Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Annulment offers comfort in childless divorce
Is a marriage doomed if one partner wants children and the other doesn’t? That’s the question we talked about in last week’s blog. I want to pursue the subject a little farther.
As most of you know, I was married twice. The first marriage ended in divorce, and my second husband died in 2011. I didn’t have children with either husband.
My first husband never said anything about not wanting children until well into the marriage. As we prepared for marriage in the Catholic church, we signed papers saying we would welcome children. But once we were married, he kept saying, “Not yet.” Then, when I thought I might be pregnant, he showed his true colors. “If you're pregnant, I’m leaving,” he told me. Well, I wasn’t pregnant, and the marriage fell apart about a year later for other reasons. About six months after the divorce, I filed for an annulment in the Catholic church. That annulment was granted on the grounds that my ex refused to have children with me. In the eyes of the church, it was not a valid marriage.
The annulment process was relatively easy compared to the divorce. I paid $300 and submitted written testimony, backed up with testimony from my parents and my brother, gave it all to my priest and eventually received a letter in the mail from the archdiocesan tribunal in San Francisco giving me the verdict. My ex was given the opportunity to give his side of the story, but he declined. I shed a few tears when I saw our full real names in that letter saying our marriage was invalid, but now I was free to marry again. The annulment process gave me validation that my desire to have children was right and good, that I did not have to suffer for my husband’s sin.
So now I could start over. I could marry someone else and have children. But it didn’t work out that way. My second husband, Fred, told me up front that the three kids he had from his first marriage were enough. He had had a vasectomy because he didn’t want to have any more babies. Although I suffered from a bit of denial—surely a miracle will happen and I’ll still have kids—I married him. He was not Catholic, and because he was divorced, we were not allowed to get married in the Catholic Church. There would be no annulment to rescue me if I regretted my choice.
Over the years, I often wished I could have children, but I never wanted to trade Fred for someone else. I didn’t have children with him, but I did get the support I needed to pursue my writing and music, and I did become a stepmother to his three children. He loved me like no one had ever loved me. Those are important things, huge gifts. He gave me a wonderful life. There was no breach of promise with Fred. No surprise.
In reading comments from men and women who declare themselves childfree, I find that many would end a relationship if their loved one wanted children. To them, it is worse to be saddled with an unwanted child than to lose their partner or spouse. What if Fred had said, “You want babies, so we’re going to have to break up?” Or if I had said, “Sorry, I’m going to look for somebody else.” What a loss that would have been for both of us.
What if my first husband had been honest about not wanting children? Our relationship was always troubled. But would I have had the sense to go find someone else? I was only 20 when we met. My whole life could have been different. But I wouldn’t have met Fred.
We don’t know what this life is going to bring, but when God sends us someone wonderful, should we send them away?
I would love to hear your thoughts.