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The One Comment About Being Childless That Still Stings

Honestly, it really hurts. A lot.

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illustration of couple covering their ears to block out comments from people
Maria Hergueta
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I could tell the world was starting to see me as a middle-aged woman when the inappropriate comments about my personal choices stopped coming. For years, my husband and I had grown accustomed to everyone from family to strangers feeling completely comfortable with dismissing our well-thought-out decision not to have children.

“Oh, you’ll change your mind someday.”

“What if you wake up one day and it’s too late?”

“Who will take care of you when you’re old?”

“Who will be here to remember you when you’re gone?”

“What’s the point of life if you can’t pass on all you’ve learned to your kids?”

After so many years of being assaulted by the world’s assumptions about our private decision, these comments stopped hurting and shocking. They became more annoyances, part of the background noise of our busy life. Somewhere around the age of 45, the comments stopped coming so frequently. It was clear to the world that I had passed the typical childbearing age. But one comment continues, and if I’m being honest, this is the one that actually hurts.

Didn’t you want to give your parents a grandchild?”

My husband, Doug, and I both like kids. We enjoy our nieces and nephews, have been active godparents and have thoroughly enjoyed watching our friends’ kids grow up. But the desire to be a mother just never hit me. It was always something that seemed like a dreaded “have to” — an end to me as I am and a kind of unwelcome new identity. I’m sure I’ve just offended most of the mothers reading this. That is not my intention. I am often in awe of how selfless, loving and hardworking my friends who are mothers are with their children. My own mother was and still is perhaps the greatest blessing in my life. I guess that’s why that one comment still gets to me.

Didn’t you want to give your parents a grandchild?”

My father passed away four years ago. Before he died, he was made a grandfather three times by my brothers. To this day, my mom delights in the company of her grandchildren. I’ve been “let off the hook,” so to speak. And yet, when someone points out that I didn’t do my part by adding to the grand-brood, I feel a pang of guilt.

The decision to not become parents was not something chosen on a whim. Doug and I didn’t just “forget” to have kids and then woke up one day saying “oops!” as menopause came knocking on my door. It was something we discussed almost 30 years ago when we got married, and became a topic we revisited frequently. I’m not going to say it has been clear-cut the whole way through. There were times along the way when I had second thoughts, when I let those uninvited comments affect me, and when I thought perhaps I should get pregnant “just in case” everyone was right. But ultimately, and fortunately, my husband and I realized that’s no reason to have a child. You don’t start a family just because the world around you says you should. And that is probably the most responsible parenting decision we ever could have made.

Doug and I both love our work, and our work requires a lot of travel. When we’re not traveling for our jobs, we travel for pleasure. Last year I think we spent a cumulative total of three months in our own home. This is our life and we love it. It’s not a life with room for kids. Bringing a child into this situation — or giving up my career that I love because I felt forced into being a parent — would be unfair to our child and to us. The older I get the more certain I am of my choice, and Doug feels the same way.

As my mom grows older, I can feel myself becoming more protective of her. She’s on her own now, and even though she’s happy, healthy and independent, I often worry about her. I guess I worry I’ve disappointed her.

But when I see my mother, and she can’t wait to see photos from my latest trip, to hear about my work and to tell me about her life, I know she isn’t mourning the loss of the grandchild I never gave her. We love the time we spend together, uninterrupted by the needs of children. We spend hours connecting one on one, and when that happens, I stop feeling guilty.

I didn’t give my parents a grandchild. I gave them a life I am proud of, and I know they are proud of me.