Coping with childlessness is like grieving the loss of a loved one: you never “get over” the pain. But you can be childless and still have a happy, fulfilled, and even joyful life. My husband and I first started dealing with infertility 10 years ago. Grieving was a process that took a long time and we’ve accepted the idea that we’ll be childless forever…but it still hurts.
On 5 Practical Ways to Cope With Childlessness a reader said she wasn’t comforted by my advice because she’s not married. “How can I be happy as a single childless woman?” she asks. She feels that single women have different problems. I agree. Married woman who can’t have children may have a built-in source of comfort in their husbands…but husbands can also be a source of pain, disappointment, and loneliness. I wrote the first five tips in this article for married childless couples. The final five tips are for single women who can’t have kids.
Whether you’re single or married, it’s important to be an emotionally healthy woman in all your relationships. Infertility and childlessness is difficult for most women; staying strong and stable is more important than you may realize.
Infertility and childlessness is a major loss in life. It’s the end of a dream, a goal, and a hope for a family. The only way to cope with it is to go through the grieving process (as opposed to avoiding the pain of grief).
The bad news is that the sting and heartbreak of childlessness doesn’t ever fully go away. You will always experience the pain of infertility and childlessness when you see a baby or pregnant woman. But there is good news: some childless women are happy, healthy, and whole! They love life and have a never-ending source of peace, love, joy, and healing.
It’s important to grieve childlessness – whether you’re single or married, young or old, Christian or atheist. Infertility is heartbreaking and needs to be processed before anyone can learn how to be happy.
5 Ways to Be Happy in a Childless Marriage
Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you feel emotionally supported or spiritually connected. In fact, experiencing emotional disconnection in marriage can be far lonelier than being single. When you’re a single woman without children, you expect to be lonely and sad. When you’re married you may expect to your husband to be there for you the way you need – but this isn’t always possible.
Which leads me to my first tip on how to be happy as a married childless woman…
1. Don’t expect your husband to give you all the emotional support you need
“We were diagnosed with ‘unexplained infertility’, which sounds good in one respect,” says Cindy Margolis, actress, model, and spokesperson for RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. “On the other hand, you almost want something wrong, so there’s a problem that you can fix.”
Men have the reputation of wanting to fix emotional and practical problems for their wives. Infertility is a problem that can’t be fixed; childlessness is a grief that never fully lifts its shadow. This may lead to relationship problems that become worse than the struggle of “just” learning how to be happy as a childless couple. Many infertile couples fall into the emotional traps of blaming, confusion, and unmet expectations. Some childless women expect their husbands to support them emotionally and spiritually; some childless men don’t know how to give their wives that emotional support.
Whether you’re coping with male-factor infertility, female fertility problems, or unexplained infertility, the fact is that you and your husband may not be able to support each other the way you need. You may have to find other sources of comfort and healing – especially if one or both of you aren’t able to accept the idea of being childless forever.
2. Be prepared for the effect of childlessness on your marriage
I don’t know the statistics of divorce after infertility, but I do know that childlessness can negatively impact a marriage. Some couples get a divorce after infertility or even during fertility treatments because it’s a stressful, difficult time.
Part of learning how to be happy as a childless woman is to be prepared for anything in your relationship with your husband. After you grieve infertility, you need to be aware that your marriage may look very different in a year from now. Maybe your relationship will be stronger; maybe it’ll be weaker. Maybe you’ll have learned joy and peace; maybe your husband will have sunk deeper into pain and depression.
Don’t expect anything in particular, but be prepared for anything.
3. Learn the freedom of acceptance and surrender
My husband and I spent three years trying to have children before we realized that our infertility was insurmountable. Yes, we’re Christians – and yes, we believed with all our hearts, minds, and souls that God would give us children! In fact, I even believed I had a promise from God. I’d read a Psalm that said “God settles the barren woman in her home and makes her the happy mother of children,” a decade before we got married; I really, really believed God intended me to have biological children.
But it wasn’t to be. Now, after 12 years of marriage, I have learned how to be happy even though I’ll be childless forever. My happiness doesn’t come from my husband Bruce or from our dogs. In fact I’m not even just happy – I’m full of joy, enthusiasm, positive energy, love, and courage.
My joy comes from acceptance and surrender. I haven’t allowed myself to sink into the belief that childless women are any less worthy or valuable than women who are mothers, and I don’t believe God is withholding something from me. I trust Him with a childlike spirit, and I love Him with all my heart.
I live in acceptance and surrender to His will for my life, and I have never been happier. If you’re not ready to surrender your dream of having biological children, you may find How to Pray a Powerful Prayer for Healing helpful.
4. Be with other childless couples who have learned how to be happy
If you’ve recently discovered that you or your partner are infertile, you may want to research various infertility support groups or couples counselors. Many treatment centers have monthly support groups led by experienced therapists. Connecting with other couples coping with infertility is a great way to learn how to be happy even if you’ll be childless forever, and even to investigate alternative ways to have a family.
When I was going through the worst of my grieving process, I didn’t want to be around new moms, babies, or pregnant women. Childlessness was very painful and I didn’t know how to be happy as a woman without children. I encourage you to be aware of your grief process and the “triggers” that make your world come crashing down. While you’re going through the worst of your grief, avoid those triggers. As you start to heal and grow stronger, you will find yourself able to be with new moms, babies, and expectant mothers. You will learn how to be happy without having to be surrounded by childless women all the time! Trust me. You will heal.
5. Explore different ways to invite children into your life
I’m a Big Sister with the Big Sisters/Big Brothers mentoring organization. My husband was a Big Brother. I didn’t find this to be a painful reminder of our childlessness; in fact, volunteering with a child (who is now a 15 year old teenage girl with all sorts of emotions and hormones running through her veins) helped me embrace our childlessness.
How else can you incorporate childishness into your life as a couple? Consider volunteering at a hospital for sick kids, or getting seriously involved in your nephews’ or nieces’ lives. There are kids all over our communities who are lonely and desperate for adult attention…and if your childless life may benefit other people’s kids in deep, meaningful ways.
If you believe you’ll never learn how to be happy because you’re a childless woman, talk to couples who have adopted, fostered, or had children in non-biological ways. Enjoying – not just tolerating – life after infertility involves opening your mind to possibilities other than traditional childbirth (or traditional fertility treatments). Ask your friends and family for examples of people who have built their families in untraditional ways. You’ll be surprised at what bubbles to the surface!
If you’re struggling with the idea of living childless forever, read Complete Without Kids: An Insider’s Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or by Chance. Ellen Walker guides readers through the positive and negative aspects of childfree living, taking into consideration the different issues faced by men or women, couples or singles.
As a woman who is childfree by choice, Walker draws upon her personal experience while also offering the reader numerous interviews with other childfree adults, revealing behind-the-scenes factors that influenced their personal journeys.
5 Tips for Single Women Who Are Childless
These tips aren’t just for never-married women – they’re for women whose marriages failed because of the pain of infertility, and for divorced women who never had their own children.
1. Find healthy ways to grieve your childlessness
“I’ve never been married and now that I’m 49, I believe I’ll be a childless single woman for the rest of my life,” says Elsa in response to Words of Comfort When Your Heart is Broken. “I’m an only child and have no siblings, I’m truly the last of my line and it depresses me that it will all end with me. There is an ‘immortality’ about having kids that I’ll never have.”
She adds that she’s dealing with depression that childless women often face. “I know in my heart I need therapy, but I live out here in the boonies where there aren’t any counselors or support groups, so that’s not an option,” she says. “I write copiously.I have always written, both professionally and privately, have kept journals since the age of 5 (I literally have trunks of them…). It’s saved me from ‘losing it’ more than once. Writing enables me to get my thoughts clearly formed and to think things through. My diary is my ‘therapist.’ I used to write in little notebooks, which I illustrated, but now I do it on the computer and the laptop when I travel.”
2. Learn how other single women found happiness
“I believe that it’s impossible to go through the challenge of infertility and not be changed by the process,” says entrepreneur Lesley Pyne How to Be Happy Without Kids. “I’ve used those changes to create meaning in my life. There’s no doubt that I’m different now. I’m stronger than I thought, I know myself a lot better and I’m a lot more empathic. I’ve learned so many new skills and have reclaimed my creativity.”
Lesley also says that time will only partially heal the pain of infertility for single childless women. She encourages women to take positive action to heal the grief and sadness. “It is hard to do this on your own,” says Lesley. “Working with someone who has been where you are and knows the way out makes the journey so much easier.”
3. Own and rewrite your story
You don’t get the life you planned. You never thought you’d have to cope with the idea of being childless forever.
It’s heartbreaking, and I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sorry for my loss, and my heart goes out to all the childless women who are in deep pain because they will never have their own biological children.
But I refuse to let my childlessness and infertility be the end of my story.
Author Brené Brown says this about owning your story: “When you deny your story, it defines you. When you own your story, you get to write a brave new ending. You get to say it was horrible and I was in lots of pain …… and then I got help and this is how the story ends.”
Learning how to be happy even if you’re childless forever doesn’t have to involve figuring out what your purpose is or what you’re passionate about! I know more women who don’t know what their purpose is than women who know why they’re here and what their “mission” is.
4. Focus on your emotional and spiritual health
Connect with God, or whatever makes you feel fully alive and energized. Explore activities that you haven’t yet tried. Talk to people you’ve never met. Take a risk, for you are dying. We are all dying, whether we’re childless women or single or married or the mother of quintuplets or a grandma of a one.
You know that feeling of abundant joy, peace, and freedom? Like you’re walking on clouds and in love with the Universe? That’s God. He is speaking to you all the time, wanting to fill you with peace, joy, love, healing, and grace. Accept what He offers, for no child or husband or activity will give you God’s spirit.
5. Be willing to accept your life as it is – without ‘winning’ or ‘losing’
Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal is one of my favorite books because it’s all about accepting both the bitter and the sweet parts of life. Dr Rachel Naomi Remen is an oncologist who never had children. She struggled with Crohn’s Disease for most her life, and when she was in her 20s had surgery to remove most of her intestines. Dr Remen is one of those childless women who knows failure and heartache – and I think she was single when she wrote Kitchen Table Wisdom. Maybe she’s still single, I don’t know. It doesn’t even matter! She teaches people how to bounce back from pain, loss, depression, and suffering to live full, passionate lives.
“The willingness to win OR lose moves us out of an adversarial relationship to life and into a powerful kind of openness,” writes Dr. Remen in Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal. “From such a position, we can make a greater commitment to life.”
Learning how to be happy as a single childless woman will involve being grateful for the benefits of your life. You can’t be happy without gratitude. When you feel grateful, you have no room in your heart, spirit, or soul for depression, angst, anxiety, or pain. Live in gratitude. Learn how to be happy with what you have, where you are, and who you are becoming. You will always feel the heartache of not having a baby, but it’s much easier to bear when you focus on the good parts of your life.
How do you feel? How are you coping with the idea of being childless forever? I welcome your big and little thoughts below. Feel free to share your story, or a little comment.
Need encouragement? Sign up for my weekly "Echoes of Joy" email - it's free, short, and energizing. Like me! Is your relationship in trouble? Get 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage from relationship coach Mort Fertel. It's free and helpful, no strings attached.