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.