Weird Childless Relief

After my recent surgery I experienced intense nausea and vomiting for a week. As the vomiting finally backed off, I remarked to a friend, ‘If morning sickness is anything like that, I’m glad I was never pregnant!’

I was slightly surprised at my own comment. Childlessness brings many unpleasant emotions with it: disappointment, anger, grief. But one unexpected side effect is the occasional relief of not having to go through child-related hardships that parents do. 

One unexpected side effect is the occasional relief of not having to go through child-related hardships.

I am relieved that I never had to go through the morning sickness and other trials of pregnancy and the pain of labour. Moreover, I live with a chronic condition called lupus, and I am grateful to not endure the worry of flare-ups and complications of lupus attacking a growing foetus. (Lupus was a large part of the reason I became childless in the first place.) 

As much as childlessness is difficult—and it is—there are moments when we experience gratitude at not having to experience difficult childrearing moments. This weird gratitude is not such a rare experience as we might think. 

As much as childlessness is difficult, there are moments when we experience gratitude.

Rosemary, one of the childless people I interviewed for my book Surviving Childlessness, made this interesting observation: ‘We have not had the joys of children, but we also have not had the heartache. Friends have teenagers going off the rails, and we did not have to deal with that. We feel relieved about it.’ 

I resonate with this. As much as I would have loved to have children and raise them into teenagers, I cannot deny that having teenagers can be challenging, even on a good day. Teenagers may not grow into the idealistic version we create in our minds, and I would have hated for my kids to have gone ‘off the rails’, as Rosemary’s friends experienced. 

I know other parents who have experienced significant challenges with their children, and as much as I sympathise with their hardships, there is a small part of me that internally whispers, ‘Phew.’ I also experience relief when lupus does flare and I can barely care for myself, let alone a clan of little ones. ‘Imagine if I was a parent right now,’ I sometimes catch myself thinking.

As much as I sympathise…there is a small part of me that internally whispers, ‘Phew.’

Sometimes the grief of childlessness increases the positives of childrearing in my mind while decreasing the potential negatives. Remembering some of the negatives can throw my grief into sharp relief. I’m not advocating becoming a raging pessimist in order to offset grief, but I must acknowledge that a less idealised and more realistic appraisal of parenting can be helpful for me. 

Being ambushed with relief from grief can feel strange, even wrong. But I am glad of it—in whatever surprising form it may take. 

Have you experienced weird relief from the grief of childlessness? How have other peoples’ negative parenting experiences affected your perception of childlessness? Share your story. Let’s have a countercultural conversation. 

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