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You’re in love with your partner and your partner loves you and you strongly believe that if two people love each other, then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have a child together. Except your partner doesn’t want children — now what? 

That’s the dilemma Heather Harpham faced, which she writes about in her memoir Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After. Her book — at turns heart-
breaking, charming, insightful and funny — is about a heck of lot more than the seemingly doomed romance between the California native and Upper West Side Manhattan intellectual. And — spoiler alert — it ends happily, thus the title. But I will admit that some of it bothered me — the part of how they, Heather and Brian,  got pregnant in the first place.

They didn’t use condoms or apparently any contraception, which I found an odd decision for a man who clearly did not want to become a father (although he’d been told by two doctors that he might encounter trouble conceiving). Still, it was huge gamble. As Harpham writes,

Having kids — what kids do to an adult life already in lotion, what they do to a romance, to your couch, your car,  your time, your money, most of all your art — had been the constant bass line thrumming through our conversations in the months before I got pregnant. It was the issue that sent us, oddly early, into therapy together. It was the gun in the room. If he wanted to have kids with anyone, Brian kept saying, it would be with me. If. tweet

And she acknowledges that was a big if. So then, why was he doing hanging around with her — and vice versa, she wonders; clearly, as much as they loved each other, they wanted different things from life.

I’d never kept my wish to have kids be secret, quite the opposite. I’d said emphatically , many times over, that I could not, would not, contemplate a life without children. Impossible. And he’d made his wish to avoid kids just as obvious. … When we’d made love without protection, I was discounting the things Brian said to me in therapy every week about not wanting kids. I was believing in some version of him that didn’t exist except in bed. But I was acting in alignment with my own deepest wishes. tweet

Heather was 32 at the time, Brian was 45, and she admits that she interpreted their cavalier attitude about birth control as Brian having an unconscious wish to have the issue decided for him. But when she inevitably got pregnant, she realized her interpretation “looked to be somewhere between wildly self-delusional and outright self-destructive.” I’d have to agree.

Still, she was adamant:

I’d told Brian all along: If I get pregnant, I will have the baby. …I wanted to be a mother and he was the man I loved. He might opt out, fairly or unfairly, but the baby was a foregone conclusion. tweet

And so he did opt out and she was angry with him although, having been raised by a single mom who brought three men into her world, each of whom, she said, harmed her, she wondered if Brian would do the same. Maybe it was better, and easier, to just be a single mom — and a lot of single moms say it is.

Common complaint

Perhaps not surprisingly, Heather is not the first woman to be in this situation. Rachel Kramer Bussel writes about it in Cosmopolitan, Dear Polly (aka Heather Havrilesky) responds to it in the Cut, Rachel Needle, of the Center for Marital and Sexual Health of South Florida, addresses it in Babble … and the list goes on an on.

It isn’t just men who are baby-averse: Many more women than men don’t want kids, according to recent surveys.

But the Brians of the world are taking matters into their own hands — they’re getting vasectomies to put an end to having to decide (and also keeping women from trapping them into having unwanted kids, a disturbing but relatively rare reality).

Priorities can change

But Brian didn’t get a vasectomy. In the end — spoiler alert — Brian does become an engaged and present  father. In fact, he becomes an amazing father and partner (and, eventually, husband). But not every man will do that, and that is why it’s a bit worrisome for anyone in a similar situation to read the book and think, oh, well, he came around and it worked out, so …

Because sometimes it will work out. Sometimes, someone who can’t ever see being a parent becomes one and changes his or her mind. I guess the question is, would you wait around hoping for that or would that kind of thinking be “wildly self-delusional and outright self-destructive”?

Want to learn about parenting marriages? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.

2 Responses to “You want children, he doesn’t — now what?”

  1. James says:

    You want children he doesn’t. Now what?
    You probably should have had this discussion prior to marrying him! There is a little issue with this though and that is, maybe he just can’t imagine having kids because having kids actually tends involve a little something called ‘having sex’. Ha ha ha Oops, my bad, all woman are suddenly capable when getting pregnant is the objective.

  2. Rob says:

    Well if she wants children and he doesn’t then she’ll do what most women do – i.e. “forget” to take her birth control pills while pleading ignorance as to how she got pregnant.

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