Her eyes sparkled with excitement and confusion when I told her I did not intend to have children.
Her rebuttal was immediate and familiar:
“But you’d be such a great mom!”
She then studies expectantly in awkward silence… as if she look at me long enough, I’ll change my answer.
This is a recurring interaction.
Being the product of a broken home, I learned early on what not to do when it came to parenting. I am jaded, yes. My parents seemed perpetually stressed, and the tension in our home was the only constant. As a child that did not get her basic or fundamental needs met by her parental figures, it would be arrogant of me to say I am not jaded. It felt like my parents hated being parents.
This is just one reason why I won’t put a bun in my oven.
I was in grade school when my eyes were truly opened to the realities of pregnancy and raising children. Around age nine or ten, I had this friend named Courtney. She was friends with everyone really, whether you were in this clique or that clique… everyone loved Courtney. Who wouldn’t? She was easy to get along with, always helpful, and got good grades without being self-righteous. Courtney was the first one to stand up to the bullies and comfort anyone upset.
Courtney’s family were much the same—polite, amicable, and their house had the best snacks. We would go there after school often.
One such afternoon, we were in Courtney’s room, eating pizza rolls and listening to Nirvana. I noticed a single framed photo of a young woman I did not see anywhere else in her parents’ house. Its position on her bedside table suggested significance. When I asked her who it was, I was stunned when she said that was her biological mom.
Courtney explained that the woman in the photo had become pregnant at a young age and placed Courtney up for adoption. Her mother felt strongly that she wanted Courtney to have the best shot at life. She made the difficult decision to trust her upbringing in the hands of essential strangers. They maintain regular contact with each other, she said.
Her adoptive parents, meanwhile, had tried for years before that to conceive without success. After many painful failed attempts, they turned their love and attention to adoption. Courtney was their first child and, over time, they adopted her two younger brothers as well.
I had never known anyone that was adopted. My young, ignorant mind had thought that adopted kids were not taken care of, or not loved enough, or not good enough. And here was this person in front of me that I admired. Courtney had all the love in the world at her fingertips and was so willing to share it, and she was adopted. I was happy to be wrong about my preconceived notions.
In my early twenties, I became obsessed with my physical health. I am a type 1 diabetic and have been since I can remember. It’s an ugly disease with invisible pain that is inescapable and knows no mercy. I was desperate to get cured since science was making great strides in this area, and had enough of the needles and the hospital visits and the fear.
I located a study in Canada that was trial testing a beta cell implant to cure people with type 1 diabetes. I reached out, found I qualified at the basic level, so I applied. I got a letter weeks later, saying I was denied. Not because I was not managing my diabetes well, not because I am a United States citizen. I was rejected because I am considered “fertile.” They were unwilling to risk responsibility for my potential infertility if anything went wrong with this study, being an unknown medical procedure.
My first thought was, no problem! I do not intend to have children anyway, so no need to worry. Now, where do I sign up?
In the true tradition that is misogyny, I was told that it does not matter what I say. It does not matter that I know I do not want to birth children. I might change my mind later, they said.
I asked them if their answer would change if I got a hysterectomy since they were unwilling to listen to the words coming out of my mouth about my health and destiny.
This started a process of OB/GYN speed-dating, certain a doctor along the way would listen to me. As a person.
Young or old, male and female, specialist or not, they all told me that no one in their right mind would give a 22-year old woman a hysterectomy for non-life-threatening reasons. It didn’t matter that I knew I didn’t need my uterus.
“What if I pay out of pocket?” “What if I sign a waiver?” “What if I get interviewed and evaluated by a shrink beforehand?” “What if it is my body?”
It did not matter how many questions I asked, or how far I was willing to go. I could be as reasonable and sane as I wanted. It was clear that I was not allowed to determine my procreational outcome in this life.
No one cared that it was my body, it was just a body capable of creating life.
No one cared how loud I demanded physical autonomy.
I couldn’t get cured of type 1 diabetes, or even try to, because someone else thought I should worry about having a litter.
Here’s the thing: I knew from a young age that pregnancy and childbirth were things that would be harder for me, being a type 1 diabetic. Not impossible, but harder. After my childhood experience, having a friend with adoptive parents, I loved the concept of adoption. The idea of giving a sweet child an amazing home, a home that their biological family could not, is poetic.
I did not understand why I wasn’t being heard when it came to my intentions with my beautiful body.
My experiences above are choices. Choices I made to not have children.
Some people, like Courtney’s parents, try very hard to have children biologically.
A dear friend of mine offered her story to share when I told her I intended to write this piece. She and her partner had decided the time was right to start a family, and she got pregnant almost right away. They were elated, and everything was going according to plan.
As she entered the second trimester of her pregnancy, she started experiencing backaches and vaginal discharge. She was told these things can be normal, but to continue to monitor her symptoms at home and call if she began to see blood.
When that eventually happened, they performed a transvaginal ultrasound. It was found that both her cervix and uterus were malformed. Because of this abnormality, her cervix was opening silently throughout the term of the pregnancy. They call this an incontinent cervix, and it can cause early delivery with fatal consequences.
About a week later, she suffered a painful late-term miscarriage that threatened her life as well.
So now I find myself here, in front of another fervent stranger, questioning my lack of offspring because it is directly tied to my worth.
“She’ll regret not having children,” they say afterwards while they cluck their tongue.
You don’t know if that woman has been trying for years to get pregnant without success.
You don’t know if that woman has been pregnant more than once and keeps having late-term miscarriages that have almost killed her.
You don’t know if that woman has an autoimmune disease, and the thought of controlling said disease during pregnancy terrifies her.
You don’t know if that woman was abused as a child and carries the weight of wondering if she will become an abusive parent, too.
I’m no less of a woman because I have not procreated.
I am no less of a person because I am not a parent.
I am no less of myself because I choose to be childless.
Who are you to ask anyone why they do not have kids? Mind your business.
No one tells you that you shouldn’t have had kids.