My friend and I sat across from each other at a small café, lattes within arm’s reach. Our conversation was a hushed and emotional one. She had just confessed her overwhelming fear that she would never have children. Her worry stemmed from the fact that she started dating later in life, and had only recently met the person she was hopeful was a candidate for future father. She looked at me and said:
“I feel empty without a child”.
She spoke quietly as tears rolled down her cheeks. I reached for her hand, wanting to comfort her.
At the precise moment I opened my mouth to speak, an alarmingly loud screeching echoed through the cafe. My eyes sought out, then quickly found, the source of the sound. At a table behind my friend sat two children with grins on their faces. They each had one finger shoved up a nostril, and they appeared delighted with what they were able to extract, screaming with joy as they smacked each other in the face.
I watched the scene unfold before me, and sighed.
My heart went out to my friend. I wanted her to have the family that she had always dreamed about. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t relate.
I made a decision not to have children a long time ago.
Actually, my husband and I together determined that we did not want to have children of our own. It happened right after our engagement. We made a mutual, thoughtful, and informed decision.
I worry, though, that there are people out there who want me to feel guilty about that decision.
Mind you, I am surrounded by wonderful friends and family who understand that I don’t feel an overwhelming need to birth or raise a child. We understand, appreciate, and embrace each other’s definition of “family”. And I am unbelievably grateful for that.
But there are others out there that don’t see my choice the same way. The first time I witnessed this phenomenon was in a doctor’s office. It happened a handful of years back, of all times, during my annual visit to the gynecologist. Feet hoisted in stirrups and awkwardly exposed, I found myself bombarded with a series of questions by my (female) doctor.
“Why do you still want birth control?”
“Do I read this right? You are 34, right?”
“Aren’t you planning to have kids?”
While the room was indeed chilly and I was already beyond uncomfortable, it was nothing compared to the icy retort that was thrown my way after I told her that I did not, in fact, plan to have children:
“You will regret that for the rest of your life”.
Ouch. I quickly dressed, consulted with the relevant parties (namely my lady parts) and we collectively decided it was time to high-tail it out of there and find another doc, maybe someone who actually gave a hoot about us as a unit, not as separate anatomical organs.
It was a dramatic and unique incident, and while other encounters don’t usually leave that kind of sting, they can still be uncomfortable.
When I meet new people at a party, the baby-subject often comes up. With one hand clutching a wine glass and the other balancing a plate of hors d’oeuvres, I sometimes find myself fielding questions about my children. I say that I don’t have children. Then I watch a form of mental math take place before me (“Hmmm… how old is she? Is she still trying?”). Usually the first assumption made is that human biology is responsible for my childfree status. The conversation often ends there, at times a bit awkwardly.
Sometimes, though, people can be a bit bolder. They get curious. They might ask me why. When it comes out that I made a conscious choice not to have children, strange events can unfold.
I am going against the grain, you see. That darn vagina doctor is not the only one who feels the need to push individuals like me into child-rearing. There are lots of folks out there willing to share their opinions about my reproductive choices. Though some comments are benign, others fall into the invasive category along with my doctor’s. For example, on more than one occasion I have been told that I will never understand “real love” because I don’t have children of my own.
Please don’t ever forget that people have the capacity to love using their whole heart – without having to birth or raise a child.
Hollywood also has it in for me as a non-breeder. Characters in blockbuster movies who don’t want children are usually vilified in some way, only to find themselves “enlightened” at the end, ready to reproduce. It’s true. It happened in more than one of the Jurassic Park movies, for goodness sake.
Being childfree is apparently worse than being eaten by a velociraptor.
Sometimes people proclaim, in an almost frustrated tone, that I seem like a nurturing person, and it makes no sense that I don’t have children. Well, I am in fact a nurturing person. I enjoy taking care of others. I guarantee my husband, family, and friends can attest to this, as can the students I teach and the dogs that have taken over my house. Helping others is a priority in my life.
“Nurture” is a big, beautiful word. Its definition does not only apply to offspring.
I have also been told the opposite; that I am selfish. And that my husband is selfish. Interesting. Ok, if we are so darn selfish, then it is probably not a good idea for us to have children in the first place, so it is a useless argument in my book.
Others assume I hate children. That’s just plain silly. I love children. It is not unusual to find me babysitting so that I can have time to run around playgrounds, hop in lakes, and roll around in grass.
But I confess, I love coming home to a quiet house after playtime is over.
There are, at other times, very different events that transpire when individuals with children learn that my husband and I chose not to have little humans of our own.
On occasion our story causes a listener to gaze at us wide-eyed, with true admiration… almost like we are childless rock stars.
Ok, we can run around the house naked if we want, we do travel a lot, and on a recent vacation we actually did spend much of our time scantily clad, lounging about with glasses of tequila in our hands. But that was unusual. The thing is, we are not all that different from our friends with kids, and we certainly don’t act like rock stars. The last time we stayed up past midnight was on New Year’s Eve, and that required a bucket of bourbon cocktails and the occasional punch in the face to pull off. I personally don’t own a closet full of fancy clothes. My shirts may not be covered in boogers or spit-up like many of the parents I know, but I am usually coated in dog hair and I recently found a melted peanut M+M in my bed. My idea of a perfect evening actually involves eating a burrito, washing it down with a glass of wine while watching the season finale of “The Walking Dead”, all with a pug snoring on my lap.
I do not live like a rock star.
I suspect that some parents might proclaim that it is unfair to compare any part of my daily routine to theirs. They may be right. My husband and I have quiet lives. Our nerves aren’t shot from the stress of listening to screaming toddlers all day long, we usually get eight hours of sleep, and we don’t relate well to conversations that revolve around the excitement of witnessing a poop in the potty.
But our lives are still complicated and our house is no less filled with love.
At the cafe my friend looked behind her to see what had caught my attention. Her eyes fell on the two children who were now hugging and laughing. The sad look on her face disappeared and she turned to me, giggling. “Aren’t they so cute?” She turned her chair slightly, anxious to watch what might transpire next.
I smiled back at her. I desperately wanted her to have a big family the way she had always imagined, and I was quite happy to observe a group of happy children with her. Honestly, those kids were pretty cute. The adults with them were as enamored as my friend, laughing at the antics taking place before them, overwhelming love visible in their eyes.
I thought back to what my doctor had said to me years ago. I considered my loving marriage, my kind friends, my hilariously colorful family and the work and life events that I have been fortunate enough to experience.
Somehow I felt no guilt – and certainly no regret – about my choice.