I’ve always had friends who knew, very early on in their lives, that they did not want to have kids. One of my closest friends in college was serious enough about it to investigate getting a tubal ligation in her early 20s, which of course her doctor was unwilling to consider at the time. Because, you know, women want to have children! Even if they don’t know it yet.
I had always assumed that as I aged, I would feel some baby-shaped void I needed to fill, or I would develop a surplus of care and patience that I would long to apply to an offspring. I'd thought that the urge to procreate was unavoidable; it would run me over like a truck, and I would be powerless to resist. One day I’d wake up and hear this ticking noise and I'd know it was time.
It’s true that there was a brief period in my mid 20s during which I thought quite a bit about having a child. Well, I watched a lot of episodes of “A Baby Story” on TLC, anyway, and imagined myself straining in a delivery room and then weeping with joy and exhaustion at the product of my efforts.
I thought this urge would get stronger with every passing year, until my brain would be going BABYBABYBABY like a hormonal metronome. Instead, here I am, in my mid-30s and I seem to be moving in reverse: the older I get, the less obligated I feel to get knocked up.
I am not a person who dislikes kids, though I am not a person who particularly enjoys their company either (to be fair, this is equally true for me of adults). I find infants very dull, like mediocre landscape paintings; oh, it’s a baby, and it has its small differences, but overall it is a baby like any other, not unpleasant to look at, but not very interesting either. I realize that when the baby (or the painting) is your own, the little details are likely cavernous in their distinct fascination, but I can’t say that I feel as though I am missing out by not having this particular perspective.
My husband and I have just passed our eighth marriage anniversary -- I feel strange saying “wedding” because we did not have one -- and if you had told me in 2003 that we’d be this many years along and still feeling so wishy-washy about reproducing, I probably would have been surprised. My husband will occasionally express interest in the development of an heir, but I tend to put this down to his ignorance of the realities of child-rearing, as he and I are very alike in our jealous regard for our time and energy. I did a great deal of babysitting as a teenager; I know how it is. He does not.
Usually, a day or two spent with our two-year-old nephew -- who is, in his defense, an absolute angel as two-year-olds go -- will cure my husband of bringing up The Child Question for several months. Children are tiny planets with enormous gravitational pull; a two-year-old in one’s life means one’s life is primarily about caring for that two-year-old, a gift and a sacrifice that I am sure bears enormous rewards, even if I can’t claim to be attracted by them.
I’ve recently read Alison Bechdel’s excellent “Fun Home,” a memoir of her childhood under the iron hand of her closeted gay father, and was struck by a certain passage in which she describes the house she shared with her parents and siblings as being like an artists' colony, in which they shared meals and space but largely all kept to their own isolated creative pursuits.
While this kind of arrangement may have its benefits for the adults who choose it, it’s probably not the best situation for children. Bechdel did not seem especially happy about it, at least. What struck me was that I could see myself manufacturing just such an environment. Or even more distressingly, becoming Mommie Dearest, only interested in my children insofar as they are able to reflect my own overactive sense of self-esteem, and punishing them when they dare to exhibit personalities of their own. Tina, bring me the axe.
My current feelings about having kids are explicitly apolitical -- which is odd, given that everything I do tends to be invested in politics of one sort or another. I am not a person who identifies myself as “childfree” with a purposeful defiance. I am not anti-children, either, and I find it frankly disturbing when people make ridiculous comments about kids as a social imposition, like the absurd but weirdly common suggestion that restaurants should have "child-free" sections like they used to have no-smoking ones. Kids are people, and people of all ages can be wonderful as much as they can be annoying and frustrating and rude. These things are not age-specific.
Rather, my feelings are more born of a dull apathy toward the whole concept. I have a surprising amount of guilt about this. If I am not excited to reproduce, why would I do it? Because I’m supposed to? Because I’m expected to? My parents have never pressured me into providing grandchildren, and in some cases have done the opposite, reminding me in clear terms that choosing to have a kid would mean losing much of the time (and disposable income) I currently have the luxury of spending at my creative whim.
I am not a particularly generous caretaker. I like being selfish with my time and energy. I recognize these things about myself, and try to accept them not as flaws that stand in the way of my being a Good Mother -- which is what I am supposed to want to be -- but as things about me that are simply true.
The thing is, I sincerely appreciate my option to be so self-absorbed all the time. The indulgence of this admission sounds grotesque even to me, and I have to wonder why. What’s wrong with knowing myself well enough to suspect that I may not be a very good parent -- or worse, that I WOULD be a good parent, but would resent doing so?
Of course, I may still change my mind. While I doubt I will ever succumb to the siren song of biological reproduction, it is possible that I will reach my 40s and decide I want to adopt, an option my husband and I have already discussed and done some preliminary research on. But I am trying not to waste any time worrying about it, or feeling shame or embarassment that I don’t seem to feel how I’m meant to about the prospect of having kids.
It has to be OK to feel contented with my life as it is. And yet, the pressure to reproduce as a normal part of adult life is occasionally so pervasive that I feel guilty even about my happiness. I’m not a bad person, really; I’m just an extremely self-aware one.