19 January 2010

To spawn or not to spawn

Has never really been a question for me. I've never wanted children. Even as a little girl, when you might hear a child say that they want to be a mommy, I never did.

My mother remembers with outright glee a telephone call I made to her when I was about 14, whilst babysitting a colicky 18 month old; I couldn't get the kid to stop crying, and it had made me near-hysterical. "No teenage pregnancy for me, Mom," I shouted over the screeching. "I can't handle this!!"

(Nevermind that I was positively sure that sex basically equaled death, in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, or that my religion taught that sex outside of marriage equaled HELL...)

Not that I waited, but that's not the point here. I decided - definitively - sometime in my late teens that motherhood wasn't for me, and I wasn't interested. DH and I have been together for a loooong time, and there were a few family members (on the Catholic side of the fam, ffs) who pressured us to have kids even before we were married. I met him when I was 19; I could say then, with absolute certainty: "I'm too young to be a mother."

But as I've gotten older, more and more people - some outright strangers - apparently think it is OK to question my judgement and badger the living hell out of me about having a child. Let me say this:




Now before you tell me, "methinks the lady doth protest too much," please keep in mind that my frustration with this boils over and spills out once a year or once every few years, and today? Is that day.

The anger comes from one place; how the bloody living hell is it anyone else's business if I have a child or not? Simply, and truthfully, it isn't. But when you meet someone new, and they ask if you're married (DH and I do not wear wedding rings, so it isn't obvious from the get-go) the very next question is if you have children. When you answer in the negative, it isn't uncommon for the questioner to ask, "Why not?!?" as if it is positively shocking that you don't, because somehow it is your sacred duty to pop out a kid or two if you've bothered to get married.

Um: No.

Having a child is a major, life-altering decision, one that in my ever-so-humble, ought not be entered into lightly. In fact, I think people ought to think long and hard about ALL of the impacts a child will have on their lives. Financial, emotional, physical....those 3 are the merest tip of the iceberg. But getting pregnant is very easy, and I think it is rare that people think much about it; you grow up, go to school, go to college, get married, have children. Period; that's just how it is done.

I belong to a few Childfree or childless by choice groups (aka and hereafter CFBC) and something that those groups point out often is that most people don't really consider the fact that there IS a choice there; married does not need to equal with children.

BTW, this isn't about abortion or my usual reproductive rights spiel; or at least, not exactly. "Reproductive rights" to me means - in part - that a woman has the right to choose for herself if she will get pregnant or not, no matter what her religion or social norms expect.

I'm no longer a member of the Catholic Church, so what the Popes say no longer means much to me other than the fact that their writings usually piss me the hell off. But when I was Catholic, something Pope John Paul II wrote made me sad; by choosing to work outside the home and not have children, the Church thinks that I am "denying" my "essential femininity". Hogwash. To read this outrageous bullshit for yourself, click here and start reading at Chapter VI, part 17.

So society thinks I'm weird for not having kids. Christianity (and, I'm sure, all of the other major world religions also push for procreation; who will carry the Word and the Truth if there are not new Believers being created constantly?) thinks I ought to be having kids. What I think, apparently, is completely immaterial. No matter that I'd be the one going through pregnancy - which, btw, scares the living hell out of me - or that I'd be the one going through labor - also, quite terrifying, tyvm - and no matter at all that the primary caregiver of the new baby would be, again, me. Nope. What you want, little lady, is far less important than what the Church and society expect from you.

I like my independence. I like having time to myself. I like sleep. Kiss all of that good-bye the minute a baby enters the picture.

What's gotten in to me that has me so all-fired angry? A recent episode of Dr. Phil, where he questions a CFBC couple about the fact that they may come to regret not having kids, and that they ought to re-visit the issue every year to make sure that they're still "on the same page," as if the childfree don't know their own minds, and must second-guess themselves at every opportunity.

Allow me to repeat myself -

Um: no.

Isn't it a good thing that I already know - before ever being preggo for even a second - that motherhood is not the path for me? Isn't it a good thing that I'm quite cognizant of the fact that motherhood is something I'd be terrible at, and thus should not attempt? I'm OK with that fact; it doesn't pain me in the least to admit that I'm not motherhood material. In fact, I think that it is a fantastic thing that I'm cognizant of that fact before I even think of contemplating parenthood.

Once you have a child, you are then responsible for that child for the rest of your life. Let me say that again. For the rest of your life. To the end of your born days. It isn't like buying a home, or even getting married; once that child is born, there is NO going back. You can't decide to just up not be a parent one day.

Should anyone be entering into that lightly? I think not.

Oh, Lucy, you're thinking. You say nothing of the joys and the love and the wonderful things that children bring to your life. The pain of labor is fleeting; the joy lasts much longer. Perhaps. I don't deny that babies are adorable and smooshable and kissable, and that kids can be an absolute delight. On the contrary; toddlers, in particular, fascinate me. You can SEE them learning every day, watch their language development, see the little wheels turning as they pick up a new word or skill. That's great. But I can experience all of that without being a mother myself, and that's A-OK with me!


Anonymous said...

I just wanted to let you know I am also CFBC, and fully support you.
My HR manager at work, shen she found out my man was deploying, actually suggested I try to get pregnant right before he deployed, so he could "miss all the pregnant part" and then I could get a year off paid leave when he comes home .... um WTH???? How, on any level, is that an appropriate suggestion?

Lora said...

I want to sit down with you right now so we can talk all about this!

When I was 18, my now mother in law told me that I should get pregnant and drop out of school because she could just get me a job at the hotel she manages and Dave's uncle could get him a job at the docks and he could work there while he goes to law school and we'd be fine in the future. Um, no.

I never wanted children.

I think wedding rings are bogus. I have them, I wear them sometimes (rarely), but I think they are silly. Beautiful, but silly.

I mourn the life that I planned for myself before I got accidentally pregnant..

Less people should have children. Most parents are total assholes. So are their kids.

I hate when people ask me about having another. I hated when people asked me about having a first. It's no one's effing business what anyone does with their life (unless of course we chose to share it on a blog!)

Schadenfreude's a Bitch said...

Jeez, I have seen so many BAD parents who did not consider all that being a parent implies, from financial responsibilities, to basic housework that being a parent entails.

It just blows my mind that people don't consider any of these issues before they start popping out devilspawn, er, children!

I have stepkids, and they are 8 and 10 and they are still a ton of work and we only have them 4 - 6 days a month.

Fulltime parenthood is a hard hard task. I know there is a lot of love involved and I know that I have that capacity in me, but raising someone else's children? IS HARD. Because they come with values that you might not share, and have personality quirks that I had nothing to do with. And discipline? Holy crap, its awkward. Because they do things that might be acceptable in their other household but is totally unacceptable in mine.

I love my 'stepkids' because they came with my boyfriend, and they are good kids, but I have a stepdaughter who just got her first period on my watch and wanted to know months ago what an orgasm was.

I was never someone who was adamant about having my own kids but its hard to go, That's not the way I would have done it...

jmplatz said...

First, let me just say that this seems to be a prominent belief in the Midwestern states. Families, friends, pretty much all of the society around you expects that once you are a part of a couple, you will procreate. Otherwise, why couple?

My mother started pushing me to bear grandchildren when I was 17 years old. I wasn't even in a relationship at the time. That's like inviting a child (because, let's face it, at 17 you may as well be a child for all you know of the world) into unprotected sex and promiscuity. Adults should know better! Especially in the family-oriented Midwest!

Since I've been married, it seems like I get asked every week when I intend to have children. Now is a HORRIBLE time for me to have kids--both my husband and I are in school, we're living with family right now, we have no money, etc. This does not seem to phase anyone in our families because we get the subtle references like, "You know, it's been a loooong time since Grandma held a baby in her arms...and she doesn't have much time left on this Earth..."

Sure. Guilt me with the aging Grandmother. Fabulous.

We have opted not to have children right now out of fear for our sanity. More than that, though, we want to be able to give our children--should we choose to have them--the opportunities in life that they deserve. They deserve a decent home, food, clothing, and parents who love them enough to take care of themselves and each other. We can't provide them with all of those things right now. Some, maybe, but not all, and we don't want to settle for less on this one. Too many deprived children are born into this world without the love and care that they deserve. (See?! I'm already too invested in my hypothetical children. At least we know I'll be a good hypothetical parent.)

The thing that people often forget, as Schadenfreude's A Bitch (great name, by the way!) pointed out, is that parenthood is difficult. It doesn't get easier when you don't have the things that you need for survival. Hell, it doesn't get easier when you DO have the things you need for survival. And it certainly doesn't get easier just because all of the people around you want you to pop out a screaming poop machine.

Waaaaaay too many people act like their opinions are the only ones that matter when it comes to the reproductive capabilities of others. Sorry, crazy pot-smokin' mother-in-law, but my ovaries, my rules. You want to donate YOUR uterus, you go right ahead. And you can keep the kid too because, right now, I don't want it.

In short, dear, I feel your pain and frustration. Some people just need to shut it.

lauracarroll said...

Author of Families of Two here with a few comments about Dr Phil's piece. The childfree issue is getting more national play and Dr Phil doing a piece on it is an example of this...The good: In the intro clip he does say "There's no right or wrong way to have a family." The not so good: the article on his site gives it a good shot, but does not get to the heart of the matter. On the show he interviews a childfree couple, and the woman remarks that while she had concerns about a change in lifestyle, he does not seem to take seriously the fact that she says that she and her husband just do not have a burning desire to be parents. This is what I found in interviewing many couples --Underneath their relationship, financial and lifestyle concerns was often a genuine lack of desire to be a parent. And for others, their level of desire to become parents just did not outweigh their concerns. The concerns people have are talked about so much but the underlying heart reasons are not...just goes against pronatalistic values that are so hard to shake! ~L www.lauracarroll.com

Ama said...

As you know, I’m child free not by choice. DH and both very much want kids (though there are days when my job makes me happy to only go home to puppyboy!). Unfortunately, getting pregnant isn’t easy for a many couples. We are an example of that. I struggle with the fact that for so many it is a choice, but for me it is not.

Your choice is not my own, and I respect that. I have seen a few people change their minds about not having children, but it is rare – just like it is rare for people to change their political or religious beliefs. It is something that you believe to your core. I don’t have to agree with it (for myself) to respect it.

As for people urging you to get knocked up…ugh. Our youngest niece was born one week before our wedding, so the pressure started almost as soon as we said I do. Then, a couple years later our youngest nephew was born. DH was out of work and I was in grad school. We were living with my parents. It was amazing how many people thought it was the perfect time to get pregnant! Must be an area thing, because most of that pressure came from those living here (i.e. not my family).

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