Thursday, October 09, 2014

On Being A Childfree By Choice Woman

There's no denying that women in the US face a ton of pressure to have children, some people going so far as to say that it's our defining purpose of life. Personally, I've never felt that to be true. When I was a little girl I wanted to be a lawyer, a judge, a horse jockey, a radio DJ, a famous singer, and a Miss America contestant. Never in this list of things I wanted to be someday was the word mother. As the oldest of five I was changing diapers at eight years old, babysitting for large broods of kids by the time I was 11 (today my parents would probably be arrested for leaving an 11 year old home alone in charge of a bunch of other kids), and just generally being more responsible for the welfare of others than I was comfortable with. I had to skip after school events to take my brother & sisters home. I missed many events with friends because I had to babysit (mind you, never paid). So yeah, before I was 18 I had had my fair share of taking care of kids and I knew that was not a life I wanted.

I had an on/off boyfriend throughout high school and into my early days of college. I knew he wanted to marry me and have a family as soon as he could. As nice a guy as he was, I just couldn't imagine that life. Not with him, not with anyone. When he went off to the middle east (military), I was relieved because it meant I got a reprieve from all the pressures of love, marriage, and baby carriages.

I met Alan a very short while later and, in my recollection, immediately told him that I didn't want kids. Yes, I was only 18 and many people would argue that an 18 year old doesn't know what they want tomorrow, much less next week or in a couple of years, but because I really liked him, I wanted it put out there straightaway that I was not a baby maker. No use getting a couple of years into a relationship, I thought, only to find out that he wanted a whole litter. I think at the time he humored me because what college-aged guy is actively thinking about kids at that point in time?

Toward the middle of my college years I was diagnosed with various lady part problems, and was told that I likely wouldn't be able to have kids without significant use of fertility drugs. The student health center gynecologist said this to me with pity in her eyes. Meanwhile, I was fist pumping. Wh-hoo! No chance for accidental pregnancy. It all sounded just perfect to me. I think my reaction shocked her because I'm not sure back in 1998 many women were actively talking about not wanting kids ever. I think she thought she was going to have to console me and tell me how everything would be okay, and that fertility drugs could do wonders. Instead she found someone like that was like, "yeah, cool. That's great." That's me, keeping doctors on their toes since 1997. 

Fast forward a couple of years and we were getting married. Despite the fact that I am not close with my dad, he and my stepmom were invited to our wedding reception in the Bay Area (we had a small wedding in Hawaii, followed by a party in the Bay Area before going home to Pittsburgh because Alan's mom was mad that we had canceled our big wedding). So, everyone's having a good time and it comes time to give toasts. My grandpa's best friend from their military days, Joe Kelly, an affable Irish man I'd never met gets up and gives a lovely little speech. Some attendees thought *he* was my grandpa. Then my dad takes the mic, which immediately made me nervous. I didn't know what he was going to say, but I knew I probably wouldn't like it. Unfortunately, my premonition proved true. Right away he started talking about how now that we were married we could get to work on giving him grandbabies. I must have flushed 80 shades of scarlet. Not only was I embarrassed to my core, but I was livid.

What was he thinking?! How dare he start talking about me having kids. I mean, I'd said since I was six years old that I didn't want to have kids. Had he never listened to me? (The answer, my friends, is yes. Yes, he had never listened to me.)  He said all of this despite the fact that he and I were not (and still are not) close and he would have virtually little to do with any hypothetical grandkids. He said it despite the fact that it was an embarrassing and humiliating thing to say in front of such a large group of people. Sure, let's all start talking about the sex lives of Alan and Becky. That's totally acceptable group conversation.

But he's not the only one.

My recent hysterectomy has finally convinced my mother-in-law that there will be no babies birthed from this body, despite the fact that I told her back in 2008 that I wasn't having kids. Traditionally, before then, when talk had turned to Alan and I having kids - which it did far too frequently for my liking - I would sit there, gritting my teeth, and bearing it. Meanwhile, inside I was seething inside. Couldn't people respect our decision? Couldn't they understand that we were living the lives that were best for us? So when we were on a family vacation to Lake Tahoe, surrounded by baby nephews, talk turned to us having kids. I told her that my doctors had made it clear that I couldn't have kids unless I resorted to a number of infertility treatments, and having seen my own sister and many friends go through with it, we had decided that wasn't what we wanted to do. I could literally see her disappointment. Her face changed, her shoulders slumped. Then she asked about adoption.

Now, I don't have any strong feelings one way or the other about adoption. I'm not not having kids because I feel like there are too many unwanted children on our planet. I mean, there are, but it's not my driving force. I actively do not want kids in my life. I love the life we have created together, and our little family of three (yes, I count Dakota among that family) is perfect for us. I wouldn't ever want to change that by adopting. By putting my mother-in-law (MIL) off by using my health issues as the reason for us not having kids, we had unwillingly opened the door to the adoption conversation, and it made me bitter. This shouldn't have ever been a conversation, but because I didn't say all of the things I really wanted to (because I would have been viewed as rude or mean), instead I had to deal with years of questions that in and of themselves are actually rude.

There, I said it. It is rude to ask someone why they haven't had kids. It is none of your business. 

So I told her that adoption wasn't something that we wanted to do and hoped that would be the end of the discussion. Through the years, my MIL stopped talking about it, but every now and then my father-in-law would let little things drop about when we had kids, or if we had kids, or being the last one (of his kids) to have kids. I had thought to anyone paying even an iota of attention that as we neared our mid-to-late 30s that kids were off the table, but I suppose that hope is strong in parents looking for their own kids to continue on the family line. I understand there are thousands of years of biology in front of us that dictate that we should have kids, that men want to see the fruit of their loins spring forth new fruit, so on and so forth. I'm not dumb, but at the same time, I refuse to bow to something just because it's what millennia of biological impulses dictate.

Back in July, when we realized that there was something wrong with me and I'd likely need surgery, she hopefully asked if it would cure my infertility problems. She didn't seem to care that I'd finally feel better, or that it was a scary, alarming thing for me to face ... all that seemed to matter to her was that I might finally be able to have kids, and thus, she could have grandkids from her youngest son. I wanted to run screaming from the room, but I managed to keep my cool and tell her no, we aren't having kids. To be fair to my MIL, I know she cares about me. I'm not saying that she doesn't. I imagine that she was worried about me. But in that moment I truly and honestly felt like her first and foremost desire was not necessarily my health or well-being, but rather when I could give her a grandchild.

And so here I am now, without a womb. Yes, it was a medical decision, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that it also gives me a sigh of relief to no longer have to explain myself to others when they question why we haven't had kids. Now, I can just say, "sorry, I can't. No uterus," and walk away. Because despite the fact that it still remains no one's business, I still have to walk away from the question. I can't ever tell people that they are assholes for asking. I can't tell them to STFU and go away. I can't say anything of the things that I really want to, because society dictates that I am the one who has something to apologize for. And that sucks. It's sucks hard core.

So, for you dear readers, here is a list of Five Things You Shouldn't Say To Women Who Don't Want Children (courtesy of everyday feminism).

  1. You’ll regret it when you’re older.

  2. You just haven’t found the right guy yet.

  3. Choosing a childfree life is selfish.

  4. You’ll have a harder time finding someone who wants to be with you.

  5. Who’s going to give me grandchildren?

My response?

  1. You might, but I don't.

  2. I did find the right guy. He's amazing, wonderful, and just so lovely. And he agrees wholeheartedly with my decision. In fact, it is OUR decision.

  3. You're right. It is selfish. Why is it wrong that I want to put the lives of my spouse and me in front of a hypothetical child? How is it any more selfish to not want kids than to want them?

  4. That might be true for some people, but it wasn't for me. I know I'm very fortunate, but I believe that there are many men out there like Alan. Or maybe not. I do something think he's one in a million.

  5. Not my problem.

From my point of view, our childfree life looks just fine, just the two of us. More than fine, in fact. I pretty much love what we've built together.

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  1. Michelle @the23610:23 AM

    Love this post Becky!

  2. Monique11:19 PM

    Becky - Thank you! I'm childless by choice. I'm an only child, the oldest grandchild on both sides of my family and so forth. Never really had that yearn for kiddos myself. My hubby was already "fixed" when I met him so no pressure there. I love our nieces and nephews and my friends kids. But I love the fact I can hang out with the kids and then give them back to their parents. I hope you are feeling better from your surgery!

  3. Love that you knew what you wanted for a long time and would not give in to society and love even more that you found someone that believes and feels the same way as you.

  4. I think a lot of people assume I'm anti-kid. I'm not. I love our nieces and nephews to pieces, but I'm happy that they're not ours. :-)

  5. I wish I could like comments. That's one thing FB does right.

  6. […] Meanwhile, Sarah Silverman has been working to bring attention to the gender gap in the workforce and has begun advocating for equal pay for men and women doing the same job. There are a lot of smart men I respect that don’t agree with Sarah’s argument, which only goes to show that we are so, so far from women being paid the same as a man. So disappointing that this is still even something we have to fight for. But, you know, reading the comments of the article shows exactly why this fight is still needed. They’re pretty disgusting. There are a number of men out there who simply hate women, and think that we should all shut our pieholes and stick to birthing babies. You know how I feel about that notion. […]

  7. It's not selfish to not want kids. Not at all. And it's perfectly ok to not want kids and use that as the answer when someone asks.


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