6 Ways The Decision To Not Have Kids Messes With Your Head
Hi, I'm Kathy. I am 31 years old. I have been married for seven years. And I don't want children.
To a lot of people, I might as well have just admitted that I kick puppies for fun or that I think Jonathan Archer was the best Star Trek captain. For some reason, the general public has a really difficult time wrapping their minds around the fact that some women simply do not want to procreate.
I didn't always know I didn't want kids, but, as my time starts running out, it is something I have had to think about more and more. What seemed cool a decade ago, when it was way in the future, seems a lot less fun now that the future is actually here. Coming to that conclusion is hard enough, but it gets even harder once you start talking about it. Here are some of the things I have learned while arguing with my own biology.
You Realize How Selfish You Are
I am a night person. I haven't gone to bed before midnight in years. So, whenever I get near a baby, it is inevitable that one of the parents, usually exhausted to the point of legal insanity, will gleefully bring up how I will need to completely change my schedule once I have a kid. It's like they take joy in the fact that one day, I will be like them.
Here's the thing: I am not willing to change my schedule for a baby. I know that makes me sound like a huge dick. I'm basically saying that I could never love anyone enough to become a morning person for them. But, it is about so much more than that.
I love sleep. Loooooooove it.
I love letting my day unfold how I want it to. I can go out or stay in. I can drop everything and go to lunch with friends (a lot of this also has to do with my job, but your terrible career choice is another article entirely.) The point is, I like having complete control over my schedule. I don't want my time to be dictated by a tiny, screaming sociopath who can't even talk yet. To most people (including the Pope), this makes me a selfish bitch.
And there are so many more areas of life to be selfish about! I don't have a lot of money right now, but I might one day. And when given the choice of spending it on private school and whatever the 2020s version of a Furby is, or blowing it on vacations in which I can sleep in new and exciting places, I'm going to go with the latter.
While this isn't a personal concern of mine, some women don't want to get pregnant because they care very much about their appearance. Not everyone will be OK with stretch marks and saggy skin and wider hips.
I know all of this stuff sounds unbelievably superficial. That's the problem; basically all of the things I am not willing to give up in order to have a child make me sound like a horrible person to people who do have kids.
It follows that when you think this way, even a little, no matter how legitimate all of your other reasons not to have children are you start feeling like the most selfish person who ever existed. Almost everyone else in the world is willing to give up sleep/money/their body/not being covered in someone else's bodily fluids all of the time in order to procreate -- why can't I do it?
You Cling To Everything That Makes It Sound Good ...
Did you know that women who choose not to have children tend to be smarter and better educated than those who do have them? I sure as shit do. And I cling to that knowledge, even when I know it isn't true across the board. When everyone and everything in life is telling you that you are wrong for deciding not to have kids, you will passionately believe in any piece of information as long as it validates your unpopular choice. See, I'm not broken! The fact that I have no mothering instinct whatsoever doesn't make me bad, it just means I am a genius who can lord my intelligence and fancy education over all of you breeders. Science says so.
I will also seek out funny articles and comedy routines about how much better it is to not have kids, such as this one or this one. Even knowing it's all a joke, there is still a part of me that desperately clings to the truth in those commentaries. People who have kids secretly don't want them! They wish they could sleep in like I can! I win at life, and it doesn't matter if I disappoint everyone in my family!
Plus, there are plenty of amazing, successful women who have chosen not to have children. Some of them have even gone on record with their reasoning, and I cannot tell you how much I want some of their quotes tattooed on my body, so I can point to them next time someone tells me I will change my mind. "Oh, really? Well, here is what Oprah says about not having children. Are you saying you hate Oprah?" If Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston, and various captains of industry -- who I have never heard of because they have never been on the cover of US Weekly -- can live full lives without children, so can I.
The World Is Designed To Make You Feel Bad About Your Decision
The reason it is so important to convince yourself that you are awesome for not having kids is that literally every other thing in life makes you feel bad about it. I don't just mean other people, although they don't help. Societal expectations to have children are so huge, expectations is probably the wrong word. "Assumptions" is probably a better one. Once you are my age, people just assume that you have kids already, or want to have kids, at the very least.
Even though women are much less likely to have children now than in 1990, the number of women who admit that they don't want them hasn't changed. Because, once again, admitting to not wanting kids is seen as basically the same thing as detailing your car crash fetish in polite company.
There is so much that makes you feel guilty about your decision. If you are religious, there is the whole "go forth and multiply" issue. Then, there are all of the women who desperately want their own children and go to extreme lengths to get them. How can you not feel horrible, knowing you are squandering a chance they might never have? For me, the biggest guilt trip I subject myself to is about adoption. There are so many kids out there who I could give a loving home to, and I am choosing not to. That, more than anything, makes me feel terrible.
And just because you have made an educated and logical decision not to have children doesn't mean you will never have biological urges. For women, as we get older, we are literally fighting every hormone and evolutionary drive in our body that screams PROCREATE. You cannot escape it. I can honestly say that I don't have that "mothering instinct" many other women seem to, but even I find babies adorable, as long as they are not screaming or covered in poop. Fighting that instinct can be difficult because only one night of baby-making fever could mean 18 years of regret.
But, there is always the worry about the other type of regret, too. The fact that people say that if you don't have kids, you will regret it. That you will never have grandchildren. That if your spouse dies before you or you get divorced, you might spend every holiday alone. The fear that a decision you make now could be making you miserable in 50 years is like the physical manifestation of an Edgar Allan Poe story.
You Make Yourself Seem Terrible To Make It OK
When you don't want kids, you have to convince yourself and other people that you would be a terrible mother because you are completely incompetent. Of course, all parents screw up, but, when you decide you don't want kids, you have to have an argument about how terrible you are ready to go for when people question you. Anything that makes you sound like a cross between Hitler and Cthulhu is perfect.
Once, I was playing with a friend's kid at a party and managed to almost impale him on a pole. As far as I am concerned, this is sufficient proof that, if I were to have children, they would be lucky to survive infancy. I would almost certainly drop them, accidentally poison them, or allow them to play with whatever dick-shaped toy was causing outrage at the time. Obviously, they would never recover from any of these things.
I'm not special. Every woman who doesn't want kids has a speech prepared about how shitty she is. Bonus points if you also talk about how your husband, the love of your life, would make a terrible father and never be there for his children because he is really a selfish deadbeat.
Then, there are the genetic issues that you can't change. Those are always helpful to bring up, too. I have addiction issues, depression, anxiety, and obesity running in my family. Obviously, every family has something terrible in its DNA, but it helps to convince yourself that the problems you could pass on are the worst ever, and no one could possibly live with them (even though you and everyone else in your family already are.)
Men Have It Almost As Bad
While no one expects men to have the same biological drive to reproduce as women, and very few people question it if they put their careers before family, there are problems that the males of the species face that are unique to them.
For one thing, no one will ever stop telling you that you will change your mind. While women have a pretty solid expiration date on their fertility, you could be a 60-year-old dude, and your mother could still be convinced that you just haven't met the right 20-something baby maker, yet. Unless you get a vasectomy, people are always going to assume you are just hedging your bets.
And what if you do want a vasectomy? I hope you are at least 25, because it is unbelievably difficult to find a doctor who will perform one on someone younger than that. Even then, you often need to attend at least one counseling session before they will close off your sperm highway. The idea that men without children will never want them is just too much for society to accept, so they have to make super-duper sure you understand what a life devoid of paternity tests will mean. And all of this for a procedure that is usually reversible.
(Just as an aside, a friend, who managed to get his vasectomy at 23, told me that when the doctor is cauterizing your vas deferens, you smell like you are being cooked. Apparently, it smells delicious.)
You Realize It Will Be Fine
In the end, you finally accept that it will be OK. Not wanting kids doesn't make you a freak. It doesn't make you evil. And no matter what society expects of you, you don't have to do it.
You don't have to live your life according to what other people think is the correct way. They aren't going to be the ones parenting your kids. And no matter what anyone says, you aren't alone in your desire to raise many beautiful dogs and cats. In the U.S., the number of women without children is the highest it has ever been. The "Childfree" movement has become loud and proud and just as pushy as any stage mom.
And it's important to remember how lucky we are to be able to make the decision not to have kids. We are one of the first generations in the history of the world that, as long as we are careful, can have almost 100 percent control over our reproductive system. Think of how many women in history who would have chosen not to reproduce, if they had a choice, but ended up having 10 kids.
So, if you don't think you want to have children, don't have them. And if, eventually, you change your mind. that's fine, too.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I am going to go quadruple up on birth control.
For more from Kathy, check out 6 B.S. Medical Stories Your Friends Shared On Facebook and 7 Insane Parenting Tips Real People Thought Were A Good Idea.
Kathy Benjamin's Funerals to Die For: The Craziest, Creepiest, and Most Bizarre Funeral Traditions and Practices Ever unearths very true stories that put the, er, "fun" back into funerals!