If you're a woman of a certain age, it's likely you've found yourself chatting about your fertility with a relative stranger. A new OBGYN, a distant relative, a newly introduced dinner party guest, an inquiring fellow Greyhound bus passenger -- all just potential candidates for a lively debate over whether or not you should have kids.
If this has ever produced an overall sense of, "Hey, what the fuck?" in you, fear not. You are not alone, or a huge, weirdly private megabitch.
Jen Kirkman is a very funny comedian who is happily child-free by choice, and noticed that this has the tendency to upset people. She's written a very smart book called "I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales from a Happy Life Without Kids" about the decision not to have babies in our modern, nosy-ass age.
As I can also barely take care of myself, I have already read it twice and enjoyed it very much. Jen is by no means a puller of punches (which you know if you've ever seen her on "Chelsea Lately" or follow her on Twitter), but this isn't some kind of crazy jerk polemic about how horrible children are. She's just a smart lady who knows what she wants and doesn't get why nobody believes her.
I spoke with her recently about the book, which I suggest you consider reading, as it is very funny. So is Jen. Here's our talk.
There were a lot of times when I was reading and thought, "Man, this is really personal." But it's probably the shit a lot of child-free women deal with all the time. What's the response been like?
A mixed bag. But a lot women, like hundreds of women, have contacted me to say, "Oh my god, this is me." At my show the other night in DC I had couples coming up and telling me about the incredible pressure they feel to have kids, even from total strangers. I just feel really good about that. Part of me was worried like, "Maybe I'm the only one who gets people saying this crap to her, because I ask for it."
Oh, I know a lot of women who don't want kids. I think they're so flummoxed that people are upset by it.
I mean, thank God they do because then I would have no book. It would just be like, "I don't want to have kids" and they'd say, "Oh, okay." That would barely be enough for like, a pamphlet.
No, people love to flip out about it. Why do you think the idea of a woman who doesn't want children bothers people so much?
The only thing that I can think of is that it must be something primitive about it. Like, procreation is literally what the human race is supposed to do. So I guess people are just fascinated by it? It's like meeting an alien. Like, "Hmm, how do you function?"
Yeah, but it never comes off as curious and kind. First off, they don't want to accept it. They want to tell you that you're wrong and that isn't what you actually want. There's also a defensiveness, like you're telling people who have kids that they've made the wrong choice. I've had people who come up after shows who say the loved it but that they won't buy my book, because they have kids.
Like, because YOU don't want kids you're automatically suggesting that everybody who does is terrible.
Yeah. I get that from people who either have kids or who just want them someday. I'm just learning how sensitive people are, and sometimes they think that if you're doing something different, then you're judging them for not doing the same thing. I think people are just defensive.
I've heard from a lot of single women who have found that it's a problem when they're dating. Is that just a conversation you have right off the bat? Like, "Oh, by the way, no kids for me, ever?"
Well, I'm also another another weirdo because I've found out I don't enjoy dating.
Well, that's understandable.
It's something I'm not going to do anymore. Like, I don't think I want to have a boyfriend or go on dates. If people want to travel the world with me or have dinner, that's great, but dating is so awful. But yeah, I talk about not wanting kids in my standup, I've written a book about it, so people know already.
I think a lot of people think that women will just change their minds if they meet the right person. Like, what if the guy wants babies? WHAT THEN?
And if you're the type of guy that wants kids, it also kind of informs who you are on a couple other levels. I feel like you can date that guy and then you can break up when he needs to go meet his future wife. I'm kind of a judgmental person though, and a guy who's ultimately looking for a wife and kids probably also wants certain things out of a relationship. I don't want to meet anyone's family.
Yeah. But, like, "I'm never going to have kids!" is just hard to work in, over chips and salsa.
If I were dating, I would probably just get it out right away. I mean, my therapist would tell me, "Just be cool. Go have dinner." But I would just have to get it out there right away.
I think a lot of times women don't talk about their reluctance to have kids because we think of it as selfish. Like, She just wants to have a career and go out a lot. Motherhood is the real reward.
Yeah, cause I think any guy that doesn't want to have kids is just considered normal. I don't think they look at him as like, overly career-driven. They think he's a playboy or just that men don't really ever want to settle down. I've had people say to me, "But what happens when your career is over?" Well, I'm not doing this because of my career. If I found $500 million on the street tomorrow, I still wouldn't want kids.
Do people still try to convince you that you'll eventually want them?
Yeah, even in interviews for the book.
That's weird. Although, I guess you talk about how there's not really anything you can say to make someone really believe you're child-free by choice. I thought maybe writing a whole book about it would help.
People love to say, "What if you got pregnant?" Like, "What if you got pregnant while you're on your book tour?"
There's nothing funny about that to me.
Like, "That'd serve you right, wouldn't it?" It's weird that people want to punish you with a baby.
Some of it's been really strange. I was doing an interview with this radio team, a guy and a girl, and the girl goes, "So you functionally can't get pregnant?" I said, "No, it's not about that at all. It's about how I choose to not have kids." And she said, "Well, my friend can't conceive. Would she like this book?" Uh, don't buy it for her, no.
Obviously you should have a baby because this radio DJ lady's friend's can't.
People also love to ask, "Did something bad happen in your childhood?" And I'm like, "I would argue that a lot of people have kids because something bad happened in their childhood." Like, they want to right some wrong. Our childhoods affect a lot of what we do. But no, there wasn't some kind of abuse or trauma.
There's that recurring idea that women just don't or can't know what we want, which is why most doctors won't sterilize a 27-year-old woman even if she's decided to remain childless. Do you think that there's anything to this idea that we should keep an open mind in case someday we change our minds?
I think the implication there is "Honey, you don't know your own mind." I've known since I was 20 years old that I didn't want kids and now I'm almost 39. When 22-year-olds come up to me and tell me they don't want children either, it's REALLY hard for me not to think to myself, "Hm, I wonder if they'll change their minds." But I know what they're feeling is real.
So if a young woman goes into the doctor and wants to shut the whole thing down…
She's an adult, that's a risk she should be allowed to take. Just accept the risk like anything else in life. It's so offensive to say, "You can't make your own decision about this." I'm a different person than I was at 22 in so many ways, but that would never change for me. It's just a fact of who I am that makes people act defensive at cocktail parties.
Yeah. Like being child-free is for some kind of weird, self-indulgent thing for emotional cripples for would just rather have the shoe money. But I think we're moving away from this thing where being married and having kids is the default future and anything else is an aberration.
Actually, I that's what I want to do next. It's not going to be a typical dating memoir, but a book about how being alone or divorced is okay. I had to fight to even talk about the fact that I'd been married in this book because I was going through a divorce, but I do want to write another one like, "Hey, it's okay to be divorced!" People should stop telling women that they're "going to get married."
Oh, I agree. I'm dropping out of the whole thing all together. I am DONE.
Well, I'm not like, celibate.
No no! No. Me either.
But, yeah, I'm already thinking about that one.
I liked Jen's book and I bet I will like her next one too. You can buy "I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids" on Amazon or anywhere fine-ass books are sold.