When I was in my early 20s, I used to work at a large clothing retail store in the kids department. Day in and day out, I’d meticulously fold and put away tiny articles of clothing, marveling at the smallness of the pants, shirts, and shoes and generally how adorable these things were. I’d hold up a shirt, and in my mind, picture the child I’d have that would look just darling wearing it. I even went so far as to buy a few items that I found particularly precious–a pair of footed pajamas with pictures of monkeys repeated all over the tan fabric (tan is gender-neutral and covered my bases since I didn’t want to know what the gender of my future child would be until the glorious day he/she came into my life), a white and tan onesie with the same monkey pattern, and a pair of faux-letter booties with the same monkey on them. I gave these items to my mother for safe keeping in her cedar chest, eager for the day when the clothing would finally be brought out of storage and placed on my child.
That was ten years ago, and those baby items still remain hidden away in the cedar chest, now smelling of mothballs and resentment–my mother’s resentment, not mine.
I like children. I wanted to have a few–two, ideally, and was always told I was genetically predisposed to having twins since my grandmother on my father’s side was a twin, and that side of the family is just lousy with multiple births, and the whole birthing twins thing skips a generation, dontchaknow. My dad dodged the bullet, so that I meant I was in line. Knowing this, when I was thinking of names for the yet-to-be-born babies, I had to do double duty already and think of twice as many girl and boy names to accommodate. I had trouble thinking of girl names because I deep-down wanted two boys. I ultimately decided on Lillian and Grace for the little ladies, and Henry (much to my mother’s chagrin) and Mitchell (Mitch for short, obviously) for the little men. I was set. All I needed to do was get pregnant.
Easier said than done. My ex-husband and I discussed having kids a few times. When we first married, we were just babies ourselves still–21-years-old. We decided to wait until we were twenty-five before we procreated; we wanted to get established as a couple, save some money, and just enjoy each others company first before the pitter-patter of tiny feet filled our lives.
Twenty-five came and we reassessed. “Twenty-seven. Let’s wait two more years.” I had just enrolled in school to finish getting my medical assisting degree and would graduate a few months after I turned 27. That plan seemed solid to us. I didn’t want to be going to school full-time and working and be waddling around, my belly swollen with a baby. 27. Perfect.
Knowing I wanted to get pregnant eventually, I stopped taking birth control, partly because I was horrible at remembering to take the tiny pill daily, partly because I had read that the older a woman gets and is still on The Pill, the more difficult it would be for me to get pregnant. I mean, I’d be 27, for chrissakes. That’s ancient in child-bearing years, and pushing the envelope a bit. We had gotten the “so, when are you going to start having kids?” question as soon as we walked down the aisle from our wedding, and it was starting to get more frequent. No more pill. Hello, future baby!
Now, for sake of the tale, I must briefly get slightly uncomfortably personal and also explain something medical to you: I have type O negative blood. If I mate with a male with positive blood, I must take a shot to prevent my body from treating the fetus as a foreign object and try to self-abort. Thanks, body! My ex-husband didn’t know his blood type (…sigh…) and we became careless with our other methods of birth control. This isn’t common knowledge, but I missed my menstrual cycle one month, which was highly, highly unusual. I was like clockwork and had never missed a period in 14 years I had been having it. I was just starting to fully freak out, trying to convince myself to go purchase an over-the-counter pregnancy test, and knowing the outcome, how I was going to explain to my then-husband that 25 was the new 27 and our plans were suddenly moot and this is happening now.
I’m not a religious person by any stretch of the imagination, but when suddenly confronted with being pregnant and it not fitting into what we had laid out, I found myself praying fervently to a god I don’t believe in to let me not be pregnant. I didn’t want this. I had the sudden realization that life as we knew it would completely be altered forever and I was scared out of my mind. We would be responsible for another human being. We’d have to teach this person things and nurture it and make sure it grows up healthy and well-adjusted and to be a good person and not to treat others poorly and teach it how to use the bathroom, how to ride a bike, to have awkward sex talks later, to yell at it for getting into trouble at school, to pay for all the clothes and food it will go through in the eighteen years we’d be legally responsible for it…all of those things came crashing down on me and I stood in our bathroom, staring at myself in the mirror, mumbling quietly to myself, “please don’t let me be pregnant, please don’t let me be pregnant, please, please please…”
I waited another week, each morning checking for signs of my uterus going “Ha ha! False alarm! Just kidding! Aren’t I hilarious?” and nothing. Every woman has been in that same situation–wanting to see the tell-tale signs of your body deciding it isn’t time to have a baby, and as morbid and kind of disgusting as it is, the sight of blood has never been more welcome. I was in full panic mode at this point, and planned on stopping by Walgreen’s after I was done with school that night to pick up a pregnancy test, as I was now approaching three weeks late. I finished with school around 8pm, as I used to be a tutor and a work-study student and ran the computer lab/study room from 5pm until the college closed for the evening. I was driving home and drove by the pharmacy. I couldn’t bring myself to go in and buy the test. I wanted to give my body one more chance to prove I wasn’t pregnant. Plus, I wasn’t looking forward to justifying a purchase on our debit card when we were strapped for cash at that time.
I woke up the next morning as my husband was leaving for work, but stayed in bed as I didn’t have class until later. I remember lying in bed, trying to talk myself into getting up and getting ready, when it hit me. The familiar sensation. I bolted out of bed and ran into the bathroom. It had come. My period had started. Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou. Over the course of the next week, I knew something was amiss–my flow was much, much heavier than usual, and I suffered from more painful than normal cramping. I knew what had happened, I had just miscarried. I did not tell my husband and I never did.
Then, life became different for us as a couple. Twenty-seven came and I recall we were both in the kitchen one night, making dinner together. I’m not sure how the conversation started, but we ended up discussing having kids. He shared he didn’t think he wanted them any more. My gut reaction was to be hurt and insulted that this man didn’t want to have kids with me, but deep down, I was relieved he said so. Our financial situation was bleak, our relationship was starting to become strained, and I knew that us having kids would be a bad idea. We could barely take care of ourselves at times, so I couldn’t imagine bringing a child into the equation.
Flash forward two more years when he was moving out of our house because we suffered irreparable damage to our marriage and at that moment, I again prayed to a god I know doesn’t exist for keeping us child-free because now, we are broken with no hope of fixing it.
Thanks to these circumstances and growing older and finding out I have issues with my lady parts, I’ve come to the realization that I really don’t want to have kids and making this decision is not a popular one in our society.
A friend on Facebook posted an article from Huffington Post about the things people with kids shouldn’t say to those without them, and one of those things was “my life didn’t have meaning before I had kids!” This, obviously, made me angry. I realize some people feel having their children was life-altering and awoke something inside them that they didn’t feel they were capable of. That’s great, and I’m happy for you, but you know what? Just because I don’t have kids doesn’t mean my life is worthless and devoid of happiness. On the contrary.
And as if by kismet, or the stars aligning just right, or pure happenstance, I was in bed this morning, browsing Facebook once again, when another friend posted an article from TIME Magazine, but it wasn’t her article that lit my fire, but it was the cover to said issue of TIME that her article appeared in. On the cover, in bold, capital letters, is the headline: The Childfree Life: When having it all means not having children. I found that immediately engrossing and went to the magazine’s website to read the cover article, and boy, am I glad I subsequently shelled out $3 for an online subscription to TIME so I could read the article.
As you can guess, it deals with women choosing to not have children. The article, written by Lauren Sandler, states that “between 2007 and 2011, the fertility rate dropped 9%, and a 2010 Pew Research report showed that childlessness has risen across all racial and ethnic groups, adding up to about 1 in 5 American women who end their childbearing years maternity-free, compared with 1 in 10 in the 1970s.”
Well I’ll be dipped.
However, just because it’s becoming more common doesn’t mean it isn’t met with opposition, as things are often want to do.
“The decision to have a child or not is a private one, but it takes place, in America at least, in a culture that often equates womanhood with motherhood.”
Let me repeat that, because this is fucking crucial: womanhood is equated with motherhood, and that, my friends, is complete and utter bullshit and where I start to become angry, and the reason for this post.
As I mentioned earlier, after our wedding 10 years ago, as we milled about the reception, chatting up our guests, the thing we heard most often after “congratulations” was “when are you going to start having kids?” It’s just what people do, and it’s assumed is the next logical step in life. Meet a person, fall in love, get married, have kids, live happily ever after. Never being one to go by the rules per se, at least when it comes to societal views of things (I support gay marriage! I love gay people!), we slightly balked at this question because we knew then we wanted to wait to have kids, and that in and of itself was abnormal. Now factor in my decision to remain sans kids, I’m viewed as being incredibly selfish and as author Jonathan V. Last has said in his book What to Expect When No One’s Expecting that “the selfishness of the childless American is responsible for no less than the possible destruction of our economic future by reducing the number of consumers and taxpayers.” Thanks, fella. I’m just a future consumer maker to your eyes. I see a baby, you see a walking/talking dollar sign who you’ll target relentlessly with ads designed specifically toward its demographic. Since you put it that way, sir, allow me to find a man and jump on his penis immediately for sole purpose of producing this future product whore for you because America.
Another reason I’m being a horrible woman is I’m denying the vast array of medical procedures available to me to help with my fertility problems. I can get that large fibroid removed and take medication to control the cysts on my ovaries and regulate my hormones. I’m going to mention this because well, I’m feeling sassy, but if I was meant to get pregnant, I’d get pregnant without medical intervention. If it was meant to be, it would happen without drugs and expensive procedures, which if you think about it, is just as selfish as deciding you don’t want children. How so? Well, refusing to accept that maybe you weren’t supposed to have kids, so resorting to extreme measures to make it happen. You think your life would be better with kids–you’re using them in a selfish way, for personal gain. That’s the very definition of selfishness. So please, continue telling me how selfish I am by accepting my fate and dealing with it. I’d love to continue listening to you prattle on about how I’m not fulfilling some sort of unspoken obligation.
Sure, there’s also adoption or for the less committed, fostering a child (sorry…low blow…), but see above argument.
The rest of the article touches on other fascinating topics, like a controversial study correlating childless women to intelligence, meaning the higher an IQ a woman has, the less likely she is to have children, with the rationalization there being higher IQs mean better jobs which requires more schooling and having kids doesn’t fit into that plan. I personally don’t believe that and think that’s a pretty wild study, but it certainly is an interesting opinion.
Another popular misconception of deciding to remain kidless is that I hate kids. On the contrary, my dear Watson. I enjoy most children and often get that familiar pang in my ovaries whenever I see particularly beautiful child and I find myself thinking, “I bet I could make one better than that…” but the moment passes and I remain without them.
However, please don’t think I’m without some small portion of guilt for deciding this, because I do. I am the only product of the union between my mother and father (my older is brother is from a previous relationship). My dad had an older brother who passed away, unmarried and also childless. I’m the last link to my father’s family. Once I’m gone, that’s the end of our bloodline. The immense pressure I feel to make a genetic copy of myself is sometimes very great, and I struggle with it from time to time. I feel like I’m letting my dad down, like I’m denying him a chance to be a grandpa…my mother, as well. She sometimes lets the errant comment fly of “it’d be nice to have my ‘own’ grandbaby (she says that as she married into her current grandkids, and my brother also never had his own kids and married into his stepson).” Luckily, I’ve had this discussion with both my parents and they have assured me they are both just fine without me giving them grandkids, which does ease my mind considerably. I have great parents…glad they decided to have a kid and are okay with that kid being a bitch about having her own.
I have an idea. It’s a wild one, so hold on to your hats, but how about this: let women make the decision that is best for them and graciously accept that decision. If she wants to have fifteen kids and dress them in matching outfits and start a family band and tour the country in an old VW van, by golly, let her have fifteen kids and dress them in matching outfits and start a family band and tour the country in an old VW van. If a woman wants to have zero kids, make her own outfit, start a one-woman band and tour the country in a VW van, then by golly, let that woman have no kids, make her own clothes, start a band and have that goddamn van.
Simple as that.