Almost a year ago, I wrote about my decision to be childfree by choice, and how frequently that decision is met with the uninformed opinion that I will eventually change my mind. But here I am, a year and many articles on the subject by very respected and respectable people later. No tubal ligation. No desire to be a parent. And still, every time I even so much as mention in passing that I don’t want to be a parent–not now, not ever–all of my thinking and living and feeling is immediately disregarded and delegitimized by someone else’s conviction that I will change my mind. When more and more women are mindfully choosing the child-free path, and more and more media outlets are talking about it, why is this still shocking?
When I first wrote about my decision in September, I was amazed how negatively and defensively people responded. It didn’t help that the piece got picked up by Andrew Sullivan, thus bringing a whole new crowd to it. But still, it was shocking. Shocking that a choice I carefully, thoughtfully made based on a lifetime of struggling with genetic predispositions I’d never want to pass on (which, by the way, is the reason Sarah Silverman gave for wanting to adopt), coupled with ten years of thought and introspection and budget calculating was so thoroughly steamrolled by the uninformed opinion of strangers that all my thinking and feeling and deciding would mean nothing when the mystical parental hormones suddenly kicked in and I felt compelled to have a baby.
People quite literally do not believe that it is possible for a female to not want to have a child, even though it’s very true. Many of us don’t change our mind. Most of us don’t change our mind. But what’s really surprising is that this isn’t a new idea, nor is an idea that women are remaining silent about anymore.
The decision to live childfree has gotten more press than ever in the last year. Slate‘s XX Factor has recently been hot on the topic of being childfree by choice (and, to be honest, I’m a little miffed they haven’t reached out to me–are you listening, Slate?) featuring smart, informed essays by women who, like me, made the decision early on and stuck with it. The Wall Street Journal wrote about it. So did Psychology Today, who called it a “growing trend.” The Portland Mercury featured a front-page story about young people, specifically (with a guest appearance by yours truly). HuffPo tackled it from an environmental standpoint. Even Jezebel noticed and had something to say.
All that is to say that this is a topic that people are discussing frankly, pragmatically, and for many, many different reasons. Climate change. The economy. The high cost of a college education. Global health. All of these big, heavy topics are ones that experts and advocates are discussing rationally and logically, and that women (and men) who are deciding not to have children are weighing carefully.
But somehow, in spite of mountains of informed writing, logical thought, respectful dialogue, and critical consideration, when I actually say or write the words “Oh, I’m not having kids,” people are gobsmacked. It’s as if I’ve just said I’m considering leaping from an airplane with no parachute and hoping my arms will suddenly sprout wings. Though the decision is as informed as any decision I’ve ever made, and though it is an absolutely viable one, I (and women like me) are still usually met with disbelief, distrust, and the assumption that we don’t know what we’re doing.
We do. Please believe me when we say we do. We think about not having children more and longer than most people think about having them. We defend our decision more. We are persecuted for our decision more. And as you type out a comment without reading this or any other article on the subject because you think you know better than I do what’s best for my life and my body when it comes to a decision that harms impacts absolutely no other human being, please at least entertain the thought that I do know what I’m doing.
When I think about my 80-year-old self, there are a lot of things I’d like to have accomplished. Having great-grandchildren around is not one of them. And I am not alone. My decision not to have children doesn’t make your decision to have them less valid. It doesn’t mean I hate your kids. I don’t want children banned from airplanes, I don’t need to live in a world where children are kept away from me. I really don’t. I don’t hate you for your choices, and I believe that you had good reasons for making them, and I respect them. All I ask is that you do the same for me and people like me. You may not believe me–even after a year and many other voices joining the chorus–but I wish you’d believe that I believe me.
Image: Serhiy Kobyakov via Shutterstock