Childfree

Some time ago, Rob and I made the decision not to have children. I am blogging about it now because, having just had my thirty-ninth birthday, I was chided by people saying some variant on, “You’d better get busy.” Honestly, the pressure to have children from friends and family gets quite wearing. These are people who love me and think that they know what’s best for me. Presumably, they love me because they think that I’m an intelligent person, but they don’t seem willing to accept that yes, I have actually thought through all of this. I understand the consequences of this choice.

It took two years for us to reach this decision.

I’ll be honest, it wasn’t an easy one. I’ve never been a girl who has craved babies, though I went through a phase when I was fascinated by pregnancy. That said, I’ve always assumed that I would have children because I come from a very loving and extended family. Of course, it was only natural that I would contribute a branch to the family tree and pass on things. Some of them were ephemeral like Robinette, my middle name, and some were tangible, like my great-grandfather’s bedroom suite.

But when I spend time around friends’ children, even charming ones, there is always a sense of relief when I leave. Yes. I’ve heard that it’s different when they are your own. But what isn’t different is that your time no longer belongs to you. It’s not like having a cat or a dog; a child is forever.

So, coming into our marriage, I was ambivalent about having children. I thought I would want them later, but I didn’t want them then. Rob came into our marriage not wanting children. He was “adamant” that he did not want children, but said that his position might change. It seemed like opposite sides of the same place. We agreed to wait three to five years before discussing children any further.

Now, here is the only piece of misunderstanding in our communication. I took “I don’t want children” to mean, “I do not desire children,” while he meant, “I actively desire to be childless.” One is negotiable. The other is not. He, on the other hand, knew that I might change my mind and was willing to marry me anyway.

If you’ve been reading my journal for any length of time, you know how much I love my husband. He is, quite simply, the best thing that has ever happened to me. Given a choice between having children and having Rob, there was no choice. Sure, I could have insisted. We talked about different scenarios that would fulfill the urge I felt for children while preserving as much of his desire for a childless state as possible. We both knew, however, that these were fantasies. I was looking at taking a really solid marriage and putting a great deal of stress on it for a possibility. The thing with deciding to have kids is that you don’t know who you’ll get. It’s not like picking a pet out at the store; you may get a kid who is severely troubled or is perfect and wonderful. You just don’t know. It’s a gamble. For me, for us, that gamble wasn’t worth the risk.

There are so many children in the world already, too many for the planet to handle, that I think both partners have to want the child to justify bringing it into the world.

Are there things I will regret? Of course.

I will regret never knowing pregnancy. That I’m sure of. I’m afraid of being lonely when I’m old. I love my parents, and I’ll miss being on the other side of that relationship.

But at the end, weighing all the possible regrets and maybes, the thing I am most sure of is that I am not willing to give up Rob for a person who doesn’t exist. There are other reasons, just dealing with myself and a selfish desire to control my own lifestyle, but the big one is that I wasn’t willing to chance destroying something wonderful.

Most of the things I’m afraid of are things that are within my control. I am taking active steps now to develop connections with people in the next generation. I’m trying to become more involved in the life of my nieces and nephew. I’m finding other ways to leave a legacy besides my genes.

And here’s the big thing I want you to understand — I went through a rough period when we were making the choice, but once it was made… I really didn’t realize how much pressure I was putting on myself to procreate until it was gone. If you have a friend who is childless, don’t second guess them. Don’t assume that someone has to have kids to be happy. And please, please, don’t put pressure on them, even by implication.

You may not intend it, but it’s just mean. It’s hard to buck the social and biological pressure to have children. If someone makes that choice, do them the courtesy of accepting that it is the right choice for them. That’s all I ask. I’m happy. Those of you with children may think that I’m a fool, but I’m a happy fool.

Edited to add: I wanted to point out karindira’s very thoughtful post on the question of childless women from the side of motherhood.

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56 Responses

  1. Julia

    You do not have to forgo pregnancy. I am also childfree, yet I will be pregnant, probably before I’m thirty. Not with a child composed in any way of my DNA, but my friend’s, who cannot bear her own due to endometriosis that struck fiercely when she was a teenager. I made the promise back then, and I will still honour it, as she would still like me to.

    Pregnancy used to scare me, but having watched my friends go through it for several years now, it doesn’t. I’m willing to bear a child. I’m just far more comfortable doing it for someone else, without having to take care of it for the rest of my life. *wink*

    Surrogacy is an option for you, if you’re in good health and do want to experience pregnancy. Some people will even pay you quite handsomely to do it, as well…

      1. Julia

        I admire you for being so frank about the issue, though. I’m glad you’ve come to a general decision that works for you. The way I see it, if you would be a good parent and you want kids, have kids. But if you don’t want kids, then you should never be forced into having them. I’m already hearing noises, at twenty-five, from my mother about finding a nice man and having grandchildren. (I’m gay–she doesn’t know, for many reasons.) So I know how it is. Thing is…Mary, the phrase “childless” has always indicated that you want children but have never had them. There’s a wistfulness, a sadness attached to it. That is why the word childfree was created, to empower us. Unfortunately, in recent years, the lunatic fringe who hate children have perverted the original meaning of “childfree” to something undesirable by the general population. Still, I cling to the original definition–a childfree person chooses not to have children and is happy/content/not upset about it.

        You’re not childless. You and your husband are childfree. Embrace it, love it, accept it…and others will follow. The pressure is irritating and can be depressing…but just continue to remember why you made this choice, and that everyone who’s pressuring you just doesn’t understand. When I realize that people don’t understand, it tempers my attitude towards them (Buddhist training). Because they won’t understand unless they want to, and it’s their loss.

        *hug*

  2. moggy

    “It’s hard to buck the social and biological pressure to have children. If someone makes that choice, do them the courtesy of accepting that it is the right choice for them. That’s all I ask. I’m happy. Those of you with children may think that I’m a fool, but I’m a happy fool.”

    This made me cry…I could’ve written it. You said everything I’ve been thinking for months….thank you. I’m 33 and I’m with a man I love dearly and we’re never going to have children. I wish more people thought the way you did.

    Moggy

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Oh, Moggy. One of the hardest things when we were talking through this was that there was almost no one I could talk to who didn’t try to convince me that I was making the wrong choice. It’s hard. I can’t even count the number of people who suggested that I get “accidentally” pregnant.

  3. Amal

    First, a shout-out to Moggy, whom I didn’t know reads your journal. Hi, Moggy! *pounce*

    Second — it took me about ten minutes to read this post because I stared blankly at the screen for a long time at the part where you say you’re 39. I’m sure I’ve remarked on this before (although maybe it was to Beth), but you really, really don’t look it.

    Third — this was a beautiful, poignant post, and I understand the difficulty of having a large, loving extended family that sees procreation as What You’re Supposed to Do. In my family, I get the impression that I won’t ever be seen as an adult until I have a child — that I’ll just be My Mother’s Daughter until I’m a mother myself.

  4. Cat Knutsson

    Mary,

    Thank you for this lovely, thoughtful post. I, too, will not be having children, though for different reasons than you. Those close to me have stopped mentioning because I think they know that those it’s a choice, nature made it for me. But, I’m shocked at how often those I have a casual acquaintance with feel free to not only ask me why not. Usually, I’m pretty good with coming up with a non-committal answer as I’m a private person, but once (and I feel a bit badly for this) a woman asked me (in the check-out line at the grocery store of all places!) and I felt so…cornered that I did snap “Because I can’t.” (which is 95% true and a long story that I won’t go into details here *smile*).

    So, thank you. Very much. 🙂

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      I think you were well-justified in your response.

      That’s the other thing that amazes me when people ask when we are going to have children. For me, it is a choice. It is aggravating when people ask. But for someone who wants children and can’t have them, it’s just a cruel question.

      I don’t think anyone plans to be mean, but this is a topic that no one talks about except to assume that people are going to have children. The etiquette rules are not well established.

  5. Mr Radley

    I can relate. My wife and I are not having children — you might recall that we discussed it a few years ago, Mary. One of the reasons we decided to get married was that neither of us wanted children. Ever. For the first year of our marriage we politely [ignored] smiled at my mother’s “I can’t wait to have another grandchild” comments, and let us not leave out the oft-repeated “you’ll have such beautiful children” wishful musings. My mother took it fairly well when we finally told her that her heroin-like addiction for a ceaseless supply of grandchildren would have to be sated from my brother’s spawn. Actually, she said, “Oh …” and didn’t bring it up again for a couple of years when she asked if we had changed our minds.

    We haven’t changed our minds, and we never will.

    Family pressures aside, I have discovered my colleagues are far less tolerant of our “lifestyle” choice. I am constantly peppered with “How can you not want children?”, to which I [borrow] steal from the late Bill Hicks and mumble something about mewling cabbages and that almost any idiot can have a child. It would seem, based on their facial expressions and comments, that my choice to be childless is marginally better than being a suicide bomber. Maybe. I grow weary of explaining myself to those who have children because they think they ought to.

    But if I may risk causing offence and step up upon the soapbox, I’d like to say a few words to mothers who bring their newborns into the office: “Stop doing that!” At work recently, we’ve had two new mothers bring their babies in, and both of them spent three to four hours showing off their little miracles. This is unfair to those of us who are working. I’m sorry, but the sound of your baby crying is not endearing — it is aggravating. Babies have no place at work. Several of my female colleagues (and one male) did absolutely no work while the mothers were in. One lady (not the mother), who was disturbed that I hadn’t bothered to go have a look, even brought the baby to my desk to try to get me to hold it. I got up and walked away.

    I was duly questioned about this by several colleagues, and I responded by asking them: “If [the mother] had invited everyone to come see her baby in a nearby restaurant, how many people do you think would have gone?” Even the most ardent baby-supporters had to admit that most people would not have gone. The social pressure to be polite to new mothers is enormous, and unwarranted. But I do need to be clear: I don’t dislike children, for it isn’t their fault. I dislike inconsiderate parents. It is the height of arrogance to assume that everyone wants to share in your “miracle of childbirth.” Almost any moron can have a child. Raising a child to grow up into a decent, hard-working, considerate adult would be a miracle. To those parents who achieve that, I applaud you.

    Sorry for the soapbox rant, Mary. It’s been bugging me for days…

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      It would seem, based on their facial expressions and comments, that my choice to be childless is marginally better than being a suicide bomber.
      This made me laugh. I’ve seen the same look.

  6. SMD

    This is really very interesting and I agree. I’m not even married and I have felt this very same pressure from friends and family. People keep telling me “oh you’ll have kids one day”. These are people that don’t have kids themselves. My girlfriend and I have had a discussion on the matter and we both have very different views on the subject. She might want kids, like you, but I’ve never really wanted them, but not because I hate children. I’ve never wanted kids because I don’t think I’d be a good father. There is something utterly terrifying about raising a child, and like you said, it’s a gamble. I could get the greatest kid ever born who does everything he/she is supposed to and never disappoints. Or I could get the child from hell. Either way, I’ve never felt I’m up for that challenge; I’ve always felt I’d be a failure in the parental department and it’s not fair to any child that might be created by me to have to deal with a less-than-adequate parent in a world that is already difficult enough as it is (I’ve lived the live with such a parent…and I couldn’t willingly impose that life on a child…).
    Then again, if my girlfriend and I keep going the way we are she might use her miraculous powers to convince me otherwise. She seems to think I’d be a great father…
    Either way, it’s a tough decision and I think your reasoning for your decision is sound. It’s good to know that you would think of you and your husband first, because, after all, that is the most important thing at this point.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      I’d say, don’t pressure yourself either way. And also spend time around kids. I started paying attention to how I felt around them and that helped me decide. I know other people who have started off thinking they wouldn’t have kids, changed their minds and are happy parents now. Whatever way you decide, don’t base the choice on what people expect you to do, and I’d include in that your own expectation that you would not be a good parent because you had a less-than-adequate one. Take your time deciding.

  7. Charles

    Thank you for sharing this post. Too many people tend to pressure other people thinking “what’s good for them” that includes marriage and bearing children. Sometimes, you have to ask, are you making the request for my sake or for your sake?

  8. Nayad Monroe

    You’re absolutely right, no one should pressure anyone to have children. I have three of them, love them very much, and appreciate how they’ve changed me, but they have intense personalities and make life crazy in our house a lot of the time. People should only have children if they’re *certain* that they want children.

  9. Gigi

    I’ve known since I was 20 years old that I didn’t intend to have children. I’m sick of explaining that I think children should be raised by two parents and that I was not the kind of girl who could maintain a relationship for more than a couple of years, so what kind of parent would that make me?

    The last paragraph of your post sums it all up perfectly. I suppose it just doesn’t occur to most people that it’s actually a choice, not some tragic circumstance with which we childless women are forced to live.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      The last paragraph of your post sums it all up perfectly. I suppose it just doesn’t occur to most people that it’s actually a choice, not some tragic circumstance with which we childless women are forced to live.

      And frankly, if it is a tragedy for someone, all the more reason to be sensitive.

  10. Karindira

    There are plenty of ways to live a life, and I have many friends who made the same choice as you and Rob. I think it works beautifully for so many people. But the meanspirited smugness on either side of the divide has always baffled me. Some people who reproduce act like their participation in the most common biological imperative has elevated them into the marvelous world of the Chosen. Well, sorry, but everything reproduces and it’s just not that enormous of an accomplishment. On the other hand, people who don’t have children sometimes act like future generations are some kind of pestilence to be suppressed. I find myself grateful that no child had the misfortune of being raised by such a parent. I don’t think anyone is especially important for having kids, and I don’t think anyone is especially important for not having kids. What’s important is knowing what you want and living by it. Where does this condemnation fit in? It baffles and repels me, because choice is a wonderful thing.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      I wholeheartedly agree. I’ll grant that I look somewhat askance at people with extremely large children, but it’s not my choice. There are many routes to happiness.

      That said, I do think there are people who really shouldn’t have children, but that’s a whole separate issue.

      1. -e-

        “I wholeheartedly agree. I’ll grant that I look somewhat askance at people with extremely large children, but it’s not my choice. There are many routes to happiness.”

        Hmm… are you referring to my 5′7″ 11 year old here? 🙂

        Many hugs, glad your path has become clear and peaceful
        -e-

  11. Melissa Mead

    Thank you. I can’t have children, and my husband has reassured me many times that he’d rather have me, but I’ve actually been told things like “You’re depriving your husband of the greatest gift that a woman can give a man.” Thank goodness, my family understands, but it’s nice to know that other people do too.

  12. SMD

    Just a note, seeing how I am a man…a child is not the greatest gift a woman can give a man. The greatest gift is the love of a woman (or another man if we are to include gays into the equation). Yes, it’s true. If I had to pick between my girlfriend and a child (and for argument’s sake we’ll say I want a child and I’m a good parental type), I would take my girlfriend. Why? Because the way she makes me feel is impossible to replace and having her in my life, this very brief life, is more important than anything else to me. Then again, perhaps I’m more emotional and sentimental than most men :P.

  13. Ellen Datlow

    Mary,
    How refreshing and honest. I knew I didn’t want children as soon as I consciously realized
    I didn’t have to (around 20)–up to that point it was assumed (by me and everyone around me) that
    a young woman would go to college, get married, and have children. Yes, I’m one of the last of that generation. Even though I was satisfied with my decision, most people continued to say “oh you’ll feel differently when the time comes.” It never did.

    I am now past child-bearing years and have no regrets–and thankfully no one will ever urge me to have children again.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Thank you, Ellen. I’m not sure that we’ve really gotten past the point where people say “oh, you’ll feel differently when the time comes.” One of the things that I’m struck by as I read these comments are the number of women that I know personally that have gone through similar sets of pressure across a spectrum of ages.

  14. Todd

    So many of the earnest, heartfelt replies to your post, Mary, really reiterate how essential it is to go through life doing things for the right reasons. And for your own life, only you possess the yardstick to accurately measure that.

    I would add that it can be equally important and amazingly abstruse to not do things in life for the wrong reasons. Sadly, that’s where peers, family, acquaintances, and ‘society’ usually feel their yardstick trumps any you possess.

    They’re wrong, though they can’t understand that.

    Frustrating (or worse) as that may be, it doesn’t change the fact one iota that you’ve achieved understanding and peace with what you want your life to be. No one can take that away. I’m very happy for you.

  15. Robin

    Mary, thank you for this. I am in a bit of a different space about this issue myself because I am still very much in that “rough patch.” I am by virtue of advancing age and economic circumstance, childfree without ever making the choice to become childfree. It’s increasingly unlikely that I will ever have children (even if they’re adopted) and I can’t say that I’m happy about that. I am, however, slowly coming to accept it. Fortunately, my own family doesn’t care one way or another, and I have an older sister without children, so I’m not the first, but my husband’s family is another matter. If they’d just lay off with the “when are you…” and “your life is not complete till…” talk, holidays might be bearable. They’ve really no idea how much those comments sting.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      When I was reading about childless women, because I wanted to know what it was like for women who had made the decision, I ran across a couple of social networks for people who don’t have children. There was a chapter in Portland. If I can find the link again, I’ll send it to you.

  16. Kristen Behlings

    I appreciate your bringing up this subject – and your take on it, Mary. Dan and I are wafflers – or perhaps just procrastinators – when it comes to having children. I want the magic, but I don’t want to be bedraggled. I don’t want to be immersed in the new world of children’s “entertainment”. I don’t want to be controlling. I want to please our parents, but I don’t want them to dictate the child’s upbringing. I wonder if I’m physically strong enough. My childhood was alternately enchanting and troubled. How could I help my child?

    Sometimes I think if we tried, and we couldn’t, I’d be relieved. I know enough of spending time with children that I give too much and it’s mentally exhausting. But then, how am I to know that I couldn’t cope with it all the time? I don’t know. I don’t know. One thing I do know is that it would be worth producing someone as unequivocally loving as Dan.

    Anyway, I appreciate the opportunity to hear others’ thoughts, and talk about it a little. Thank you.

  17. Michele Lee

    You are beautifully articulate Mary. I of course, am not of the same mindset as you. Having children was always a given in my life, not by virtue of the family (who where quite scandalized when I became pregnant out of wedlock and even thought my mate and I are pushing nine years together they still do not believe he will stay with me if we aren’t married). I just always knew in my heart that children were going to come to me. I have no problem with child free people (some times I’m a little jealous of their control of their life and freedom), unless of course they are a certain kind of child free, those that as mentioned in the comments above, seem to abhor children. You can be child free and not hateful, as you have so elegantly done. But my experience has unfortunately been with people who in their anti-child (not really child free) lives have also demanded that to be around them I cut that part of my life out. Just as I would never ask “when are you going to have a child” unless I knew for a fact that it was something the couple wanted I would like the dignity of others accepting that my children are an essential part of my life, like my writing, and not likely to be cut out for anyone else’s convenience. I am so glad, tearfully glad in fact, to see that one can be child free and still respectful and understanding. I wish more people were like you.

    Oh, and you certainly wouldn’t think you were entirely child free if you saw how my children become unchallengeably yours every time they catch Lazy Town on TV. You can absolutely take a role in the future generations without ever raising one on your own.

  18. Alethea

    The only thing I’ve ever been encouraged to have — and that I’ve wished others to have — is happiness. It is a special person indeed who knows along which path their own happiness lies.

    You and Rob are both incredibly, incredibly special people.
    :::hugs:::

  19. C.S. Cole

    Thank you for this wonderful post. Having reached the age of 51, I cannot count the number of times during my life I was called a selfish fool for not wanting children. Apparently none of my 101 reasons seemed good enough including the one in which I insist that children do not make all people happy. Thank you again.

  20. Rose Fox

    Josh and I have wonderful parents who have gracefully accepted our intent to remain childless. His grandmother, on the other hand, once offered us $500 to name our hypothetical son after her late husband. We gently deflected the question and it fortunately hasn’t come up again.

    In general, the older children are, the more I like them and the better I get along with them, and vice versa, down to an absolute horror of pregnancy. I’m quite happy to pass on the whole question of birthing and raising kids of our own. I’ve often thought that I might like to adopt or foster a teenager or three, given infinite money and time. That would require me to “settle down”, however, something I’ve no intent of doing anytime soon. It’s hard enough to find someone to take care of the cats when we want to travel, as we do often; I have no interest in bringing along a small child on those trips and it would be shamefully selfish to have kids and then leave them stuck at home while we go off and have adventures. I like my life the way it is, and I certainly don’t like the idea of parenthood enough to go through all the changes it would entail.

    Even if none of that were the case, I went into my marriage knowing that Josh doesn’t want kids, and of course I’m not about to renege on our agreement there. I’m appalled by the people who suggested that you should “accidentally” get pregnant–what a horrible idea! Xtina was just telling me about a coworker who’s about to leave his wife because she secretly went off the pill and got pregnant after he’d told her firmly that he didn’t want another child (they already have one). I can’t imagine a worse duplicity in a marriage, or a more unethical one. No one should be forced into parenthood.

    I’m so glad you have so much support from the lovely people who have been commenting here.

      1. Rose Fox

        The name in question is William, so $500 only seems slightly low; if he had been named something outlandish, I would expect a heftier bribe. I did consider taking it and then getting a male cat and naming him Bill (William being a little formal for a cat), but Josh suggested that his grandmother might not take that so well.

  21. tchernabyelo

    Just wanted to say (as a man who, like Rob, “actively does not want” a child, and was fortunate enough to find a woman who feels the same way): great post. Great, great post.

    I certainly have the impression that the “but you must have children! You’re a woman, that’s what you’re for!” attitude seems to be more prevalent in the US than in the UK. I don’t know whether it’s grounded in religion or not (France and Italy, for example, are very family-oriented compared to the UK and I don’t think it’s coincidence that they are more actively religious than the UK is).

  22. LisaM

    Angel and I had nine years together before I got the baby-bug, and I’m very, very glad for that time we spent together with just the two of us. And every single one of those people encouraging others to have children should be telling both sides of the story: about the sleep deprivation, the late nights,the early mornings, the changes to the woman’s body, the almost claustrophobic feeling of a creature dependent on you for everything. Travel is harder, moving is harder. Sleeping in is impossible. Ditto for focusing on anything for more than three minutes at a time for the first six months. Careers screech to a halt unless you are willing or able to give the caring of your child to someone else.

    The thing I firmly believe is that one should be informed about the changes that will come (and, better yet, be equipped with a loaner newborn for a week…) and if the desire for children KNOWING ALL THESE THINGS is still so overwhelming as to be worth it, then have a baby. There should be classes. And heck, maybe even permits.

    Because children are not pets and should not be treated as such. They _should not be_ casual decisions, something entered into without the consent of one’s partner (ie “accidental”) or conceived to save a failing marriage.

    I am not the least bit religious, but the experience does fill me with wonder some days. My own little girl is my life-renewed, precious to me and her father, to her grandparents and aunts. To any one else, she is another child that might have a runny nose or throw a tempter tantrum at the grocery store. I am under no false illusions that she is anyone’s “special snowflake” child except mine.

    That said, it irks me to no end that someone has been poked, nudged, prodded and judged for the childlessness to the point that they would refer to any child as someone’s “spawn.” But that’s the Mama Bear in me talking.

    1. Michele Lee

      I absolutely agree with Lisa. It is far, far better for someone to admit the parent lifestyle is not for them than to push themselves through it, or allow it to happen accidentally. You really should know what you are in for. I have often been the first to tell people that I don’t think they could handle it. Living childless is much better than coming to resent every moment, or cutting out because you can’t handle it.

      1. Mary Robinette Kowal

        I completely agree that getting a loaner for a couple of days would be a good idea. My brother affectionately referred to his children as Birthcontrol 1 and Birthcontrol 2 as in, “spend the week with them and you will never have children.”

        I will admit to referring to other people’s children as spawn. But I don’t do it universally, just to the applicable kids. And then it has more to do with being devilspawn, which is really about their parents.

  23. Mr Radley

    Now that you’ve read all of these very supportive comments (and I’m very impressed by each and every one of them, apart from mine –sorry!), I do hope you feel a lot better about your choice. You are who you are, Mary, and having children or not cannot change that nor define you. Social and family pressures will always exist. I have no doubt that you’ll make the right choices for you and Rob regardless.

  24. David Loftus

    Beautifully written, Mary. I have been totally indifferent to the issue of children, and happily, no one in my family has ever pressured me on the topic. Oddly enough, I’ve more often experienced social irritation due to my other quirks, such as atheism, refusing to drive, and not drinking milk (when I was a teen). I also met my wife long after she had made her own decision not to bear children. Wonderful quote by some family psychologist I am unfortunately unable to identify: “The question is not whether you are going to succeed or fail as a parent; it’s how you’re going to fail.”

  25. Michelle Sagara

    I’ve done the opposite — I always assume that people who don’t have children chose not to have them. It is deeply and horribly painful when that assumption does come out because sometimes it wasn’t a choice =/. But I’ve never understood the pressure people apply in this case — it’s not like they’re telling you to see a movie they loved, or read a must-read book; it’s beyond deeply personal.

    Having had a child myself, I can say that I don’t think a marriage would survive one partner adamantly against it; it’s just too hard; you get to be a single parent in your home, and the loss of time, sleep and attention is resented by your partner because they never wanted the child in the first place. People who suggested you get pregnant “by accident” — were they an older generation? Because that seems, to me, a disaster in the making.

    A lot of my friends are childless, many of them are married — I guess it’s never really occurred to me to question their choice. But I’m sorry that people made the choice so difficult =/

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Having had a child myself, I can say that I don’t think a marriage would survive one partner adamantly against it; it’s just too hard; you get to be a single parent in your home, and the loss of time, sleep and attention is resented by your partner because they never wanted the child in the first place.

      At one point we discussed the possibility of me being a single parent but us remaining married. Yeah– you see the inherent problems with that. It was never really a viable option, but I appreciated that he was willing to consider making a child together in at all. But we both knew that it wouldn’t really work. And I’m pretty sure that to have tried would have broken the marriage.

      That was really what it came down to.

  26. Chris Hansen

    I read through all of the comments above and I won’t address any comment in particular. My wife and I were unable to have children, try as we might, and are now in the final stages of our second adoption, a lovely baby boy. I’ve inflicted him on Mary already, albeit over Skype while testing out a web cam.

    When my wife and I found out that we would be unable to have children, it was devastating but not nearly as difficult as those who would make the unknowingly painful comments of “So, when are you two going to have children?” I’m fortunate enough to have a thick skin and would just make a joke along the lines of “We are waiting for a class on how to” but my wife didn’t deal well with those questions and even now that we have two wonderful boys she is bitter about people’s insensitivity.

    I’ve heard it all from “I have a friend that adopted and then they got pregnant” and “I’m so fertile that we don’t even have to try” to “just cut back on the caffeine according to the doctor on the radio”. Thanks for sharing; I feel much better now. 😀

    I’ve always wanted kids and to be a father. My mom likes to tell that when I was two and my twin brothers had just come home from the hospital, I had claimed them as ‘my babies’ and it has stuck since then. I’m their older brother but they are still my responsibility and I grieve and rejoice with all of their triumphs and setbacks. Being a dad is similar, only much more intense and strong. As much as I love my wife, I didn’t know I could love anyone as much as I love these two boys.

    That is just me though and I know many who that isn’t a part of who they are. Being a parent is a difficult challenge and an adoptive parent even more so. I’ve had more parenting classes and clinical work, background checks, etc. than most would believe. Think of it as like going to work for a restricted federal agency and you would come close. A close friend who works for the FBI commented that we have a more arduous process to be a parent than he did to become an agent. It doesn’t necessarily make me a better parent (although I think it does) but at least I’m somewhat prepared.

    I’m very lucky and fortunate to have you, Mary, as a friend and I treasure that – I’ve only had the opportunity to meet Rob once under less than optimal circumstances (at the end of a long arduous day of driving a moving van) but he seems to be a great guy as well. As long as the two of you are happy then I am happy for you. People will make insensitive remarks and ask questions that aren’t any of their business. It is a fact of social interaction that you can’t change; I know that you can roll with it and you are always welcome to vent to me!