I Am Not Defined by My Decision to (Not) Procreate

Kate Spicer, you wrote an article a few years ago, ‘Any woman who says she’s happy to be childless is a liar or a fool’: Take it from a woman who’s given up her dreams of motherhood at 44. The article might as well have been, “Anyone Who Doesn’t Validate My Personal Anguish Is Full of Crap.”

“Unburdened by motherhood and the personal sacrifice it requires, a woman can dedicate herself to her career and create a home with all the delicate ornaments, sumptuous fabrics and hard edges that have no place in a family environment.”

That’s an awfully convoluted way to call someone selfish. I mean, that’s what you’re getting at here, right? Women that don’t fill the role of glorified baby factories because they are uncomfortable with the idea of having children for any number of reasons are self-absorbed cretins that will be the downfall of family values and society as we know it?

The problem with your view of childfree women, apart from its utter vacuousness, is that you are confusing introspection for selfishness. While the decision to have children can be made and acted upon within an instant, the decision not to have children is one that is made every day in consideration of one’s circumstances, capabilities, and preferences. “Are you sure?” and “You’ll change your mind” and “You’ll regret it” are sentiments that childfree-by-choice women hear all the time. I have never known a childfree woman who hasn’t repeatedly examined her decision, if for no other reason than constantly being told she is wrong or in denial.

Let’s set the record straight on the misconception that the only reason women ever choose not to have children is that they are narcissists. I, for instance, have a plethora of reasons not to procreate. When I was a child I was thrust into the role of pseudo-parent to my younger brother because my mother’s chronic illnesses frequently rendered her incapable of being fully present. At the tender age of eight, I became a parent to my own sibling, foregoing the freedoms to fumble and dream and imagine that are intrinsic to childhood. I was robbed of my right to be myself without the weight of constant childminding and I don’t think I will ever stop being bitter about that, but assuming the role of matriarch at a young age is only partial explanation for my aversion to the prospect of procreation. As I grew older, it became apparent that mental illness I experienced as a result of years of traumatizing physical, sexual, and emotional abuse was not going to get much easier and certainly wasn’t going to disappear. A long list of permanent and often disabling conditions – including, but not limited to, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder – makes the idea of having a child seem like an ill-advised one. I am unconvinced that I could be everything that a child deserves in a parent with such a comprehensive list of social and emotional hurdles.

I am not unique. My story is not special in any way. The focus should not be on the idea that I am an underdog who suffers; it should be on the fact that I am making the best decision given my circumstances, like so many others:

“I am dead set on not having children. There are a few different reasons, but the biggest factor in my decision has to be that I don’t want to take care of someone else. I can barely take care of myself at the best of times and rely on my husband to mentally get me through a lot of days. I don’t ever see myself as being strong enough or more importantly, WANTING to be strong enough to be a caretaker for a little human. The very thought gives me such anxiety I get an immediate headache and want to shut down. … Every aspect of kids stress me out. A lot of that might even stem from societies pressure that women are born to become mothers. It disgusts me and the more that concept is thrown about the more I retreat from it.”

“I don’t want children. I never have as far back as I can remember. I’m not going to placate mothers by saying I love children and enjoy being around them – I don’t. I’m completely apathetic towards them.”

“As an only child, never had any interest in babies. Never wanted baby dolls – I had barbies and trolls (this was ’60s / ’70s). My husband said child bearing was my choice, and I voted no. Absolutely no regrets.”

“I am transgender (female to male), and currently am going through the lengthy process of convincing psychologists and surgeons I don’t want to breed and that I am definitely sure I want a hysterectomy. The societal expectation that if you’re equipped with a uterus, you MUST want children, and even if you think you don’t, nobody will believe you… that’s messed up. I’ve never wanted children. My hormone medication renders me almost infertile as it is. But god forbid I choose not to try and have babies anyway. There must be something wrong with me if I don’t want to reproduce. This seems to be the attitude many people have towards those born with a uterus and ovaries – that there is something wrong with you if you choose not to have children. There is nothing wrong with being childfree. Having to convince people you’re mentally sane because you don’t want children is ridiculous. Having to defend your preference of being childfree as if you’re a “freak,” for not wanting kids is ridiculous.”

“I don’t want them. I like them, sure. I like hanging out with them, chatting with them and teaching them things… but then giving them back at nap/bedtime. I am 32 and the baby bug had come and gone at 25.

As I aged, I started actually thinking about this biological urge that I was having.

Wait, I told it. Hold up.

I don’t want to think about buying a house near good schools, getting a car, making mommy friends, peer pressure, puberty or parties. I don’t want to deal with losing favourite toys, being a good role model, being told I’m a shitty parent by other parents, being shamed for breastfeeding in public, trying to breastfeed at all, or Raffi. I don’t want to know what it feels like to say goodbye to a child off to college, have a sex talk or go to family fucking barbecues.

I don’t want to grow a thing inside of my body and have it come out of my vagina. You can do whatever you want.

I don’t want to be left with a bunch of kids when my partner leaves or cheats or decides that they don’t care anymore. I don’t want that financial and emotional burden.

I like getting up early on a Saturday morning to silence. I like staying up late. I like R-rated movies. I like being a workaholic. I like not having the responsibility of another human life. I like doing whatever I want, whenever I want. I like freedom. I like that I have the choice.

Most of all though, I honestly think I’d be terrible at all of the WORK that goes into being a good parent. I don’t do things just because I CAN do them. I want to do them well.

I also can’t afford kids. I like the life that I have built for myself. Kids would be a bath bomb filled with glass shards. I’m sure if I had had children when I wanted to have them then I would also love that life that I might have built because that’s how it works.

People say having kids is selfish. I say not having them is more selfish. I love myself more than I could love anything else in this world. I am a self-centered, easily annoyed, socially lazy, control-freak Millennial. Those same people say having kids changes you, and I’m sure it does. No questions. I just don’t want to change.

I’ve made my choice and I’m sticking to it.”

Even the pleas from women who don’t want to upset their lives by having children are a far cry from self-centrism, considering their introspection is preventing a potentially toxic parent-child relationship.

After five agonizing years of fighting with my gynecologist for the right to not get pregnant, I finally won and had my fallopian tubes removed. It will have been two years since the surgery in August, and I have no regrets despite arguably being at prime baby-crazy age. I used to be so terrified of the idea of getting pregnant that I would take Plan B a lot more often than I really needed to, even being on the birth control pill and using condoms. One time, when I was doing blood work to investigate what turned out to be symptoms caused by a medication I was on, I got a false positive on a pregnancy strip at the clinic. The twenty minutes between the first test and when the doctor had the opportunity to come back and discuss the (negative) results of the second test were among the longest, scariest moments of my life. Now, having been sterilized, I never need to fear an unplanned pregnancy again, and my comfort with my own body has increased exponentially. Plus, and pardon the French, now I can fuck with impunity!

You’ve never met anyone who regrets having kids? That’s nice. I have. Do you know what the difference is between a childfree person who regrets their decision, and a parent who regrets their decision? 18+ years of potential abject misery for a child that did not ask to be born from a resentful parent. My friend, who is a mother of one, said, “If someone does not have the desire to be permanently accountable for another’s life it’s a positive choice … Why would we force someone who doesn’t have that desire to fill a position they don’t want. It’s not like one can try it out ‘just in case I change my mind.'”

But I’m just one more boring, would-be writer shouting indistinctly into the blogosphere. Stefanie Marsh wrote an incredible article  for The Guardian about parents who regret. They aren’t the misanthropes you may be imagining; often they love their children, but regret all they had to give up or the lies they told themselves and others to get into the position of being a parent. They feel they’ve traded a multi-faceted identity for an existence limited to their state of motherhood. In the article, Marsh speaks of an e-mail exchange with Corinne Maier, author of No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children, where Maier talks about the “mismatch between the increased freedom that women enjoy and what she sees as the increased pressure on them to be ‘good’ mothers.”

In my own query to the Internet for stories of women who regret having children, I too found a lot of resentment from mothers for having lost their identity and privacy:

“Almost everything I do within the walls of my home is because I have three children and a man-child. The laundry, the meals, the cleaning, the barking orders; all because I am The Mom. I’m a walking calendar of events that includes medical records, school contacts and people I only know as so & so’s Mom. I’m the reason we always have toilet paper in the closet. It’s exhausting. Mine are fairly independent and the idea of going back to the infant stage gives me hives. I’ve also been working on finding me. It’s a mental kick in the shorts when you realize how much of yourself you’re giving to others and that most days there is nothing left for ME. I’m stopping myself from throwing the “Don’t get me wrong…” statement on the end of this, because that seems to defeat the whole point. This shit isn’t easy and it’s okay for us to admit that we don’t enjoy every sticky fingered, snot nosed, cleaning up puke in the middle of the night, can’t even pee without someone banging on the door minute. Just like it’s okay to say, ‘Naw, I’m good.'”

Kate Spicer, your tale of regret over never having produced a progeny is nothing more than a single case of remorse. Your personal anguish is not evidence that all women should or do or will feel bitterness over the decision not to have children. It’s an anecdote. It’s juvenile. It’s projection. You are jaded and pushing your feelings onto other women because you are too cowardly to own them. What’s worse than that, though, is that now that you are past childbearing years and have failed to forge a purpose or connection with other humans, you long for children as some kind of panacea for your wounds or a filling of the void. Children are not a means to an end. They are not the essence of happiness and fulfillment; they are an aspect of a happy and fulfilling life.

I have a deep respect for people who take the plunge into parenthood. It’s a momentously demanding task to raise a child. It creates complications in every aspect of your life, from the obvious topics of financial stability and social interaction down to the not-so-obvious issues of self-doubt and strain on romantic relationships. It can trigger disastrous upheaval of one’s life. It can be an immensely rewarding endeavor. Often, it’s some marriage of the two.

But to reproduce so that you have someone take care of you in old age, like you are advocating in the tail end of your written persecution of childfree women? “The Motherhood Deniers are terribly excited about their friends. None of whom will be able to wipe their own bottoms in 40 years time, let alone those of their chums. And we all know nephews and nieces are not in the business of dedicating their lives to maiden aunts … For them, there are dogs and cats, and when they no longer have strength to pull the foil off a tin of Caesar, it’s pretty likely there’ll be branches of Dignitas in every shopping mall where the old and unloved can go when there’s nothing left to live for.”

For you to reduce all the complexities of parenthood down to a weak grunt from your withered uterus that says, “Babies good, childfree bad!” is an insult to all the amazing parents who do it for their kids and not as a security deposit to ensure care in their old age. No one should ever weigh their reason to live against their status as a procreator. Not you, and not the countless women you have shamed with your hateful, pathetic attempt at a treatise.

Categories: childfree

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