Somehow, the topic of babies—having them, not having them, not being able to have them—has come up a lot in my social circle and in the media recently. Just yesterday, for example, I read this: “Pope says arrogance drives infertility field, tells couples to shun artificial procreation.” His main message was that people should procreate naturally or not at all, that infertile couples should forgo new medical technologies and accept their lack of fertility. The topic of babies seems to keep coming up, so I decided to share my perspective.
If I told you I am in my forties and in a stable marriage but don’t have children, what assumptions would you make about me? Would you assume my husband and I are trying for a baby but just haven’t been successful yet? Would you assume one of us must have a fertility problem? Would you assume I’m unhappy without children and feel like a failure?
Many people from my grandparents’ or parents’ generations would likely make one or all of those assumptions. Many people from younger generations than mine would likely make none of those assumptions. What surprises me is how many people from my generation, especially women, would likely make the same assumptions that older generations would.
Growing up, I thought I wanted children. I had the same dreams as many little girls. I’d marry a wonderful man, buy a gorgeous house, have two beautiful children—preferably one of each– and live happily ever after. I considered having babies a natural part of a woman’s life—until my early twenties. I can’t explain why, but I began then to re-examine the notion of motherhood. I started to question why I wanted children and how having them would change my life. Over time, it became increasingly clear that having children would transform my life in ways I didn’t want. I’d have to make lifestyle changes I didn’t want to make. I’d have to tackle challenges I didn’t want to tackle. I’d have to sacrifice time and money I didn’t want to sacrifice. It also became clear that I could choose and that having a baby was not a requirement simply because that’s what most women do.
So, before the age of twenty-five, I consciously chose to remain childless and to find a partner who felt the same way. I decided “No babies, baby!”
I anticipated questioning, even pressure, from the older women in my life: my grandmother, my mother, my aunts. In their generation, nobody questioned; women simply had babies if they could. What I did not anticipate was the questioning and pressure from my girlfriends. I thought that the women’s liberation movement had opened the door to more choices for women and that women my age would support each other’s choices.
I was stunned when one friend told me, “Don’t worry; you’ll change your mind.” My response was, “What makes you think I’m worried? I’m not. I’m perfectly comfortable with my choice.” Another friend asked, “What if you end up like my aunt and regret not having kids when you hit your fifties?” Dumbfounded, I replied, “What if I have a kid next year and regret it for the rest of my life? I’d rather regret not having kids at all than have a child I didn’t want, for the child’s sake and my own.”
The questioning and pressure from my peers bothered me so much that for a long time I qualified my decision by adding, “I realize that I could change my mind some day, but this is the right choice for now.” I didn’t really believe there was any chance I’d change my mind; saying it just made those conversations easier. Over the years, I’ve become more confident in discussing my decision with people who don’t understand, though I am still surprised that some women harshly judge my choice to remain childless. I thought “women’s liberation” was supposed to include freedom to choose, freedom to do what is best for your life.
Despite my surprise, nowadays I am unfazed by the questions. I know remaining childless was the right choice for me. I was always “too young to have kids” or “too old to have kids.” No age ever seemed like the right age. I am happy with the lifestyle changes I never had to make, with the challenges I didn’t have to tackle, with the time and money I didn’t have to sacrifice. When people question me about my choice, I simply tell them what I’ve written here. The interesting thing to me is that I have heard women with children say, “If I’d known what having kids was really like, I’d never have done it.” I have never heard a woman who was childless by choice say, “I regret not having kids.”
What does still bother me, though, is that some women are not as liberated as I hoped. I believed my friends would support my choice even if it was different from theirs. When that didn’t always happen, I realized women had not come as far as feminists would have us believe. To me, true liberation for women will only come when we accept each others’ choices without judgment. I hope that day comes soon.
While we are waiting, I encourage other women to be fearless, to be proud to say “No babies, baby!” if that’s what they want from life.