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Childless By Choice

October 16, 2012

As a woman who has reached my fourth decade without having children I find myself questioned increasingly frequently about not having children.  I’ve faced these questions since childhood; the early experiences of playing ‘dolls’ bypassed me a little – I enjoyed tea parties but never really ‘mothered’ them.  I don’t remember any conversations with peers about future plans; children were never featured in my conversation.  From the start of having relationships, at about age 15, I have been asked or it has been assumed I would want children.  A few of the comments and questions I have been on the receiving end of are:

(a)            Having a child will prove you are a woman (wasn’t aware my womanhood was in doubt, isn’t that part of the cisgender privilege I ‘enjoy’?).

(b)            Don’t worry, there’s still time (my rapidly shriveling ovaries thank you).

(c)             You’ll change your mind (ah, the fickle mind of the woman, constantly in thrall to my unthinking hormones and incapable of reaching rational, reasoned decisions without being doubted).

(d)            Oh, can’t you have any? (wanting has nothing to do with ability; further, if I couldn’t, do you really think it is either sensitive or appropriate to question me?)

(e)             Don’t you like children? (of course I do.  Preferably boiled.  Not really, I am allergic.  See, I wrote about it here).

(f)             Are you sure?  Really? (gosh, you’ve completely changed my mind with your incisive and pithy questions.  Silly me, it was just a phase…)

(g)            What about your parents/siblings; won’t they want grandchildren/cousins for their kids?  (my ovaries, my body, my life, my choice; and in my case, they trust my decision and my ability to make that decision, and furthermore, believe me when I state it)

(h)            Too selfish, eh? (Yes, it is all about ME because the decision to have a child is an entirely selfless one).

(i)             Doesn’t your husband/partner mind?  (He is of completely the opposite opinion and is desperate to procreate but I tricked him into commitment.  Or, damn I didn’t think of discussing children when we were finding out how compatible we might be in the long term.  We are such sillies)

(j)             Laughter, because the assumption is that I am joking (no woman would ever SERIOUSLY say they don’t want children, that’s just silly talk!).

(k)            That’s not natural!  (I’m going against the natural order and God and other deities and things and shall burn in hell for my unwomanness).

(l)             Oh what a shame, you would be a wonderful mother! (whilst I appreciate the vote of confidence and prescience, no-one can know that, there is no need to pity the unfertilized ova expelled on a semi-regular basis from me).

(m)          My decision is assumed in some way to be a judgement on theirs to have children.  (It so obviously is a personal decision, I never know how to react to this one).

My decision is mistrusted purely because I am a heterosexual-identified woman.  Men face the opposite assumption; that they don’t want to have children.  When my husband is (rarely) asked if he has children and says no, almost all people say “you’re lucky”.  Gay couples are assumed not to want children, and single gay people very rarely are asked once their sexuality becomes known to whomever they are speaking with.  It is just unspoken ‘fact’ that gay people will not want or have children.

None of the aforementioned assumptions are correct; sexuality and relationship status only affect the methods by which one becomes a parent and the format the parenting may take.  They bear no relation to whether one actually wants to have children in the first place.

I don’t want children because:

(1)     Most importantly, and I cannot stress this enough, I don’t want children!  Simple as that.  I have no overwhelming urge to pass my genetic stock onto another generation.  The powerful instinct to procreate that I have spoken with my friends about, which some have felt, which I have read about and truly believe exists, does not exist within me.  I do not, have not and will never feel like I have missed out.  I have felt this way my entire life, and have known this about myself consciously for at least 26 years.  I think it is safe to say this lady ain’t for changing.

(2)     There are too many people in the population already; there is no need for me to add to that number.  Every new person is a responsibility for everyone around them, and I want to ensure that those who are already born and who will be born to others have the best chances they can in life.  That means no inequality, fighting for economic parity, fighting against oppression, determining the best ways in which those in existence can be cared for from cradle to grave, fighting for education, healthcare, crèche places, parental leave, job-sharing, flexi-time; fighting for all the things that make caring for the next generation and creating an environment in which all members of society can contribute and partake equally possible.  In a way, I want to ‘parent’ the whole world (but in a non-patronising and non-oppressive way of course).

(3)     I want to do what I want to do, when I want to do it (within reason).  I am selfish enough to know I don’t want to be responsible for another human being in the way a parent is, and selfless enough to accept that to have a child whilst feeling like that would be an unforgiveable pressure to put on a child.

(4)     I have health issues – my long-term medication causes serious foetal abnormalities and I have unrelated fertility problems.  To actually become pregnant would be problematic, although not impossible.  However, if I wanted children I would find a way.  My reaction to these medical problems is relief that I have an in-built ‘shut up’ fact to state to those who question incessantly and disregard, disrespect and disbelieve my expressed life choice to be childless.  I don’t use it as a ‘shut up’ clause any more though.  The fact is, I don’t want children, and the health issues are useful to me because of that, not the other way round.  The fact I feel that way about in itself says a lot about my choice and how right it is for me!

(5)     There are enough unwanted children who are desperate for loving parent(s) and family; the urge to pass on genetic stock ignores the many children born to parents who did not want them and could not look after them.  If I did ever have a child, it would be through fostering or adoption, but I refer you to (3) above.

(6)     Economically, I am not prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to become a parent.  I see those around me struggling ever harder (thanks, ConDems for making it SO much worse) and know that I would end up resenting any child I might have.  I have enough emotional self-awareness not to want to damage any child I might have through this.

(7)     I am often told I would make a wonderful mother, and what a shame it is I won’t have children.  Even that it is unfair of me not to become a mother because of my natural ability with children.  It’s true, I do love children and I do think I have the potential to be a good mother, but that is not a good enough reason to inflict myself on a child. I love the ones in my life and would kill anyone who touched a hair on their heads/jump in front of a truck (*delete as applicable, {IDH} forbid it should be necessary) for any of them.  Simply knowing this is not enough to override point (1).

There will be those who think my choice is in some way an insult to their opposite choice; that I think I am in some way ‘better’ than those who have chosen parenthood.  Why this is, I do not know.  In fact, my choice not to have children makes it easier on those who have as I have eased, in some way, the pressure supporting each new life places on society.  I’m no better nor worse.  We need children to keep our society, our humanity, going.  I’m not against people have children.  I’m against ME having children.  However, I do think there should be much better sex education, parenting life skills in schools, less people have LOTS of children, family planning advice and all options available in the case of unwanted pregnancy, and so on; I do think some people have children without really wanting them or thinking through the consequences and responsibilities they will face, the many unwanted children are proof of that.

So there you have it.  That is why I don’t want, have never wanted and will never want children of my own.

You know the really sad/annoying/sexist thing?  I will STILL be questioned about my decision.  Until I die, I will receive the pitying looks of people who think I have missed out or that I am lying to myself, or even that I am carrying some secret heartbreak around because I am a woman who has never known the joy of being pregnant and caring for their own child.  My choice will always be mistrusted because I am a woman.  That is appallingly sexist, patronizing, heteronormative and insulting.

I am more than my uterus.  Maybe one day, society will recognize that too.

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2 Comments
  1. Jaki permalink

    I think you are an amazingly strong person. You are a good role model for your odd-children. I am glad that you agreed to be part of their lives. You made your choice for you and stood up for what you believed in. Everyone is entitled to their choices in life.

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