Is it really that terrible not to want kids?
The earliest I remember someone saying as much to me was when my then BFF told me her cousin, who was the same age as us (maybe 11 at the time?), didn’t want kids because she wasn’t looking forward to experiencing labor.
“Have you ever heard anything more selfish?” she seethed with the intense outrage of someone yet to get her period. “What a shallow reason not to want kids. Because she doesn’t want the pain!”
I maintained a discreet silence. I hadn’t really considered the issue before but my friend seemed to have such a strong opinion on the matter, I felt I might have been derelict in my duties as a ponderous 11-year-old not to have given serious thought to the idea of procreation before this unhappy day. Worse, as I listened to her rail, I began to feel the stirrings of sympathy for the cousin – a long stretch of intense medical upheaval lay just a couple of years behind me and as I remembered all those hours of getting needles stuck in me and blood sucked out of me… I thought maybe she had a point.
I had started menstruating very early, a side effect of those medical issues I’d experienced, and once a month I found myself in bed, curled up in the fetal position around a hot water bottle, dosed on strong painkillers, as my uterus prepared itself for a baby that wasn’t going to come for a very long time, if ever. Childbirth was not endearing itself to me.
The next time somebody mentioned getting pregnant, I was 14 and it was my mother and she was expressing just how unhappy she’d be if I ended up “in a situation”. Halfway through this latest experiment in good parenting, even she realized the absurdity of telling a child under constant surveillance and a 6 p.m. curfew (more importantly, braces and thick spectacles) to practice abstinence. It’s not like I had a choice, much less the opportunity.
So not only did getting pregnant promise to end unhappily for the most sensitive part of your body, but there were conditions attached to it actually being a “happy event”. Timing was everything. Post-wedding ring, everything was roses. Put it pre-wedding ring and it might well end up on the evening news: Grisly Murder of Skank Teen, details at nine!
Then there was the old lady I met on the street who was rabidly pro-life and wanted to know how I’d feel if I found out my mother had planned to abort me. Answer: I’d be fine with it because it’s not like she wanted to abort me after I was born and she had a chance to know me. Now that would have hurt my feelings. Not to mention, the man who didn’t want kids but was only ever attracted to women who wanted kids because he felt it expressed something positive about their personality.
“I don’t want kids,” I said.
“You think you don’t want kids,” he told me. “When you meet the right person, you’ll feel differently.”
The certainty in his voice ought to have bugged me but in a way, I couldn’t fault him. I’m single and when I think about having a child, the potential father figure is very much a shadow person. I hope he’ll be a good human being, of course, but the only reality in this fantasy scenario is myself. And I, personally, feel no compulsion whatsover to procreate.
I see women say all the time, “I want a child”. I do not. I don’t want to leave a little me behind in this world, I don’t want to clone myself, I don’t want to experience “the unconditional love” of a child (which, and here’s my turn to be judgmental, has to be the most selfish reason I’ve ever heard to bring another human being into this world, second only to “When my baby cries, I hear my rich baby daddy go ka-ching! ka-ching! ka-ching!“), I don’t want to leave a little mark on the genetic map of the world to announce I was here for a quick minute.
The only reason – I think – I would want a child is if I met someone so utterly fabulous and so very dear to me, that I might want our child. Perhaps that is what these women mean when they say “I want a child”. I don’t know. All I know is that it doesn’t sound like that a lot of times. And that’s fine. The best part about being a woman and wanting a child, especially in this day and age, in many parts of the world, is that this is a very real option for you. You can have a child.
I think it’s much harder to say you don’t want a child. It invites roughly the same reaction as confessing to some sort of deviance.
“You like to wear diapers when you have sex?”
“You garden in the buff?”
“You voted for Sarah Palin?”
“You think 9/11 was an inside job?”
“You don’t think Obama is a Manchurian Candidate?”
“You don’t want kids?”
The judgment is immediate and universal: what is wrong with you as a person that makes you dislike kids? First of all, I don’t see what’s wrong with not liking kids. Some people feel uncomfortable around them or are just not interested. It’s like there are cat people and dog people. But sometimes it’s not a matter of dislike. I love to cuddle babies and I like kids, especially when they’re not screaming, throwing up, sassing me or asking me to do things like play with them (basically, what I really like are very short adults). I’m very fond of quite a few, some of whom I’ve only ever seen growing up on the internet, and honestly enjoy their antics. That does not mean I want any of them. You’ll never find me on the news as a child-hungry supermarket kidnapper.
Of course, I’m Indian and single. Nobody asks me any of these questions because… well, I’m Indian and single. All the aunties are too obsessed with my approaching spinsterhood to much wonder about my thoughts on childbirth. So all I have to do, is not get married until I find someone I want to have kids with.