The dark side of living childfree

What happens when you choose sterility in your sexual relationship
Megan Daum, one of the sixteen writers who contributed to Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision to Not Have Kids (photo: Huffington Post)

Megan Daum, editor of Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision to Not Have Kids (photo: Huffington Post)

The following comes from a June 25 Catholic News Agency article by Mary Rezak:

A few months ago, several writers opened up a conversation they felt was long overdue in a book titled Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision to Not Have Kids.

The tongue-in-cheek title is an attempt to reclaim some of the stereotypes typically placed on adults who have made the decision to not have kids. The “whys” of the childless lives of the sixteen authors varied from people who chose to never have children, to people for whom circumstances were never right for children, to people who had miscarriages or abortions and never had other children.

But the online conversation surrounding the book largely left out the dark side of the story – a chosen childless life, in the context of a sexual relationship, almost always necessitates physical harm against women: either through long-term birth control use, or through abortion. It is very rarely the carefree lifestyle it can appear to be in the media, critics say.

“One of the things that perhaps we don’t consider in the choice to remain childless, is the toll that repeated abortions can have on a woman’s body and her spirit,” Vicki Thorn told Catholic News Agency. Thorn is the founder of the National Office for Post Abortion Reconciliation and Healing, and of Project Rachel. She is also a corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and a mother of six.

“If it is the case of long term contraceptive usage, there are health issues that are very real and put her at risk for depression, blood clots and strokes, breast cancer, lost libido and other health issues. Even when the choice for childlessness is made, there are often many ‘what-if’s’ that may come back time and again,” she said.

Thorn is among an increasing number who claim that science is backing up how abortion and contraception are largely destructive to women – both of which are essential to maintain a childfree life.

Many of the authors in the book, like many childless Americans, are nonetheless married or in a committed relationship. And studies show most people in a sexual relationships use some form of contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancies. According to Center for Disease Control data from 2011-2013, published in December 2014, 61.7 percent of the 60.9 million women aged 15-44 in the United States were currently using contraception. The most common contraceptive method was the pill, followed by female sterilization and then some forms of long-acting, reversible contraceptives.

But when the goal is to avoid children altogether, what happens if and when these contraceptives fail?
“Everything has a failure rate,” said Abby Sinnet, a nurse practitioner at Bella, a Denver-based natural-care women’s OB/GYN clinic. “You look at sterilization where somebody gets their tubes tied, and that’s a 98 percent success rate, but there’s still that two percent that it could fail.”

The idea of wanting some control over one’s fertility is understandable, Sinnet said, especially in a world that in many ways can seem so out of control.

But at what cost? Hormonal birth control pills, the most popular form of birth control, is a known class one carcinogen. A recent study out of UCLA this year also found that the pill may be shrinking parts of women’s brains and making them more masculine. Several studies suggest that hormonal birth control pills skew the way women choose partners, and can make them choose less genetically compatible ones. Other women who opt for more permanent forms of birth control, such as IUDs or Essure coils, may experience organ perforation or device migration among other complications.

According to Sinnet, the physicians and nurses at Bella propose that the knowledge women gain about their bodies through natural family planning methods is far more empowering than popping pills or getting implants and hoping for the best.

Besides offering a sometimes false sense of control over their fertility, using artificial contraceptives can close off certain emotional aspects of a relationship, Amanda Teixeira told Catholic News Agency. Teixeira is a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students who blogs about her and her husband’s struggles with infertility and natural family planning, as well as their adoption of their daughter Josie.

“With my husband and I, we are infertile, but just by our very act of being open…with our sexual life opens different emotions, and you just think about it differently,” she said. “I think these couples (choosing to be childless) are missing out on experiencing the other person in the fullness that they are.

They’re missing out on a deeper component of sexuality that they don’t even know they’re missing.”

For couples for whom a pregnancy is an unexpected and unwelcome surprise, abortion may and often does seem like the obvious and easy answer to the problem. But abortion, for most women, wreaks havoc on their psychological and physical lives.

“The problem is that we don’t really understand how complex pregnancy is on a pure biological level,” Thorn added. “Once I’m pregnant, I carry cells from those children for the rest of my life, and in fact, if I have a miscarriage or an abortion, I carry more cells from those children than the children I gave birth to, so there’s a biological connection that remains.”

The phenomena of women retaining the cells of their children for decades after birth is known in the medical community as microchimerism. According to a 2014 study on microchimerism by the “International Journal of Epidemiology” reported in the Atlantic, this retaining of cells may give women numerous health benefits, including a decreased risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as a boosted immune system.

This deep biological connection that remains for years may be part of the reason that women find themselves grieving over abortions even years after they’ve occurred, Thorn said.

According to a 2011 analysis published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, post-abortive women were at an 81 percent increased risk of mental health problems, with nearly 10 percent of those psychological problems – such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal behavior – directly attributable to abortion.

A woman who has chosen the childless life may then face significant pressure to abort a child and subject herself to these possible negative side effects.

One of the authors in Selfish, Shallow, and Self-absorbed speaks of this pressure when she, a budding young writer, found herself pregnant with a man in what she considered a “decent enough” relationship.

“When I called to tell my mother I was pregnant, she said, ‘You have a very special talent, Pam, and if you decide to have that baby, you are going to become perfectly ordinary like everyone else,’” Houston wrote.

“(C)ontrary to the belief of some outspoken congressmen, no woman ever wants to have an abortion. I have never met one who takes it lightly, who hasn’t thought about the abortion with if not some version of regret, at least with some sadness for the rest of her life.”

In her remarks to Catholic News Agency, Teixeira emphasized that parenthood is not necessarily for everyone.

“Becoming a parent is a calling, and there are probably people out there who…maybe they’re emotionally not capable of ever loving or raising a child well, and to be wise about that is prudent,” she said.

“But I think it would be rare for a married couple to ever be called to not have children if they could.”

For those who have chosen childlessness in the context of a sexual relationship, Teixeira said it seems “there’s a disconnect there, ultimately they’ve decided to separate sex from babies, and I can’t see how the two are separated.”

“And as somebody who cannot have children, to watch somebody who maybe could, but chooses not to, I would just plead with them that they might be missing out on the greatest adventure of their life.”

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  1. Bob Bugiada says:

    I don’t think everyone is cut out to be a parent. Parenthood, like the priesthood, is a calling to a vocation. Not everyone hears that calling. I know people who have wanted to have children ever since they were children themselves. God bless ’em! There are also those of us who, for a variety of reasons, never think about children. It’s not a conscious decision not to have children, it’s more like they were never under consideration at all. There are those in our culture who have children only because it’s “what you’re supposed to do.” They’re not very happy, and I don’t think they make good parents either.

    • One of the things I have learned from the Saints is that life is complex. I think of all the different situations where people where raised in difficult situations or raised children in difficult situations. St Elizabeth of Hungary and St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton both were widows and had to raise there children as single mothers. Look at St. Dymphna who’s father came after her and wanted to marry her and ended up killing her. It’s a complex paradox that life has for all of us. The Church answers that call by asking us to choose life. Good parent or not, I am a parent and I choose life and love as a way to live out my parent hood. Frought with the battles between vise and virture I am learning how preciouse my children are. God have…

      • God have mercy on me and send angles to assist me so that I may not lead these little ones astray and have a mil-stone put around my head and be put into the sea to drown.

        • Anonymous says:

          Wheels, Matthew 18:5-6 states “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
          You seem to have anxiety over this. It is good that you pray to the angels.

    • They have children because they are “supposed to.” Really. So what. I do things everyday only because I’m “supposed to,” but I do them because I know that my life is not my own. Christ asked that “this cup” be taken from Him, but it wasn’t. So He did what His Father wanted of Him. One of the “variety of reasons” people never think about children is that selfishness reigns supreme. Genesis tells us to go forth and multiply. It’s one thing to be biologically incapable, but what you’re talking about is something else.

    • sixlittlerabbits says:

      Bob B., People who feel they are not “called” to have children sometimes do conceive; they can do the humane thing and give their child up for adoption if they are not up to the challenge and rewards of raising a child.

      May I also suggest that someone who feels not “called” to have children is probably a poor judge of people who do have children and these parents’ degree of “happiness.” ( It’s similar to the experts on child raising who have no children.)

      It is a mean judgment that people who have children “because they are supposed to” are “not very happy” and don’t make “good parents.” This assertion seems like a backhanded endorsement of those “who never think about [having] children.”

  2. Catherine says:

    The Legion of Mary workers see the dark side of having no children when visiting overly crowded nursing homes. Take for example 94 year old Josephine who never had children but she so loved it when little children were brought in to visit. Josephine could only lay flat on her back, day after day. Josephine was one of the very first female engineers, at that time, hired to work in aerospace. Josephine kept her mind sharp in the nursing home by praying and talking to God and making up new poems. She would add a clever new verse each visit. Her mind remained sharp and her memory was remarkable but it was visits from the smiling little children who brought joy to her life.

    • Anonymous says:

      Catherine, there is a big difference between getting a visit from a child every once in a while and having to raise one.
      Ask any grandparent.

      • Catherine says:

        Anonymous,

        I commend the challenging sacrifices that you have made for you’re family but do you always travel to China in order to miss a point? Childless people often end up in very sad and yes, sometimes self induced situations with no one looking out for their best interest. They think they have total control over the present but are then often thrown by the unexpected events that happen in the future. There is even a bigger difference in showing Christ’s mercy vs. showcasing frustration or bitterness. “Man proposes but God disposes.” “Intelligence must follow faith, never precede it, and never destroy it.” ” Be assured, if you knew all you would pardon all.” – St. Thomas a Kempis.

        • Anonymous says:

          Only two of the childless people I know are childless by choice. They did not marry because they did not want kids.
          Every other childless person I know wanted kids and either didn’t find the right person to marry or were sterile.
          And not every person who has kids have them there in their old age either because they outlived their kids or their kids don’t come around.
          But the article is not about this. It is about the harm done to women by contraception and abortion.

  3. Michael McDermott says:

    The Church – for all its endorsement of Marriage, has done rather little to foster Courtship amongst Catholics. Finding someone who is also Catholic, can be difficult at many times – save for at Church Functions, although the notion of something like looking for dates at Mass is entirely inappropriate.

    Still – We don’t seem to do well with bringing Young Catholics Together – not for a specific Religious Service per se, but rather to show that there is no problem having a valid social life and normal interactions with peers (including the possibility of romance) for boys and girls as the grow to Young Men & Women, of age suitable for considering Catholic Marriage.

    I say it is time to provide some Direct Support for such interactions,…

  4. All married persons are expected to have children. This is God’s unchangeable law. If one is not called to the marriage state, then one is expected to be a virgin, either by living a religious life, or by being celibate in the secular life.

  5. Elizabeth J. says:

    God’s plan does not include giving biological children to everyone. You answer “none” when asked how many children you have, and if you offer no explanation there is often an uneasy silence.

    It is a particular kind of cross to carry when people assume you aborted or contracepted yourself into childlessness.

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