Chosen motherhood is the real liberation. The choice to have a child makes the whole experience of motherhood different, and the choice to be generative in other ways can at last be made, and is being made by many women now, without guilt.”
― Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique
Last year I spent a week with a dear friend and her two-year old daughter while her husband was away. She joked, “This week will be excellent birth control for Sezin.”
Six days of sleep deprivation, a child frustrated with me for being the interloper, many of our plans for the week thwarted by lost childcare or the needs of the child — how right she was.
A few choice Facebook posts about how kids are not for me on my personal and author pages and I was hit with stories from several mothers, insisting this is an experience not to be missed, in spite of ugly pregnancies and traumatic births, the nasty business of neverending poop, vomit, and mucus, years without sleep, and the madness of motherhood hormones.
I looked at my talented friend — human rights activist and writer, a total badass — and took in her tired eyes, her confinement to her house taking care of the child, how she forgets to do basic things like eating and bathing when not reminded, how it takes her a month to write a blog post…
What I suspected before is now fact: Breeding is not for me.
While several mothers publicly responded to my posts with assurances of the greatness of parenthood, privately I received dozens of messages from other childfree men and women who are making the same conscious decision to not breed. While they agreed, they confessed they didn’t feel comfortable sharing their thoughts in public because of the pseudo-sacred societal focus on choosing children. In other words, they had the same fears I did as I debated going public with why I’m not having kids.
To breed or not to breed is divisive indeed.
Parenting, like remaining childfree, is a choice. One hundred years ago that might not have been the case, but in the year 2013 (in theory) our options as individuals and women have expanded multifold.
So why did so many people tell me that I’ll be missing out if I don’t have children? I’ll never know unconditional love? I will never understand life unless I travel down the same path as parents? I’ll never be a real woman?
(Yes, these were all things said to me.)
I have no good answer for why anyone would think it’s acceptable to say these kinds of things to another person, and clearly some have back-pedaled since Betty Friedan’s heyday.
In response, I can outline exactly why I have no desire to procreate:
Firstly, look at this world. Our natural resources dwindle on a daily basis. Violence against women, girls and children persists, even in the so-called developed world. Shooters open fire in nursery schools. Need I continue? I would never bring anyone into our fucked up mess of a world, it just seems cruel.
Second, our planet is grossly overpopulated, and a percentage of that population is children whose parents are dead or who’ve abandoned them for a multitude of reasons. If I ever have a child, it will be one I adopt or foster, rather than add to mouths on this planet that will one day run out of food (if they haven’t already).
Third, so many women (and men!) I know insisted that they wouldn’t become “one of those” parents who makes their social media profile their baby’s picture or get totally consumed in the raising of said child that they would lose their identity (or appear to have had a lobotomy to us childfree folks). One by one I’ve watched as it happened. It’s not their fault, it’s the nature of having children. You are no longer your own person. You are responsible for another life and that life will always take precedence over your own (unless you are doing the whole child-rearing thing with your priorities all screwy). I don’t want to make that sacrifice because in my childhood and as I’ve grown up I’ve seen where it can lead: Children who betray you, disrespect you, take advantage of you, hate you, stop talking to you, all that after everything you’ve done for them, all you’ve sacrificed, much of which they’ll not even remember or even acknowledge. No, thank you.
Fourth, add to the mix the economics of breeding. Children are expensive. Healthcare is expensive. Having kids is a luxury. Even if I wanted children, our bank accounts say “Nope, not possible”. We still don’t have health insurance for ourselves! I can’t even begin to imagine coping with these huge costs without available social services. And these days, with the global economy gone to shit, that kid will likely be living with its parents well into it’s twenties and possibly beyond. Yikes.
Fifth, my sleep is too important to me. Without a solid eight hours at least I turn into another person. Sleep deprived Zuzu for a few days is not someone you want to meet. Years of a sleep-deprived Zuzu? That’s a horror story waiting to happen. She’s most certainly not someone who should be near children, let alone be in charge of caring for them. She’s the mother who abandons her family because she can’t fucking take it. No joke.
Sixth, getting down to the nitty gritty of the actual birth moment: In the last stages of pregnancy I’ve been told a woman’s abdomen is so swollen that she stops pooping. That monster shit comes out with the baby, hence why lots of newborns get pinkeye. Oh. My. God. That has to be one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever heard. I am anti-constipation as it is and that one anecdote alone was enough to make me reconsider the event on so many levels.
Seventh: vaginal tearing, ruptures, hemorrhoids, excruciating pain, C-sections, complications, birth defects, forceps, stirrups, blood, poop, afterbirth, cramping, bruising, did I mention excruciating, mind-altering pain? I’ve had enough abdominal issues to know that under no conditions are my nether regions able or willing to withstand further trauma.
The eighth point — and this is a big one — is where would I raise my child? After one day living in the US again I knew that there was no way I could or would raise a child here. Gun crime, insipid television, iPhone babysitters, genetically modified food, and an entire culture of consumption and violence from which I would need to shield my child. So then where would I go? I’m not eligible for social service benefits abroad, nor do I have a fancy job that would assist not just relocation but offer maternity leave and the like. In many ways, *this* question was the most daunting to face. I’m already saddled with identity issues galore from my Third Culture Kid upbringing, I would never inflict that on a little person. And the logistics of having and raising a child overseas without a well-paying job or a whole lot of savings makes the issue moot once and for all.
There’s more, but from the global, cultural, personal to physical, this is a solid foundation for my childfree case.
I do agree that parenting’s tough, it’s sleepless, it’s scary, it’s painful, it’s costly. But ultimately, having children not a magical miraculous event as many would have us believe, it is a decision. Even in an unplanned pregnancy, a choice was present when going forward with unprotected sex. Goddesses bless feminism for giving us a choice in the matter.
Childbearing is no longer the “natural order” of things. In fact, quite the opposite given the environmental factors at play in our modern world.
But here’s the real point I’m getting at: I don’t assume that my choices are so fundamental that anyone who doesn’t follow my same path will not live a fulfilled life.
It’s when people try to force their choices on me, try to make me feel like I’m less of a person, less of a woman, or not a woman at all, for not choosing the baby route, that’s when my shackles rise.
I do not need to expand my family in order to redefine myself. I do not need to push a baby out of my vagina in order to be a woman. I do not need the added expense or stress. I don’t need a child to learn about unconditional love. I don’t need to compromise my cultural and moral values just for the sake of having a baby. I’m certain the Earth’s dwindling resources thank me for it, and even more so one day when I adopt or foster a child.
Not to breed, no question.
©2013 Sezin Koehler, image by Marty Rajandran
Your thoughts are welcome below, but remember to keep the discourse civil. I’ve yet to figure out how to turn off comments, but that is easily remedied.
6 thoughts on “To Breed Or Not To Breed? — A Non-Mommy Blog Post”
Those are pretty much the same reasons that I won’t be bearing kids. I figure that if I ever get to a better place and want to raise a child, I may adopt. Even that’s not certain. I wonder sometimes if my family is disappointed by my choice but it’s just not for me. Most women I know just assume that I don’t have kids because I’m not married and don’t understand that marriage isn’t important to me either and it’s all by choice. They feel sorry for me… I may never know what it’s like to have a kid and be loved and/or hated unconditionally but I will know the experience of travel and personal freedom. One of my best friends has three kids. We get together to jog. I think her anchored life seems scary and she thinks my “flying by the seat of my pants”life seems terrifying. We’re both where we belong. I do admire those that have the balls to have kids. That’s a huge commitment. I just don’t think we’re all meant to be breeders.
Jen, absolutely. I also wonder whether my mum would like grandchildren, but at the same time I know that I can’t go through the whole thing for someone else. I know that physically, emotionally, financially having a child is not something I am able to do, and that’s okay. If I’d had a different kind of life who knows. Maybe in a parallel universe I have kids. 😉
I think the key point to your argument is having the choice. I don’t think either choice is good or bad. Having a child or being childless are both perfectly acceptable life choices. I think too, that people should think this hard about it because it is a huge responsibility and there are days I feel as if I have had a lobotomy! At the same time, I have wanted kids for a long time and even though I complain occasionally, I am quite happy with the choice I have made. I don’t fully understand why people get so upset over other people’s choices when it comes to love, marriage or family. We all have are own paths. One is not better than another.
Hear hear, Lily! It’s the same as gay marriage and the abortion issue — let people make the right choices for themselves. Everyone has their personal journey, who are we to interfere with what they want to do? And why do some people take it as a personal affront when others don’t make the same life choices? That’s the thing that bothers me the most. Are you planning to have more kids?
I think given everything you’ve written, this is a very wise and responsible decision. What’s not responsible is when people have kids to fulfill some void in their lives or to give in to pressure from others. Good reason to bring human beings into the world, right?! Pfft! 🙂
I have my one 12 year old son, and it was hard. It was also incredibly beautiful. And by “it” I mean the raising of my son. He is incredibly independent now, and it feels like he is a mini adult. The level of care he needs is not nearly the same as it was when he was smaller.
The love I feel for my son is truly unlike any love I have ever felt, so I do know what some people mean when they speak of unconditional love. I would choose my child over anyone at any time, no matter what (unless my child were a psychopath of course…). I would leave my beloved in order to protect my son, and on and on and on. That being said, I don’t think feeling this is a requirement for being human…nor for being a woman! That woman card that people play is really getting old.
I will not be having more children. Mark my word! I am an artist type and like to spend a lot of time alone. I am also territorial about my space and I like to be in my own little world. A LOT! That is not selfishness. That is just who I am. That is my place in the world. Having children is not conducive to artistic work, generally speaking. There are ways around this issue, but it is indeed a major headache. Children do indeed make you sacrifice A LOT, and a person has to be willing and open to that. If they are not, they will resent their child. Another very bad reason to have children if you know you do not want them!
I had my son when I was 20, almost 21, and I indeed wanted him. He is incredibly independent now, and people mistake us for siblings all the time. When I found out I was pregnant, I was incredibly happy. My husband (at the time) and I were at the point where we weren’t trying for children, but we wouldn’t be disappointed if they came along. Before I had a child, I wanted four children. Yes FOUR! That was just what I wanted back then. That’s what my old religion and conservative, midwestern life presented to me. Plus, I wanted enough children so we could play three on three basketball and have even teams. 🙂 But my son was born, and we both almost bit it. And I learned to fear pregnancy and birth and not want it ever again. I learned to value life. I learned that my body was not capable of what I thought it would be. I learned that having more children would threaten my life once again, and that is just not something I want.
So that’s where I stand…not wanting it ever again. I also want to continue to afford to do fun things with my son. To take him on trips, to pay for tennis lessons, etc. If I had more children, he wouldn’t have the same number of opportunities. It’s basic math.
I have explained a lot of this to various people in my life, and most of them are cool with whatever I decide. Others take it upon themselves to try to persuade me to come back to team HAVE MORE CHILDREN. What really hurts is having explained my health issues to people and they STILL pressure me to “give it a shot”! “You’d be surprised what modern medicine can do!” Yep. Very evolved responses, I must say. Pfft!
My ex-husband’s mother, upon hearing of the trauma my son and I underwent during his delivery, replied, “But you’re having more children, right??” OH MY GOD!
Thank you for such a thoughtful response, Kristen. It sounds like you are making motherhood work for you and still manage to be creative and your own person. Seems like that’s a hard thing for many to manage. I’m also irked by people who have kids to fill a void or for no other reason than just to have them, with no ideas of good child-rearing practices and a value set to impart other than blind consumerism, which is what I see around here a lot. I’m really glad that you’ve found a good balance in being you and being a mom, and in my opinion your health is the major thing to care for right now. You have so much beautiful art I’m looking forward to experiencing!
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