A very young pale-skinned child is sitting in a pink car seat, apparently asleep, and cuddling a large marmalade cat (almost as big as the child!) who is also apparently asleep. Awww.
It wasn’t because of that image, but I really wanted to post it because it’s SO CUTE, and this is probably the only post for a while on which it will be relevant!
When I was eighteen, I decided I was never going to have children. I did not like kids very much. I didn’t feel comfortable around them, find their antics cute, or want to cuddle other people’s babies just because they were babies. I didn’t think I would be a good mother and, furthermore, I had no desire to become one.
I heard all the responses you can imagine. You’re so young, you’ll change your mind when you get older. Oh, when you find the right man, you’ll want to settle down and have a family. It’s different when they’re your own kids. I’m sure you’d be a great parent! At the time I developed a really negative attitude towards children and parenting that I’m not terribly proud of today; children are human beings who are learning how to be part of society, and “hating” them all en masse is pretty bigoted, even if you don’t want to be involved in raising them yourself. But I think this attitude was largely a backlash against the way everyone refused to take my decision about future parenthood – or rather, non-parenthood – seriously.
They were all missing the point. Like Christina Yang says in Grey’s Anatomy, “I’m not a monster. If I had a baby, I’d love it” but I did not want one.
I saw, and still see, parenting as something you shouldn’t just assume will happen to you eventually, but something you make a deliberate decision about. Sometimes it does come unexpectedly, and that doesn’t mean that unexpected parents can’t be wonderful parents, but I knew at eighteen that I did not want to be a parent. And a few years later when I started having sex with a man for the first time, I knew that if I accidentally got pregnant I would have an abortion, and I made sure he knew that too.
As our relationship got more and more serious, my feelings about having children did not change, but my position was complicated by the kind of relationship I was (and am) in. I’m polyamorous, and my partner had – and still has – another serious relationship with another woman. Over time we have developed into a family unit, and in the same time it became very clear to me that while he wasn’t so invested in having kids that my stance on parenting was going to be a problem, she was.
Even so, it wasn’t a matter of me thinking “well, my partners want a baby so I’ll just have to give in”. Parenting is an enormous, life-changing thing. I don’t think anyone should ever enter into it as a matter of compromise. I suspect that way lies resentment and horrible emotional trauma for everyone involved. But it did mean I needed to think about the situation again.
My perspective also changed, interestingly enough, as my lack of desire for a baby became less of an issue for the people around me. I got a new gynaecologist who was much more relaxed about me not wanting to get pregnant. I got older, so people in general were more inclined to believe I had given the issue real thought, and if not accept it, then at least leave me alone about it. I found I had other friends who did not intend to have children, so the assumption every woman will one day be a mother was less prevalent in my social group.
I also had friends who did have children, and got to meet some kids who weren’t just generic sticky babies that I resented because I was expected to love them (purely because I had a womb and they came from one), but individuals that I got to know and like as cool little people. The idea of my family creating a cool little person started to seem like it would be okay. And then from okay, it started to seem like it would be really wonderful.
But that troubled me a bit too, because it made me feel like a Bad Feminist. That’s not to say that mother are Bad Feminists, but that I felt as if I were capitulating to a sexist paradigm of what I was supposed to want. When I went to pick up something from my partner at his work and had a weirdly vivid daydream about walking into the office with a toddler on my hip to visit her daddy at work, I felt like I had crumbled under pressure and given in to a fantasy of a womanhood that I had never wanted. I worried that I was only entertaining it now because I wanted to make my partners happy, and most of all I was worried that everyone I’d ever told “I don’t want to have children” would suddenly shout “AHA!” and take my change of heart as proof that all ladies really want babies after all.
But that’s not what it means at all. It’s okay to change your mind. People aren’t ideas, we’re messy and complicated and we’re subject to all kinds of influences. Of course my decision – not to “give in” to the idea of being a parent, but to WANT to be a parent, and even daydream about it – was influenced by the world and people around me, because every decision I have ever made was so influenced. But that’s okay too. I have thought about this a lot and I don’t feel like I’m giving anything up. I feel like I’m looking at a new opportunity.
I still don’t want to be pregnant. It’s complicated. If I were to get pregnant by accident (all but impossible for a number of reasons) or my partners were unable to conceive for some reason, that would be a serious issue that would require some soul searching for me. It might seem bizarre for me to tell you that although I now actively want to help parent my partners’ baby – and will think of that baby as “mine” also – I might still want an abortion if I myself were to become pregnant, but there it is. Pregnancy is not something I have any desire for, nor is it something that would be good for me, physically or psychologically.
I’m impatient to meet our baby, and that baby hasn’t even been conceived yet. It is a very odd place to be, when five years ago I did not want a baby at all, and felt really uncomfortable holding or talking about other people’s babies. I still occasionally wonder whether I am giving in to some broader social pressure, that on some level I am aware that the pop cultural narrative assigned to people like me – in a stable romantic relationship and nearing thirty – involves babies around this point and that is what’s driving me. But I don’t think that’s true (or the whole truth, anyway), and in any case I don’t think it matters too much. The decision I’ve made has changed the course of my life, of course it has, but it hasn’t changed me very much. I still applaud other women who have chosen not to have babies, and support their right to exercise autonomy over their own bodies and lives. I am certainly not about to start telling women who don’t want kids that they are “selfish”, because that’s ridiculous, or that they’ll change their minds like I did, because they probably won’t. I think I am actually quite unusual in this.
If for no other reason than to spare other people the angst of wondering if their decisions are their own, I’m quite happy with that!