Childless by circumstance – let’s talk about it

As National Fertility Awareness Week is upon us, it seems important to highlight the emotional impact felt by intended parents who find themselves childless through circumstance. When we use the term ‘intended parents’ we mean exactly that; individuals or couples intentionally seeking to become a parent, doing whatever they can, physically, emotionally, psychologically, financially, and practically to have a child. Mary-Anne Singh, Fertility Counsellor at the Lister Fertility Clinic, discusses the struggles of being childless by circumstance, and shares advice on how to cope and move forwards.

For some people, having a child is more than a yearning, it’s a deep-rooted primordial need. As statistics show, fertility issues and treatment can have an enormous impact on mental health. If an individual or couple find themselves childless through no fault of their own, and are left without the correct support and care, anxiety, mood disorders, such as depression or even suicidal ideation may occur.  

The importance of trying

The process of trying to become a parent is difficult and the outcome is constantly unknown. For many who are trying to have a child and are unfortunately unsuccessful, knowing that they’ve done absolutely everything in their power to grow their family can bring them just a little bit closer to accepting the outcome.

At the Lister Fertility Clinic, our consultants, nurses, sonographers and all the staff in the clinic accompany our patients on every step of their journey. Our teams acknowledge the needs of every single patient, respectfully supporting them and providing them with the best possible chance of having a child. All the while, our staff understand their duty of care and strive to strike the tricky balance between being positive about outcomes whilst also acknowledging the reality of the patient’s chances of having a child, because for every patient who becomes a parent there are going to be patients who will not.

I have been working as a fertility counsellor for the Lister Fertility Clinic for a number of years. Without disclosing too much, I am one of those intended parents who remains childless through circumstance. The journey to acceptance of childlessness takes time and doesn’t happen overnight. Very often, patients will start their grieving process before treatment has ended, when they could (or should) still have hope. While this is understandable, in some cases, it’s important to challenge these feelings because it’s impossible to know how you’ll feel until you have reached the end of your fertility journey and so it may be helpful to hold onto hope and positive feelings until you get there.

Having no regrets

Fertility treatment does have psychological purpose. Our consultants acknowledge that not being able to have a child with your own DNA is a significant loss. They listen to patients who would like to try to conceive in this way before moving to donor conception treatment, even if they understand their chances of success are slim, as they understand that this process can help patients reach a place of acceptance, with no regrets, if treatment is unsuccessful.

The experience of repeated rounds of failed treatment and unexplained infertility can take its toll emotionally. This can be made worse if you have just had a failed round of IVF or experienced a miscarriage, and you are then confronted with the reality of others starting to grow their families around you. A text message with a friend’s ultrasound scan, an invitation to a baby shower, or a colleague going on maternity leave are all examples of triggers that you may find yourself facing. It’s okay to feel angry in these moments, and no one has the answer as to why they have been successful and not you, not even the most experienced consultants. I encourage patients to stick with what they know and to admit powerlessness to anything else because it’s out of their hands and most likely no one is responsible for a failed outcome, least of all themselves.

Although you can never be fully prepared for unexpected childlessness, services and support such as counselling can help patients manage their expectations and help them cope with the mixed feelings of hope and fear of loss. A specialist fertility counsellor can help with coping skills and strategies that work specifically for you, and they’ll be by your side throughout your journey to acknowledge the struggles and the triumphs, making the whole experience feel much less lonely. At the Lister Fertility Clinic, we provide an open-door counselling service, before, during or after treatment, free of charge. This service is also available to those who cannot continue with treatment for either financial, physical or psychological reasons.

In addition to our free counselling service, there are also charitable support groups out there and other services which can support you on the next steps of a life without children – you can find these listed below.

What it all boils down to is living your best life (sorry if that sounds a bit cheesy). However, you don’t have to be serene about accepting the things you cannot change! It’s about re-finding your happiness, in whatever shape or form that might be, and this is what I would call, and *Gateway Women would call, ‘Plan B’. I’m certain that no two childless people will have the same plan B because we are all different and there are different things that makes each of us smile. There are already some pioneers out there who we can look to for inspiration and feel less alone, such as Jody Day, and Jessica Hepburn to name just a couple. But you don’t need to climb a mountain or swim the channel like Jessica has. Instead, think about how you can connect with those who make you feel good and have similar interests to you – it can be helpful to recognise that you now have more time to focus on and invest in your existing relationships, including the relationship you have with yourself.

Now is as good a time as any to take the best care of yourself, spoil yourself, plan wonderful things or even do less, and none of these things make you a selfish person. You could think of it more as compensation. In the beginning, you may feel that nothing will compensate you for your loss of parenthood, but over time, particularly as you age you may feel better and better as things fall into place.

Friends and family can do the same for their loved ones going through treatment and beyond, by being aware of what being an intended parent feels like. It’s important for them to remember that being childless isn’t always a choice, and that careless comments can hurt. Developing your own way of speaking about childlessness can also be helpful. Speaking to your family and friends, and even developing a language with the help of a counsellor can help you construct what words work for you. Going out into the world with the right words can help you feel protected and less vulnerable. It gives you the script with which you can share your knowledge to correct people’s careless comments and prevent further harm to those other childless people too.

More and more people are childless in our world, some through choice and others through circumstances. We just need to remember, that it’s not all about choice. 

Whatever your circumstances, the dedicated staff at the Lister Fertility Clinic and our Open-Door Fertility Counselling service are here to give you the support you need. 

If you’re looking for further support on this topic, here are some further resources that you might find helpful.


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  4. Fertility Network | Useful Resources | Fertility Network (
  8. App Review: MyJourney • PET (
  9. Existing App you can download: Happy & Childless
  10. - charity concern of people ageing without children
  11. -researcher into male childlessness
  12. - addresses social justice of childless people
  13. The gathering place for childless women and nonbinary people to connect.
  14. Supporting single and childless women