How does a spouse who wants kids cope with having a spouse who doesn’t?

How Does a Spouse Who Wants Kids Cope With Having a Spouse Who Doesn’t?

How Does a Spouse Who Wants Kids Cope With Having a Spouse Who Doesn’t?

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June 8 2015 7:24 AM

How Does a Spouse Who Wants Kids Cope With Having a Spouse Who Doesn’t?

How Does a Spouse Who Wants Kids Cope With Having a Spouse Who Doesn’t?
The choice to have (or not have) children has to be made freely.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock

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Answer by Megan Walker, freelance writer:

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I always knew I wanted to have children. It never even crossed my mind that I may not have them—it was just a given. I was almost 27 when I met the man who would become my husband, and while I knew the night we met that he was it for me, we dated for a couple of years before we married, exactly one week after my 29th birthday. He was 35. We'd discussed children before marriage, of course, and while he confessed that he had a lot of fear at the thought of being a father, he said did want to have them.

Fast-forward six months. We're in bed, enjoying the fact that it's a Saturday morning and neither of us had to work, when the conversation rolled around to our friends, who'd just announced the prior evening that they were going to have a baby. I mentioned that we might want to consider me stopping the pill, as I'd been on it for several years and it may take me quite awhile to get pregnant. I ask what he thought about that, wanting to gauge where his head was at as to the time frame of starting our little family.

Silence. I picked up my head off his shoulder and turned to face him. He looked frightened and sick. I laughed and told him he didn't need to look so stricken, that I wasn't in any hurry, we had lots of time. He didn't smile back. More silence.  Then: "Meggie, I can't do it. I can't have kids. I'm not cut out to be a father. I'm sorry."

To say that my heart sank would be a tremendous understatement. My husband does not say things he does not mean—that's just the kind of man he is. If a definitive statement comes out of his mouth, he's been considering it for awhile, and the conclusion has not been reached lightly.

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I got upset. I calmed down. I asked questions, trying to understand. I got angry. I got hurt. I cried. I reasoned. I begged. I pleaded. I let it go for awhile, thinking we'd talk again in a few months. We talked again in a few months. His feelings were unchanged. I got upset again. I begged some more. I cried some more. I begged and cried simultaneously. I let it go for a year, thinking we'd talk again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

He had his reasons, which I won't list here because really, it doesn't matter what they were or whether I thought they were valid; they were valid to him. He felt the way he felt, and there was no changing it. He was gutted, knowing how badly I wanted children, knowing how much he was asking me to give up. He tried to talk himself into it, hating himself for hurting me, but he could not.

For a long while, I fought a war within myself. I was devastated, heartbroken. The life I'd always wanted, always dreamed I'd have was not going to be; at least it wasn't going to be with him. Could I live with that? Could I walk away? If I'd known before the wedding, when we were dating, would I have walked away then? Maybe I would have, but what did that matter? We weren't dating anymore; we were husband and wife. I was in too deep. I'd made a promise to him, and I'd meant it. It wasn't just about marriage vows and commitment either—I loved him. I loved him so much. He was the one for me. I couldn't stand the thought of a life without him in it.

Disagreeing about having children isn't like disagreeing about buying a house or where to go on vacation. The choice has to be made freely. It's too important for manipulation or coercion. The stakes are too high. It wasn't fair of me to ask him to compromise on something so vital and it wasn't fair of him to ask me to give it up. It just was what it was.

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So, I had a choice—stay or go—and I made it. I decided that I would rather have him and no children than have any other man on the planet and a dozen babies. I made my decision, and I buried the dream. He had a vasectomy a month later, and it was settled. That was seven years ago. Our anniversary is next month, nine years married, 11 years together.

* * *

One of my oldest and dearest friends was in town recently with her family. They moved across country a few years back, and I hadn't seen her in ages. We met for an early breakfast, and she brought 3-week-old baby No. 4 with her. I held that sweet little doll while she slept, fed her a bottle when she woke up, and nuzzled her soft, fuzzy head as I laid her against my shoulder. I marveled at the helpless dependency, and my heart ached. What a fragile thing it is to be a human.

After breakfast, I went home and crawled back in bed with my husband. I laid my head on his chest as he wrapped his arms around me and listened to the steady thump of his heartbeat. The man has the most amazing heart ...

I don't know what the right decision is for others and wouldn't presume to. It's a tough one, and either way, the ramifications will last a lifetime. I wish you the best of luck, whatever choices you make.

All things considered, I'm at peace with mine.

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