Was I a fool to believe that my marriage could survive without children?

The issue: Hi Nina, I just read your article ‘The danger of believing that you can have it all’. When we could not have children some years into our marriage, my husband gave me the impression that all was well and that we could still be happy without children. As a result, I became less concerned and I relaxed. However, he has now changed his mind and doesn’t even want me around him anymore. He is already sending me packing because, according to him, at my age (I am in my 40s), I can no longer bear him a child. I believe that he is thinking of getting someone younger who can fulfil his dream of having children. What do you have to say to this? Was I a fool to believe that in life you cannot have it all and that we could actually be happy without children? One of the reasons we were unable to conceive was because my husband had fertility problems. It took many years to treat and I stood by him while all this was going on. On many occasions, you have told us about yourself and your husband and how you became childless by circumstance. How would you handle it if your husband was suddenly able to have children and then decided to dump you for a younger wife, because you were no longer of child bearing age?

Nina’s answer: There is a growing number of women having their first child in their 40s and early 50s, as reported in this Telegraph article. Times have changed and having children early in life like our mothers did, is no longer realistic for many couples, particularly when you both have careers. What many of the women having children in their 40s and 50s have in common however, is that they have had recourse to medical help in order to conceive, through IVF or the use of surrogates for example. Conceiving this way is not cheap but what it means is that your husband is wrong to assume that you can no longer conceive because you are in your 40s. Do you have the financial means to pursue those avenues?

To answer your question as to whether or not you were a fool to believe that you could be happy without children, the answer is no. You were not a fool. Yes you can have a happy marriage without children, as my own experience shows. In order for this to happen however, you both need to work at it, particularly if unlike me (my husband is English) you are both from a culture which has an extreme and unhealthy obsession with children. And African culture is at the top of the list when it comes to that. Unfortunately for you, your husband changed the rules of the game without warning and now you find yourself in this most difficult of situations.

Unlike my husband and I, you and your husband don’t seem to share the same values, because if you did, he would have stuck with you no matter what, just as you did for him. Not only do my husband and I share the same values, but we also share a very strong and loving bond, which is why our marriage survived infertility. For that reason, I am not worried about this happening to me.

As I said before, there is no such thing as having it all. No one can have it all. Even if you have a great marriage with children, we all still have to navigate all the other challenges that life throws at us. On a spiritual and growth point of view, having it all will prevent you from growing as a person, which ultimately is why we are on this earth in the first place. Of course as an African, you have been made to believe that having children is having it all. But tell me, is having children in an unhappy marriage really having it all?

The thought of a relationship ending is always dreadful, and so we often fool ourselves because of our own fears and remain in relationships that no longer serve us. It comes a time in life when we are required to make choices that have the power to change the course of our life and you have reached such a crossroads. You have to make this decision for yourself, because only you know what you are ready to tolerate and what you are not. Whatever you decide to do, I hope that you use this experience to grow as a person and that you don’t let it damage you as many women, particularly in the developing world tend to do.

Nina Steele is agony aunt. Send any dilemma you may have to: [email protected]

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