On Not Being Able to Have Children

Having children seems to be the easiest way to give your life meaning and direction. And for most people it’s what they’ve always expected of their future. Having their own family is what they always dreamed of having – many since they were kids themselves.

It’s a right of passage. You get a job, fall in love, (buy a property), (get married), have a family. Ideally of course – I know a lot of wonderful children born from one night stands or relationships that didn’t work out.

I’ve written about why I think anyone who wants to have children should be trying ASAP before.

I know very few people who haven’t experienced problems conceiving. Even people in their twenties who you wouldn’t have thought would have any problems.

And, conceiving a baby is just the first part. So many people I know have had miscarriages and suffered other complications.

When it’s not happening?

So, what do you do if it doesn’t work? If you just can’t get pregnant?

I’ve known a few friends go through IVF. It’s been hard to see the physical, emotional and financial toll it’s had on them. IVF is full on in so many ways, and the chances of it working are slim.

Another friend of mine is  less sympathetic – “they can adopt” or “plenty of people have fulfilling lives without having children“.

That’s all true of course.

Having children is not for everyone. I know people who emphatically dislike children and/or have never wanted to raise any.

Although – I do know people who chose not to have any, only to profoundly regret that decision when they got to their 50s. The endless travel trips, and freedom to do whatever, was great in their 30s and 40s. They were less enthused by those factors in their 50s. Like my friend told me, “everyone else has their families – we have no one“. Their world seemed small, and their future life a lot lonelier without any family of their own to keep them company, or to offer meaning and direction in their old age.

You can enjoy spending some time with your friends’ children, your nieces and nephews, but it isn’t the same. You will never be a Mum or Dad to those children. You will never have the same responsibilities or obligations or full range of experiences.

Which suits some people, if that’s all they want.

The Death of a Future 

But, if you do want children, it hit me a while ago, how difficult it must be if you had always wanted to have children, and couldn’t.

It’s a future you always assumed you would have, that’s all of a sudden not available to you (in the traditional sense). The person you thought you would become has gone. Your dreams and an identity you always thought you would have, have disappeared.

Not being able to have your own children is an extremely difficult notion to accept.

I assume that for anyone going through this, there’s a period of shock, denial, anger, depression, and finally acceptance – just like any other form of grief.

On top of that, there’s the enormous pressure it puts on your relationship, and the tremendous amount of guilt involved. Feeling inadequate. Letting down the person you love most. Continuously questioning why the universe, or God, (whatever you believe in), doesn’t want you to have children of your own.

That’s a lot of pain.

This is why I get pissed when people brush off not being able to get pregnant as not being a big deal. For those going through it – it is HUGE!


The trouble with finding out that you can’t have your own children is realising that a world you so wanted to be a part of, is a world that you will forever be completely excluded from.

I guess there’s a lot that you feel you will miss out on.  There is no shortage of material. We’ve been indoctrinated all our lives by families on TV and film, and then there’s the people you know, and for some, your own childhood, and relationship with your own parents.

All those experiences that you thought you would have and now won’t:

  • taking a pregnancy test and realising that you’re pregnant;
  • telling your partner that he’s going to be a father;
  • sharing the good news with friends;
  • telling your parents they will be grandparents;
  • being pregnant;
  • researching and buying prams, cots and everything else you need;
  • going to NCT classes;
  • giving birth;
  • introducing your baby to your world, friends and family;
  • seeing your baby’s first smile;
  • bringing up a tiny human being that’s a mixture of your own genes – a product of you and your partner’s love for each other;
  • seeing your child take it’s first steps;
  • hearing your child’s first words;
  • watching how your child develops;
  • being part of a family unit;
  • choosing a nursery and negotiating child care arrangements;
  • teaching your child its first words;
  • reading bed time stories;
  • checking on them when they’re asleep;
  • buying them whatever they need;
  • spending Christmas time with them;
  • making sure they are safe and looking after them when they’re ill;
  • taking them to the park;
  • experiencing their first day of school;
  • finding out and encouraging what interests them;
  • teaching them things about the world;
  • helping them learn to ride a bike;
  • teaching them to swim;
  • helping them with homework;
  • throwing birthday parties;
  • choosing schools;
  • going to parents evenings;
  • attending sports days and school shows;
  • welcoming them home or having them welcome you home;
  • having dinner together;
  • playing board games;
  • supervising sleep overs;
  • taking them on holidays;
  • worrying about exam results;
  • teaching them about sex, drugs and alcohol and worrying about them when they’re out;
  • helping them choose what they want to do with their lives;
  • meeting their friends/girlfriends/boyfriends;
  • supporting them through the difficult times in their lives;
  • seeing them get married;
  • becoming grandparents;
  • watching them grow up, forging good relationships and enjoying your time with them.(Incidentally, I love talking to people about how they are choosing to bring up their children – I find it really interesting.)

I could go on…

The prospect of never identifying yourself as a parent; of not being able to exchange experiences on parenting, or contribute in any meaningful way to most conversations about children; not getting to know the parents of your children’s mates; or be part of any of your children’s groups; or extra curricular activities or school communities.

It’s a lot.

Grass is Always Greener

And, I know, I know. The above is probably a romanticised, rose tinted view.

Mention the above to many parents, and they will tell you how boring and tedious it is, and how it’s all difficult, frustrating, and stressful too. The sleepless nights, the problems breast feeding, the tantrums, the endless worry, the lack of freedom, the expense, how their lives have changed and are far more complicated.

It’s not a walk in the park by any means. I get that.

But for people who can’t have children – they are good problems. Problems they would do anything to have.

As Mark Manson says:

“What pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out… you have to choose something. You can’t have a pain-free life. It can’t all be roses and unicorns. And ultimately that’s the hard question that matters. Pleasure is an easy question. And pretty much all of us have similar answers. The more interesting question is the pain. What is the pain that you want to sustain?”

Sure kids are crazy and chaotic and unpredictable and can be hard work. But they are also bundles of joy with the power to make your heart melt.

Anyone with their own children should appreciate how lucky they are.

I don’t think many do. Some parents have told me that children are overrated. And the sad reality of it is that there are people with children of their own who couldn’t care less, and have no interest in the experiences listed above.

The world is screwed up.

Other Options

So what do you do?

There is surrogacy – if you’re willing to risk paying £100,000 to an agency in America; or you can try to adopt; or foster.

I don’t know much about fostering or adoption, but as far as I know, there are few young babies up for adoption, and the process takes years.

A friend of a friend is going through it now. It’s intense. It’s taken them around 2 years and required a huge commitment, regular classes and assignment on parenting, tests to see how they interact with kids, and several long interviews of them, and their family and friends.

Financially and practically you have to be willing to drop everything and adopt at a moments notice.

In the borough where my friend of a friend is going for it – you are competing with another 8 couples for each child. I don’t know how the authorities choose who will be the best match.

Also, a lot needs to happen for kids to be adopted in this country.

Many children up for adoption will have gone through colossal amounts of trauma that may very well affect them for the rest of their lives. Chances are that bringing them up is going to be harder than raising children of your own. A friend of a friend for example, had to give up his high flying and well paid job to focus on calming down his adopted children.

Sure, (as my friend tells me), your own kids could have issues. Statistically however, most adopted children have had to deal with far more trauma then kids who have been brought up from birth in a loving home will ever have to face. It isn’t the same.

So get started!

It seems that you don’t really know whether or not you can have your own children unlesss you start trying.  Like I’ve said, don’t procrastinate.

I have so many friends trying to conceive at the moment. I really hope it works out for them. Quickly too.