Friday, August 24, 2007

Childless By Choice

A great article by Carolyn Ali, a freelance writer, and travel and food editor for Vancouver’s Georgia Straight. She has travelled extensively and lived in Japan and Thailand.

The rumblings started when we got engaged at age 23. “So, when are you going to have kids?” people would ask. “We’re not,” we both answered, over and over. “You’ll change your mind,” they said knowingly, “when you get older.”

After 11 years of marriage, my husband and I still feel the same way. But now I’m wary and weary of answering that dreaded question at family reunions, dinner parties, at the office copier, and in line at the grocery store. I invariably end up having to defend my decision. It’s just not socially acceptable for a woman to choose not to have children—but it should be.

Every woman in her thirties is acutely aware of her biological clock. Much has been made of the “I forgot to have a baby!” career women, who rush to conceive before it’s too late. In my twenties, although I was pretty sure I didn’t want kids, it was comforting to have my options open, lest I wake up on day and feel the infant urge kick in. But that hasn’t happened. Instead, I’ve spent the last decade reaffirming that this is what I really want, in the face of relentless pressure of another friend having a baby, another colleague going on maternity leave. I have wanted to make a conscious decision about not having kids, rather than waiting too long and having it made for me.

Now, at age 34, I’m getting down to the wire. It’s now or never—and I choose never.

But doesn’t every woman want a baby? Society would have us think so. I don’t doubt that many women—perhaps most--want to be mothers in their lifetime. And many experience the anguish of yearning for a child yet being unable to conceive. That’s why I’m dumbfounded when yet another person asks me when I’m having kids. For all they know, I’ve been trying desperately for years with no success. What an extremely personal, insensitive question.

I’ve never tried for a baby, so as far as I know, I’m not infertile. Yet answering that question is still uncomfortable. Explaining that I don’t want kids apparently isn’t enough—people feel it’s their right to know why. Frankly, it’s none of their business, just as it’s none of mine why they chose to have kids. (Because their career was tiresome, and a baby was a way out? Because they had hoped having kids would cement a faltering relationship? Or because they truly wanted to be a parent, it was the right time, and with the right person?)

Just because I can have kids doesn’t mean I should. While somebody needs to perpetuate the human race, the world is already overpopulated; it won’t hurt if not all women procreate. Yet women who don’t are often accused of being selfish; after all, they don’t devote their lives to the next generation. Since they don’t have children to put first, they have only themselves to think of, the reasoning goes. One might counter that it’s selfish to breed your own Mini Me when there are already so many children in the world abandoned, poverty stricken, or otherwise desperate for care. You could put them first instead, whether through adoption, volunteer work, donating money, or advocating for global solutions.

Childless women are also seen as irresponsible, and only interested in a self-indulgent, carefree lifestyle. “So you’ll go out to dinner less often,” Paul’s mother chides the couple in Mad About You, implying they’d rather live it up than have kids. “You wouldn’t understand, you’re single,” a good friend let slip during a conversation about familial responsibility, where I was the only non-mother in the group. She attended my wedding. Yet to her, no kids means no commitment.

I admit that I don’t have a particular fondness for children. I find most, well …boring. But women who choose not to have children aren’t child-haters. Many work in education, or delight in the offspring of family and friends. I have several nephews and a niece that I love, but that doesn’t make me want my own.

Here’s the simple truth. I have no desire to have children. I have never, ever in my life felt one twinge of maternal instinct. I have never swooned at the smell of a baby’s head. Never looked at a newborn and felt a sense of yearning. It hasn’t happened in 34 years, and I’m betting it won’t.

“You can’t possibly know what you’re missing,” parents say, in a bid to change my mind. They’re right. But what will I miss out on if I do have kids? Everybody makes choices in life and never knows for certain how things might have been had they made different ones. You may not be able to imagine your life without kids. But how can you judge that what’s right for you is right for me?

In her book, The Childless Revolution: What It Means to be Childless Today (Perseus, 2001) Madelyn Cain explores the varied reasons behind women’s decisions to remain childless. “A major frustration for these women is people who do not believe that they truly did not want a child. People think they are kidding, can be coaxed into childbearing, or have something emotionally wrong with them,” she writes.

“You’ll regret it,” many people imply. Maybe, maybe not. The infamous 1975 Ann Landers column makes you wonder. When an undecided couple wrote to Ann asking whether the rewards of parenting were worth the grief, Landers put it to her readers: “If you had it to do over again, would you have children?” Seventy percent of respondents said no.

Those were anonymous responses, of course. And even today, most people wouldn’t admit to this publicly. It’s simply socially unacceptable to express discontent with one’s decision to have had a child.

I believe some people have kids simply because it’s the thing to do. In the end, they may or may not be happy they did, and they may or may not be good parents. That’s why the choice to not have children should be validated. As Cain says, “This should not be a one-choice-fits-all society.”

I have a family of two—my husband and I. For me, that’s the right number. I respect your choice. Please respect mine.

She took the words right out of my mouth, literally. However, I do not think of myself nor term myself "childless". I use & much prefer the term "childfree". "Childless" implies that there is something missing, something less than whole in our lives. If you've truly made the decision to be "childfree", that is not how you feel nor what you believe.


Headgirl said...

I can't agree more.
In all my **** years, oh what the hell, 50 years I've never ever felt a maternal twick. I don't have a maternal bone in my body & I'm glad of it.. Had my chance mind but didn't want it - give me, a puppy any day! Or a kitten or a bottle of wine...


Bruno Rocco said...

I commend you on your decision. It is your life and yours alone. Your husband may also have a yearning for children, but if he wants children then he can get a different wife. The truth be known their are probably statistics on how many women got pregnant by accident. Without wanting to have children. It is interesting though how this topic is not talked about much and not spoken about at weddings , my guess would be that 70 percent of women's first born children are not planned. And of course lets get into the religous debate if you get pregnant you better get married . Their is no other choice in most cultures. It is quite interesting my guess and Ann landers poll about the 70 % hmmm.

I rest my case

Luv Yah

Bruno Rocco said...

i think you should change the name of this one to Childfree by choice

Wilma said...

I kept the title as it was originally published so as not to anger the copywright gods.

I would title it differently if it were me.