This question was sent to me several days ago during a Q & A session, and I thought I'd reap the greatest benefit from it by replying not only to the asker, but to The Empty Cradle in general. I've altered very little from the original response, because it was already an acceptably tidy explanation of where I stand on the issue, but it needed expansion and touching up.
"I read your blog regarding choosing to be childless. What advice would you offer those women who are having trouble coping with being childless not by choice?"
Firstly, I would tell them that it's all about perspective - I am not childless. I am childfree. "Less" implies that I lack something I want, "free" implies that I'm free of something I don't want.
Secondly - if you have explored all reasonable options to conceive/have a child in your life and, for whatever reason, it just can't happen, then I would encourage you to look past the posed holiday photos, cheerful toy commercials, and those picturesque family moments that parents shrink down to wallet-size for proud accessibility during office conversation.
Those are part of parenthood, but they are not the bulk of the deal. Look.
Look at the fresh crop of suddenly-serious arguments that appeared in the marriage of your best friends when they added another baby to the equation.
Look at the lamentations of parents to their friends that, no, they can't join you for lunch/dinner/dancing/gym/class/a play because they can't find a babysitter/their spouse refuses to watch the kids.
Look at the mess that some people's houses are because they can't stay on top of both children and housekeeping.
Look at the drained, embarrassed faces of parents in Wal Mart whose kids are on the floor, beating their little fists against the tiles and wailing because they are upset, sometimes at an age that's too young to explain why, sometimes at an age that's damn well old enough to know better. Look at them, drawing annoyed glances from other shoppers, being judged, sometimes fairly, sometimes not.
Look at the constant struggle to balance rising costs of raising a family with lessening quality of sleep.
Look at the heartbreaking cases of empty nest syndrome and the quiet depressions that occur after some children move on, in people who thought that kids were all they could ever want in life, but are now realizing that wasn't true, but now they feel too old/broke/sick, etc to find out what was missing.
This is not the experience for all parents, and some who do experience it say that it's a small sacrifice for the love they find in return. But these scenarios do happen, and often, and not everyone who's had children is happy with their decision.
I'm compelled to repeat that - not everyone who has kids is happy about it. It's only fair to combat the constant recitations that are leveled at me yearly that "so-and-so didn't have kids and regretted it when she was fifty." Yes, some childfree people change their minds. So do some parents.
So, my advice is to look. Really look. There's a risk you take in this endeavor that it won't turn out to be that enlightening, life-perfecting thing you've always imagined. Not everyone is cut out for it; personally, I think more people aren't than are, but they've decided that it's their right to have a baby, because they want a baby.
If you've considered all of that already and still find yourself unhappy and "childless," then I truly feel for you, and I hope that you're able to conceive one day and live out your dream.
But if it doesn't happen, or in the meantime, do many, many, many other things! If you're involved, wake your partner up at midnight on a Tuesday and go for a long, long walk - without calling a sitter. Spend every ounce of your disposable income one paycheck just on yourself! Have sex on the living room floor at 2 pm on a non-school day; loud, raunchy, hands-in-every-crevice kind of sex. Take up a hobby that's a little bit reckless, because you don't have to worry about what you'd be leaving behind.
Enjoy your oneness. If you're part of a couple, enjoy your twoness. Life as a twosome has been the most rewarding, indulgent, beautiful adventure I could have ever imagined. Maybe children will happen for you one day, but I've yet to understand those who rush toward parenthood. Enjoy you. Enjoy JUST you, the spectacular individual that you are, the layers and layers of you there are left to peel open.
There is more to womanhood, to romance, and to LIFE, than devoting your every waking moment to the maintenance and upkeep of your offspring. There is more to life than marching down that pre-determined path of school, marriage, pregnancy, PTA. There is more to life than parenthood, even for the best and happiest of parents.
There is still much more to life.