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.