No, I’m Not Having Children

No babies, no children, child freeThe New York Observer has an interesting article on the increasing pressure on women to have children. One of the quotes therein says: “It’s almost un-American at this point to say you don’t want children… It’s almost like saying you’re a communist.”

Well, I’m not American, but I’m not having children, and I can understand where they’re coming from with that quote.

A couple of years ago I worked myself into a worried philosophical knot over the issue of having a baby. I was coming up on 32 and figured that if I was going to reproduce, it had to be soon. I asked a lot of questions and spent a year steeling myself, enjoying the last of my freedom before I got pregnant. It was, after all, what I wanted to do, right?

But then I realised that I was absolutely dreading the idea of having a child. In theory I wanted to pass on my genes, and have a little, fun version of me to love and to watch grow up… but I didn’t want to give up my current lifestyle to do it. And then I started to think of all the negatives: what if it wasn’t a girl? What if it was disabled? What if it didn’t turn out how I wanted? And what about all the sleepless nights, the poo and the 20 years of stress? Not to mention the inevitable strain it would put on my extremely happy marriage? My husband did not want kids but was prepared to support me if I went ahead with it.

I allowed myself to imagine my life without children, and it wasn’t as awful as I thought it might be. In fact, my future without a baby looked really cool. I could travel, write, devote all my time to myself and my husband and not be tied down to that standard 9-5pm life that children inflict on you. No kids meant no stress, plenty of sleep and endless possibilities.


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Sure, it also meant I’d miss out on all the beautiful things and experiences that having children bring into a person’s life. But then, there’s always a trade off, isn’t there? Having kids would have its own rewards, but I’d also miss out on a lot of things, a lot of opportunities. Not having them meant taking those opportunities, albeit at a price. There would be regrets either way. In the end I took the chance on regretting childlessness.

And motherhood is something I’m not sure I’m cut out for anyway. I’m not a motherly person, and I’m a bit of a control freak too. Kids would most likely drive me mad. I’ve been with friends who have toddlers, and I can only admire their patience – it’s something I don’t have, and don’t care to learn.

A while ago someone said to me “It will be good when you have kids, you’ll be less selfish.” The insult didn’t register at the time, but it’s something I’m very aware of now. Opting to keep one’s existing lifestyle supposedly means you are self-centered and inward-looking, although the charge of “selfish” doesn’t really hold up well to examination. Who, exactly, is my behaviour harming?

There’s a soceital pressure to have children for personal development reasons, like it’s a life goal that everyone should try and attain. Not having children means you haven’t completed the obstacle course and are somehow a lesser person. Children are supposed to help you become a better person. It may well be true, but, to be honest, it’s not a survival trek I want to go on. Why put myself through that when I’m perfectly happy with who I am now? And why bring an innocent human being into the world for that sort of reason?

Indeed, many of the reasons behind having children for most white, Western women are what might be considered selfish. It’s that desire to reproduce youself, same as I originally had. To make a little version of yourself, a person who – in theory – will love you no matter what. Or it’s to prop up the relationship. Or simply to see what it’s like.

And I don’t buy the stuff about “kids looking after you when you get old.” Have you seen how often old people are neglected by their kids? Add to that the urgency of Western governments to get us whiteys to reproduce, perhaps in fear of the Indians and Chinese, and it’s not exactly the high moral ground.

And today the UN brought out this report saying that the Earth’s population has far exceeded its capacity and if we don’t do something immediately we’re all fucked. I have a huge environmental footprint, something I’m trying to reduce. Having a child simply doubles that footprint. Surely it’s better that I refrain from adding one more human to this overloaded planet?

The issue of being “child free” stirs people up. I’ve been engaged in discussions where things got ugly and there’s a lot of animosity on both sides. Some people hate kids; others simply can’t understand the desire to go without. Sometimes I have no patience with other people’s children (say, in supermarkets or restaurants) and at other times I’m happy to watch them and laugh along at their antics. I have nieces whom I love dearly and enjoy the company of friend’s kids. I know that these kids will grow up to pay taxes and, hopefully, staff the retirement home when I get old. And I also know that by not having kids of my own I’ll have a lot more money, so I can pay for said retirement home.

The Observer article has raised the issue in terms of feminism, and it’s an angle that I must admit I hadn’t considered. The activists of the seventies worked hard to ensure I was able to make this choice, and yet I hadn’t really considered it to be a feminist decision. Never mind that the pill made it all possible, I just did what I thought was best for me.

But it IS a feminist issue. Reaching my decision was really hard, and it meant pushing against a huge burden of societal (and family) expectation. People are genuinely surprised to hear I don’t want kids. They think I’ll change my mind down the road a bit, or regret it eventually. There’s an assumption that motherhood is what every woman wants. So if a woman finds herself feeling otherwise, she may end up feeling a bit like a freak.

I sometimes wonder how many women enter motherhood and really regret the decision. It’s a huge change to every aspect of life and its one we’re all expected to deal with easily. How awful to have the baby expecting the Huggies ad and then to realise that it is an endless, all-consuming slog with no real road map. I admire the women who do it, but I don’t want to be one of them.

That’s just it. Some women want to have children and it’s their main goal in life. Not me. I have things to do, ambitions to achieve, the world to see.

So that’s why I’m not having children.

I join the following famous women:
Oprah Winfrey
Katherine Hepburn
Germaine Greer
Gloria Steinem
Helen Mirren
Helen Clark (Prime Minister of New Zealand)
Julia Gillard (hopefully soon-to-be Deputy Prime Minister here in Australia)
Frida Kahlo
Ella Fitzgerald
Ayn Rand
Dorothy Parker
More in this list.

6 Replies to “No, I’m Not Having Children”

  1. “I sometimes wonder how many women enter motherhood and really regret the decision.”

    Count one here. Luckily she survived me, head intact. She’s okay. 🙂

    Love Helens Clark & Mirren. Go Julia!

  2. I have a lot of respect for people who really weigh the decision of having a child — I wish everyone who was planning a family would do it. And it blows that people would judge a woman who doesn’t want to have children. I have a cousin who had an unplanned pregnancy. She and her husband love their child despite not wanting children beforehand, but giving birth damn near killed her, and even she was apprehensive about telling people she didn’t want another. Society should not put that kind of pressure on women and couples.

  3. Thanks for your comments. The issue of regret is so hugely fraught with guilt, but it’s also something that is never discussed – mainly for the sake of the child. And yet it remains. I don’t even know if there’s counselling for women who feel they’ve made a mistake; perhaps the general view is that you’re a parent now so just get on with it. And of course many people simply adjust and learn to be happy.

    I personally didn’t want to risk that regret, because it’s something I couldn’t undo.

    Chris, I’m glad your daughter is OK. Actually, I think most kids are oblivious to any parental ambivalence if it’s not made completely obvious. I’ve talked to so many parents who roll their eyes and complain, but then they say “Yeah, but you still love them.” And the kids are loved, in spite of everything.

    In any case, I am resolved to be the best-loved aunt, the one who spoils everybody rotten and then hands them back.

  4. This is smart and spot-on. Thanks for writing it. I’m in the childfree camp myself–and I, too, consider it a feminist decision in some ways. As you say, the matter of simply having the freedom to make the choice is huge and owes much to past feminists. And for me, while the decision is, at its core, more about me as a person than me as a woman, I am all too aware that there is far more pressure on women to make the “right” societal decisions in this arena — look forward to having children, have them, rejoice. Repeat.

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