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Posts Tagged ‘childlessness’

I wanted to share this wonderfully brave and honest blog post — well worth reading!

 

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In class last week I watched my own couple therapy unfold before my eyes.

My professor played one member of the couple, an older man with children from a previous marriage. A classmate played his younger, childless wife.

He didn’t want more kids; and when they got together, neither did she. But she’d changed, and he hadn’t, and though they were happy in every other way…there they were.

It was surreal. My classmate—not a stepmom—did a really amazing job predicting and expressing the feelings I had poured out before my own therapist.

My professor said afterward that this was a real case of his. He wanted to demonstrate what are, to him, the most heartbreaking cases of all: the ones where a wonderful couple just can’t agree on an issue for which there is no possible compromise.

And how strange to know that my husband and I were, more or less, that tragic couple. I couldn’t help thinking that, if this demonstration had come only a few months earlier, I probably would have left the classroom in tears.

But if you’re like me, you want to know what the outcome was for this couple in real life. My professor said that they finally agreed to try for a child for six months. If they were not successful, they would stop. And that’s what happened. The husband’s daughter ended up having her own child, and the stepmom helped raise the baby. My professor pointed out this last as a positive, though I know many a stepmom whose heart would remain forever in pieces to see her own stepdaughter having the experience she was denied.

Caught in the uncertainty of trying for my own child, I have no way of knowing if this woman’s fate won’t also be mine. All I can do is hope for better, and be grateful that my husband—like this man—came around.

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In my graduate program there is a huge age-and-life-experience divide. Most students are in their young-to-mid 20s, unmarried with no children. A significant group is in their 40s and 50s, almost all married or divorced with children. I, a childless stepmother at 34, sit squarely between these two camps.

And not for the first time in the past year, I witnessed the parents smugly patronizing the non-parents.

It started out innocently enough. My professor was talking about the impact that children have on a marriage. And suddenly he said, “When you have children, your capacity for love instantly expands. It really affects how you do therapy.”

That’s right, folks. Having kids not only makes you more loving, it makes you a better therapist!

Well, you can bet the parents in the class jumped all over that jazz. They were all glowing and sharing anecdotes about their marvelous expansive love.

Oh, but wait. Before anyone could get too annoyed, too offended, there came the attempt to level the playing field…

“That’s not to say that you have to have kids to be a good therapist,” my professor hastily explained. “There are lots of ways to get in touch with that kind of love.” He went on to say that one of the best marriage counselors he knows is a nun.

I believe he meant it. But the damage was done. The non-parents got the good old patronizing pat on the head. I’ve seen this same treatment over and over again: Having children is the most meaningful thing in the world! they gush. Oh, but there are lots of meaningful things in the world. Don’t you worry, now. And then they go on their self-satisfied way, feeling like they’ve exonerated themselves from rudeness while still having made their superiority perfectly clear.

Witnessing all this, I felt worse for the other non-parents than for myself. After all, my classmates know I’m a stepmother, and never would I admit to them that my experience in that capacity has been any less satisfying than their own lives as parents. And perhaps before too long I’ll have a biological child of my own.

But I still wanted to punch them all.

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This quarter I am taking a class in couple counseling—a course that has, so far anyway, convinced me that there are few things more difficult than doing couple counseling. I honestly don’t know if I am up to the challenge.

Yet this experience has been juxtaposed with the single most significant development in my marriage since approximately 2004: my own recently-terminated course of couple therapy, in which my husband graciously agreed to have our own child.

Is he thrilled out of his socks? No. But in about three months’ time, he went from adamant naysayer to willing father-again. He’s doing it because he loves me, and he wants me to be happy. He’s doing it because his desire for my fulfillment is stronger than his fear.

I finally have the marriage I knew was in there somewhere. All these years, there’s been this blight on our relationship, the proverbial elephant upending the couch and shattering the china. It was hard to make sense of a marriage that worked so very well until I broached the one subject that most couples take for granted.

Even more important, perhaps, we’ve had to talk a lot about what we want, and don’t want, for our future. We’ve had to make it concrete.

It would be magic to be able to do this for other couples, to turn terror and agony into intimacy and growth. I don’t know if I have what it takes.

But I’m a believer. Whether or not I’m blessed with a child of my own, counseling has bridged our marital chasm. I’ll always have therapy—and my husband’s courage—to thank.

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I often struggle with childlessness and this is one of those bad times.

Last night my professor elucidated something remarkable: in her brand of therapy, the goal is to treat the client just as an ideal mother would—with responsiveness, attunement, unconditional regard, and space to think and grow. Over time, this type of interaction gives the client a new way of understanding relationships, a new trust in life—a new start. (Or so claims the theory and my professor’s careerful of evidence.)

The concept brought tears to my eyes. Though I am never to be a mother, could I be one, somehow, in a different way? Could I serve that function I know I could do so well, not for any tiny offspring but for dozens of wounded adults?

Writing it here, it sounds stupid—delusional. I’ll never be anyone’s mother, even if I can change lives through therapy.

But in class it sounded truly transformative—not just for future clients, but for my grieving childless soul.

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