give up!”
‘Child-free’ or ‘childless’
When you don’t have children, you can be described as either “childless” or “child-free.”
“Childless” typically describes people who wanted children, who wanted to parent, and, for a variety of circumstances — that are no one’s business — could not.
“Child-free” tends to describe people who have chosen not to have children: individuals or couples who have decided — for reasons that are also no one’s business — that they do not wish to parent.
When I wanted a baby at any cost, and those costs loomed large, it sounded so very sad to be “childless.” Would I be less of a person for not having children? Would I forever be defined by the missing piece? I imagined “childless” as a dark hole, a swirling vortex of grief. That didn’t sound like a label I wanted to apply to myself.
Then again, “child-free” sounded entirely too happy for my very real loss. How do you lose the dream of parenthood, of raising children, and then say, “Huzzah, I am free”? It evoked a picture of someone skipping into the sunset through a field of wildflowers, arms spread wide. To me, “child-free” screamed that you had made a choice.
I found an online community for me
As I grappled with grief and adjustment, I found sisterhood in the Childless Not By Choice community online. “Childless not by choice” tempers the “less” — yes, I do not have children, but I did want them.
Now, over five years later, there really isn’t one word that fully captures how I feel about my family status. “Childless not by choice” is a term I use frequently, and when I feel like avoiding the whole “free”https://www.insider.com/”less” debate, I say “resolved without parenting.”
It’s hard work to rebuild the dream of the life we thought we’d have into one that exists in the here and now, that reflects our new reality. I don’t often feel “less” — I have a fulfilling life and have accepted that I won’t ever have children.
I’m getting better at not putting my trauma on display or overjustifying why I don’t have kids. There are actually ways I feel free — free from the constant what-ifs, free from the devastation of repeated losses big and small, free from the feeling of being stuck in processes that did not work for us no matter how hard we tried.
Maybe it would be better if we didn’t feel the need to choose one label or another for not having kids. When you aren’t a parent, it feels like there are so many invasive questions and judgments. I have never found myself asking someone, “Why do you have kids?” And yet those of us without are repeatedly asked why we don’t, and our answers are often dismissed or derided. We’re told we’ll change our minds or we’ll be sorry later. If the choice was made for us, we’re told that we can “just adopt” or that it’s not too late to get pregnant like whichever 45-plus-year-old celebrity just did.
I resolved my infertility and adoption journey as childless not by choice. While I honor my losses, I feel far more joy, acceptance, and freedom to live my life the way it turned out, without being “less.”