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Lola&Lykke Experts Answer: What you need to know about Involuntary Childlessness

Involuntary childlessness is often seen as purely a physiological issue, though that is not always the case. Childlessness can also be caused by external circumstances. In this case you may wish to have children but are unable to do so due to certain reasons in your life.

Perhaps you have not found a suitable partner when the biological clock starts ticking. Perhaps you have found a partner and the relationship is good and satisfying, but your wishes for parenthood and desired timing do not match. Sexual orientation can also make it more difficult to become a parent. Indeed, there are multiple different reasons for unwanted childlessness.

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When childlessness isn’t a choice

Childlessness caused by external circumstances can lead to various types of difficult emotions. Each experience is of course unique, but there are many recognisable, shared emotional experiences. In my clinical practice, I have often seen the following:

  • Sadness. Sometimes this reaction is delayed, perhaps when becoming a parent had not been your highest priority for many years. However, sadness can still arise and feel overwhelming later.
  • Feeling like an outsider. This is especially true if your close friends and family have children and all your conversations with them tend to circle around to family life.
  • Loneliness or fear of being left alone. This particularly affects people whose reason for childlessness is the lack of a partner. On the other hand, even someone in a relationship can feel alone in their grief if their partner has willingly chosen to remain childless.
  • Feelings of worthlessness. If becoming a parent can feel important and meaningful, being unable to do so can sometimes cause feelings of worthlessness. This is often the case for people struggling with involuntary childlessness. These emotions can develop quickly and feel confusing.
  • The “invisibility” of sadness. Sometimes family and friends find it difficult to understand the sadness of someone’s childlessness; how can you wish for a child when you do not even have a partner?
  • Feelings of failure. These are common when life has not gone as originally planned in regard to relationships or starting a family.
  • Shame. Shame ties in with feelings of failure. These emotions can arise from other people’s comments on finding a partner or starting a family.
  • Guilt. People can feel guilty about their past choices—why didn’t I strive to become a parent earlier?
  • Feelings of unworthiness. Why am I not suitable as a partner/spouse/mother/father/adoptive parent/candidate for infertility treatment?
  • Missing “the one who is not there”. This feeling can even present itself as physical pain.
A disappointed woman sitting on the floor, reflecting the emotions of frustration associated with involuntary childlessness

How to cope with involuntary childlessness

There are various solutions to unintended childlessness, but the availability of them depends a lot on other life factors. Single women can pursue IVF with donated cells or adoption, but access to these cannot be taken for granted. Sometimes health, finances or other considerations can prevent one or the other or even both. Having a partner is seen as an important factor when planning a baby. IVF for single women is often offered only at a later stage, when the time for natural conception is starting to run out.

Female couples can also go for IVF, usually with the same prerequisites for health and financial capabilities as single women. Male couples and single men are still often left childless against their wishes. Some gay couples opt for co-parenting with another gay couple of the opposite sex. Surrogacy is an option in some countries, but in Finland it is illegal.

Learn more: Options for Infertile Couples

Two women engaged in an intense discussion, seeking help with involuntary childlessness

In all the aforementioned situations I can highly recommend seeking peer support. It can help to deal with a situation that is very difficult for many and can help in identifying and understanding different solutions. Organisations such as Gateway Women offer a global community with which to share your feelings. Psychotherapists can also help to deal with the grief of unwanted childlessness.

You may want to read: Jenna’s Journey: A Grieving Mother's Testament To Self-care

Need advice or someone to talk about involuntary childlessness? Ask Lola&Lykke Experts. We offer mothers a private platform where you can share your thoughts and ask questions related to motherhood and maternal health – all science-backed and free-of-charge.