Tell Me About It

My husband now says our life could be better without children

Tell Me About It: ‘My IVF clinic closed and now my husband thinks it’s all for the best’

PROBLEM: I am a 39-year-old woman and find my life turned upside down by the lockdown. We were about to have our last agreed IVF treatment in March when the pandemic closed the clinic and there was nothing we could do.

However, my husband has now said maybe it’s all for the better as he has begun to accept that our lives could be very good without children. This new discovery that he has made has hit me like a ton of bricks. I am now mourning the loss of our potential baby on my own and left with doubt whether we can go on.

We got married four years ago and I was delighted, thinking that I had time to build the family I always wanted but my husband is eight years older than me and I know that he did not necessarily see children as part of his life. All my friends have babies and toddlers and I feel very outside of their circle – Covid-19 has exaggerated this even more as they seem to have disappeared into their family lives and we only have occasional contact.

My husband did not have a happy childhood and he is happy to have very little contact with his family at this stage of his life, but I grew up in the middle of a sprawling, messy and very connected extended family and I now feel outside of this also as everyone has kids and all the talk is of schools and Communions.

If my husband backs out of the deal of family, I don’t know if our marriage can last without the bigger family picture – at least for me.

ADVICE: It is cruel to be deprived of your last planned IVF treatment, but it is likely that your clinic will offer you some options around this – however, going ahead when your marriage is under question is probably not the time to proceed. The choice to have children is something that ideally, both partners participate fully in, but the truth is that women have a limited time in which this is possible, and men are not under the same pressure as their fertility continues for much longer.

There are a number of issues here, one is to have your own biological child but if your partner does not want to become a parent, this then also shuts off donor treatment, adoption or fostering and this may be something you need to discuss as your chance of parenting lessens.

The key need is to have truthful and in-depth conversations about your relationship and how can you both meet the needs of the other

You are already in huge loss and mourning for the missed opportunity to get pregnant, so it may be worth questioning if this is the time to end your relationship. Many couples struggle to survive IVF, with the associated hormone surges, waves of hope and disappointment and sex on demand when the time is right. But many survive this, both those who are successful with pregnancies and those who come to accept that they will not have their own children. Your husband may have realised, as there is lots of time for reflection in these restricted times, that he does not need children to have a fulfilled life and now this truth sits in your relationship like a potential end point.

The key need is to have truthful and in-depth conversations about your relationship and how can you both meet the needs of the other. It seems that he needs you to consider a future without parenting and you need him to support you through your pain and listen to your longing for a family.

It may well be that this is an impasse, but whether you stay in your relationship or leave it, you may have to adjust to a future where motherhood might not happen for you (though adoption and fostering will continue to be a possibility). The adjustment to this future is one where we have numerous examples of happy, connected and successful childless people so you know that you will not always be so bereft or sad. Your family and friends will be there for you, if you allow them to know what you are going through.

Your two histories of family life could not be more different, and this background was always going to raise issues whether you become parents or not

You do not need them to stop talking about their kids, but you do need them to be interested in your life and give them permission to witness your sorrow. Everyone has grief and tragedy in their lives at some stage, so this opening up now will allow you to return the support when it is needed by those close to you when they are in distress.

Often, when our communities do not know of our losses, it can feel that people are being deliberately cruel when they complain about night feeds or lack of sleep and we would give anything to have these problems. Being open for both you and your husband, might allow for more support in the relationship and offer you some cushioning before facing into talk of commitment or otherwise.

Your two histories of family life could not be more different, and this background was always going to raise issues whether you become parents or not. Now it is right in front of you and it might be a good idea to engage with a family therapist (familytherapyireland.com) to help with understanding and awareness.