Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Tyrrany of Maternal Inquiry, or, Another Childless Woman Appeals to Your Sense of Decency

There are two small children in my life: Niece, who is three, and Nephew, who is one. I'm terribly fond of them, even if Nephew slobbers on me thanks to teething, and even if Niece is an egomaniacal shitshow right now. This is the kind of stuff that happens at those ages. It's part of childhood. It's also part of what keeps me from procreating.

I've known for years that I do not want children. During high school, I babysat for a family around the corner. Their kids were great but I had no maternal instinct whatsoever, and this often showed in my work. The second-oldest child once approached her mother about my inattentiveness to the youngest child, which showed maturity on her part and illuminated my lack of interest in being around kids for more than half an hour at a time. In my first semester of college, the topic of children arose during a casual conversation and I told my eight or so compatriots that no, I did not care to reproduce. Some of the girls looked at me askance, while one (now a mother herself) supported me. This track record of mine may not be well-documented on paper, but in my own mind, it is clear.

One of my best friends is also staunchly against having children of her own. Her brother and sister-in-law have five kids between them, and like me, Maria is attached to her nieces and nephews. But I can't tell you the number of times we've lamented her brother's insistence that she will have children of her own someday or how often we've exchanged articles about women who are childless by choice. We share the frustration of living in a world where, even at our ages (she's 31; I'm 28), people do not trust that we know ourselves well enough to commit to the decision we've made.

As far as those articles go, some of them are heartfelt and some are hilarious. All of them ultimately make the same point: for a subset of the population, children represent a lifestyle choice that is unfulfilling and/or impossible to sustain. Personally, I have several reasons to abstain from child-rearing, including my own mental health, which I neglected so long that it became very problematic for me a couple of years ago.

In America, we're supposed to be enlightened, freedom-loving types. Yet if a woman dares to discuss her lack of progeny, she is likely to be badgered, often by family members but also by friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. Last year, my grandmother wished me a happy Mother's Day; when I asked why, she said, "You'll be a mother someday." I didn't have it in me to tell her that day would come only in an alternate universe. On the other hand, my aunt, who was childless by choice, gave me a great deal of support on this matter. It was nice to know that someone else was on my side.

I will admit that I have wavered on two separate occasions. Both times, I was in love, and we all know love does funny things to people. In the first situation, I convinced myself that I could handle it and my partner was worth it, but I had also convinced myself that 19 was a reasonable age at which to commit myself to a life with someone I'd known less than a year, so obviously my judgment was impaired. In the second situation, I had to work to remind myself that I had good reasons for saying no to kids. When the possibility of being with that man was negated, I was heartbroken, but also relieved: my hormone-addled brain settled down and I was able to examine--and reconfirm--my feelings about pregnancy and parenthood.

I'm grateful to have Niece and Nephew nearby. They give me an opportunity to address any nurturing instincts I do possess, which sentiment echoes what my aunt told me about spending time caring for my mother when she was a baby (they were separated in age by over a decade). But I'm even more grateful that I don't have children of my own--and that I have some reproductive freedom, although that is often under attack, as you may have noticed over the past few years. Birth control is as freeing now as it was when it debuted, and I thank the people who developed it.

So please: next time you think it's okay to harass a woman--or even question her--about her childless state, try to remember that those of us who actively choose not to become parents do have good cause for saying no to reproduction, and that it's none of your business what we do--or do not do--with our uteri.


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