Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Childless by fate, choice

Childless by fate, choice
Blame it on the marriage delay, divorce or the increase of women in the workforce, but 27 percent of those 30 to 34 and 19 percent of those 35 to 39 are childless, compared with 15.6 percent and 10.5 percent in 1976, respectively, according to the 2004 U.S. Census.

Still, many of these women grew up with a "white picket fence" scenario that involved a man, a house and kids. For whatever reason, their lives took a different path, and now they're faced with the tick of their biological clocks.

Although it's a choice to remain childless for some women, others yearn for kids and feel out of sync with their friends who have families.

Despite their own happy, fulfilling lives, the women are trying to cope with the reality that life may go on, without kids. Experts say it's important to address and grieve this as a loss, but few women do.
. . .
In her Berkeley practice, psychologist Judith Beemer says she sees many women who reach the end of their reproductive cycles and become depressed, realizing they are the end of their family line. If they begin coping with the possibility and the grief earlier, however, depression is less likely, she says.

"You have to be fairly psychologically sophisticated to be doing the work in your 30s, but it happens," Beemer says.

Judy Levitt, a Montclair marriage and family therapist, begins by exploring why a client yearns for a child, including expectations, family history of motherhood and what the woman thinks will happen if she does not bear children. At the end of the exploration, Levitt says, she might realize that she's perfectly happy the way things are.

"Today, women of childbearing age have so many more opportunities," Levitt says. "They have permission to be so autonomous that they could feel conflicted between living this fulfilling life and also feeling the pull of nature as they see time passing."
We childfree (myself included) love to moan over the effects of a pronatal society - how a culture that ties a womans worth to her status as a mother can harm us psychologically. It is easy to forget the aggregate effects of such a mentality - including the severe effects on those for whom forgoing motherhood is not a choice. Although many of those women do decline the adoption route - a decision I may not understand - the emphasis our culture places on bearing children may indeed mean there is nothing one can do to escape the effects.

Hopefully, the questions that are being asked here will bleed into general society. Just why is it that we feel driven to be parents? How much of it stems from genuine and worthwhile internal desires to share one's life with a child, and how much from external societal expectations? Asking these questions will do more than merely ease the psychological burden on the sterile - it will ensure that those choosing to parent are doing so for the right reasons as well. And that benefits us all.

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Unknown said...

There's a part of me that wonders about the depression that some women feel when they reach the end of their fertility. I don't doubt it exists, but I'm trying to wrap my head around the cause.

On one hand, it probably has at least some kind of hormonal/neurochemical component. Beyond that, however, it may simply be sadness over the road not taken. I often wonder if some career women who decided to go the other way, and have kids and stay at home, feel that same kind of loss from passing on the rewarding career. It's likely harder for them to admit... society almost demands them to state that motherhood is the best life choice.

Somehow, I think the feelings of those women will either get ignored, or invalidated.

L.T. said...

I suppose the latter (foregoing career) is less obviously mourned since there is no one point at which that opportunity disappears. Instead, it is a gradual process of diminishing likelihood. On the other hand, the onset of menopause provides one decisive moment when, for all intents and purposes, the biological parenting ship has sailed.

Perhaps we mourn the same, in aggregate - one is just less noticeable. However, I suspect it is a combination of both factors.