I will never hear my kid’s first word.
I will never feel a rush of pride over a crudely drawn crayon portrait of me.
I will never get to reminisce over the myriad memories a parent will collect over time as their child grows up.
I’ll never have those things, and I’m okay with that.
I don’t plan on having children.
For women in their late 20s and 30s, the subject of kids is broached all the time, mostly through one particularly presumptuous question: “When are you having children?” This is followed by a silent expectation that a reply will come with a timeline, however vague: “After we buy a house,” or maybe, “Once I’ve travelled some more.” But when the answer is, “I’m not having kids,” people seldom know how to respond.
I might as well tell them I’m moving to Whitehorse. It often feels as though my choice is an affront to parents who have made sacrifices to choose the opposite. They sometimes react defensively, as if they’re threatened by the decision; as if it somehow discounts their own choice to become a parent. Or they’re weirded out, as if I’ve just finished telling them that Scientology is the answer to all of life’s problems.
I’m prepared for any reaction, though, because, thanks to my own parents, I’ve had a lot of practice with this type of conversation. Their favourite tactic in these exchanges is to use nostalgia like it’s evidence in a trial. It’s endearing in a way. The fondness they share for my upbringing – and their desire for me to experience what seems like such happy memories for them – might not convince me to procreate, but it leaves no doubt in my mind that their love for me is authentic.
“When you were a kid, you claimed you’d have seven children,” my dad will reminisce over Skype. My mum inevitably laughs in the background before launching into a shrill imitation of my naive younger self: “‘I’ll name them after the days of the week!’”
They delight in repeating tales of my childhood: the time I went on a hunger strike after my mom weaned me off breastfeeding; my obsession with cats; my shy, bookworm nature complicated by my love for performing in school plays. They paint a picture of who I am today using brushstrokes from the past.
In response, I tell them my ambitions have changed since I was five – at that age, I also wanted to become a ballerina or a veterinarian. As always, my explanation falls on deaf ears.
While certainly my parents may have a higher stake in my reproductive goals than say, a nosy co-worker, no matter who engages me on this matter, there’s no denying the invasiveness of the question. It’s not only rude, it carries with it the potential to be incredibly hurtful: what if the person you’re asking has been trying to, but can’t conceive; or what if they simply don’t have the finances to support children?
Nonetheless, it’s hard not to forgive parents for this invasion of privacy. My folks love me so much they want me to have a relationship as meaningful as the one they have with me. I can’t help but be touched by that sentiment. Yet the person they love so much is an independent woman, capable of making her own decisions, including this very personal one. It’s not a decision I take lightly or have come to haphazardly. I’ve considered my options.
Only one argument I’ve encountered has been remotely close to sensible, and it’s typically made with a simple question: who will take care of you when you’re old? That is a concrete practicality that I must prepare for, in the same way I must arrange for retirement, through prudent financial planning. Here’s the thing, though: I can prepare for it. I don’t have to be responsible for another human being for 18 years of my own life, simply so that I can employ them as my caretaker when I’m 90.
Any other argument that has ever been presented on the “benefits” of having children can be spun another direction, like the notion that I’m missing out on some essential life experience has always seemed dubious: if there are people who can’t conceive naturally, or who can’t afford to have children, what exactly makes the experience necessary for them? Only those oblivious to their own privilege would ever claim that everyone in the world must have the same experiences they do, even ones that grant them great joy.
Then there’s the argument of happiness. The notion that my husband and I can’t be sufficiently happy by ourselves (and our cat) is nonsense. For every study that claims childless adults are more prone to depression in life, there’s another that contradicts it. The only study that made sense to me claimed that the happiest people were the ones satisfied with their decisions: those who wanted kids and had them, and those who didn’t want kids and didn’t have them.
The happiness argument is also quite gendered: men are rarely treated with the same presumptions as women when it comes to children. How essential must it be for a woman’s happiness if there are women who are physically incapable of having children? Such faulty logic bases the argument on nature when it really boils down to social constructs.
Even in 2016, we expect men to find satisfaction in work. When we talk about women in the workforce, it typically circles around the subject of work-life balance. How often do we tell women to take risks in their careers, to find satisfaction there? While that’s changing, we still have a difficult time entertaining the notion that women might want to find happiness in a career rather than offspring.
Why do I not want children? It’s simple: I don’t want to raise a child. I don’t mean to be coy with the minimalism of my reasoning, that’s simply what it boils down to. And that should be enough. I realize that by writing this, I’m opening myself up to people saying “You can’t know until you go through it, yourself.” And I understand that. I trust parents when they say that I can’t understand what parenting is like without experiencing it for myself. I know I can only conceptualize, not feel the depth of that experience. But that doesn’t mean I have to do it!
Bringing a human life into existence to test a theory of that life-altering magnitude is ludicrous.
My decision boils down to knowing myself better than anyone else. The sheer weight of responsibility of raising a child would change my life dramatically. I have an attention deficit disorder that already makes every aspect of life challenging; throwing a kid into the mix would seriously hinder not only the quotidian aspects of my life, but also what I want to accomplish with it.
But all of this justification is neither here nor there. My decision should be respected as a personal matter. It’s like asking me about my politics or religion – subjects deemed inappropriate for polite conversation – and then responding disapprovingly when I express my convictions. Something that’s such an enormously personal choice, and has no bearing on anyone other than those deciding, is no one’s business other than my own and my partner’s.
And yet, it remains a question regularly asked of women without a second thought: “So, when are you planning on having kids?” Imagine if someone expecting was given the same blank stares and questioning looks as the person forced to explain their personal decision to forgo procreation.
It’s our choice, and you should be okay with that.