The Biological Clock

Catherine Redfern wonders what would convince her to ever have kids.

, 16 February 2002

I wrote in another


that the two phrases I hate most were “political correctness gone mad” and

anything along the lines of “the pendulum has swung too far the other way.” Well

I’ve just remembered another one, and here it is:”the biological


The idea that there’s a ticking time bomb inside all women, making us

desperate, obsessed, and broody – its just horrendous. It’s not the idea of

babies themselves that makes me mad – it’s the concept of having to choose

whether to have one or not, and being forced into that choice by our imperfect,

time-bound bodies. But it’s a decision that the majority of us will have to make

at some time or other: do I want kids or not? Well, do I? Do I?

I was there when the doctor
reached in with Alice in Wonderland spoons

and there as her vagina became a wide operatic mouth
singing with all its


first the little head, then the gray flopping arm, then the fast

body, swimming quickly into our weeping arms.

Eve Ensler, “I was there in the room” in The Vagina Monologues (2001)

As miraculous, and I’m sure, fantastic, giving birth is, I’m afraid this

doesn’t make me want to do it. I don’t seem to have a deep inbuilt desire

for babies. Am I normal? Will I ever feel differently? And will I only be

forced into the choice because of time running out?

I’m sorry, it’s just not good enough. It’s like being taken in front of a

closed door, and being told “behind this door could be something amazing, it

could be the best experience you will ever have, the best experience it’s

possible to have – but it could be something truly awful and heartbreaking, the

worst experience you will ever have. But what’s for sure is that it will involve

lots of pain and lots of money and you’ll have to live with this decision for

the rest of your life. Now, do you want to open the door or not? You have ten

seconds to decide.”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

…Others of us are not sure whether we ever want to be parents. It is important

for the rest of us to offer support for this point of view. Women have been

socialized so strongly to become mothers that we often feel guilty, unfeminine

or a failure if we are not sure whether we want children. We have to protect our

right to be undecided and help people to understand it as legitimate.

Our Bodies Ourselves (British edition, 1988)

Our society contains so many assumptions about women and babies. It’s

something that almost all of us are just expected to DO. It’s bad enough

deciding to try for children if, say, you’re in a gay relationship, or if

you’re infertile, or if you’re single – these people have to put up with so much

crap. But it works the other way too – what if you’re in a long-term, stable,

hetrosexual relationship? There will come a time when people will being to

wonder why you aren’t having kids.

Already people are asking me about marriage (thankfully not my parents,

bless em), but others are. “No sign of an engagement yet then?” they

whisper, grinning conspiratorially. I can only imagine that some time in the

future this will extend to children. “Do I hear the patter of………….?”

I don’t want to be put in that position. Gritted teeth behind the smile

as I answer politely, “well, no…” again and again.

Huge muscles

hump over my shoulders

The tendons pf my thighs

flex in and out

My neck turns

toward the stars

Water laps around my ankles

I become

The Power

Of the Universe.

Joanne Lanicotti, from The Birth Project, in Return of the Great

Goddess (1997)

But giving birth, having kids, is supposed to be one of the most amazing,

incredible experiences humans can have. If I choose not to do that, am I missing

out on an essential life-experience? And is this any reason to bring a child

into the world anyway – just to see what it “feels” like? Am I ruining my

life? Would my life be that much worse, that much wasted without this


Mother consciousness makes women aware that their bodies and lives are the

thread and web that connects all of humanity. And that web is boundless. Because

she is in the image of the Cosmic Mother Goddess, a woman’s sexuality and

creative powers also reflect the divine life-giving, nourishing energies and

powers of the universe.

Donna Wilshire, VIRGINMotherCRONE, in Return of the Great Goddess


Not to mention the unspoken pressure of expectations. If I don’t have

kids, I’m denying my parents the pleasure of being grandparents. And there’s

my partner’s parents too – so straight away that’s four people

disappointed, not to mention aunts, uncles, etc. Although I’m sure no-one

would ever pressure me into it, there’s still a feeling that by making a

choice for yourself, you are denying someone else of something they may

never experience any other way. The amount of pain mum went through having

me – the scars, the drugs – surely I should give something back? Am I

selfish not to?

And another thing, the idea of actually giving birth just doesn’t fill me

with good feelings. The idea of having something growing inside me for 9 months

doesn’t either. I think giving birth just fills me with fear. In my present

state of mind, I’d rather adopt a baby that go through the yukky, agonisingly

painful process of labour. Every time I pick up the paper I read about

women’s awful experiences of childbirth, of epidurals, of cold, sterile

hospitals, cesaerians, epistimologies, birthing like a factory process,

pregnancy treated like an illness. Giving birth seems like a fragile

process, fraught with danger, with a slim chance of success – rather than a

completely natural thing as it should be.

I watch the wailing, screaming, fighting brats on the bus, their mothers

struggling with pushchairs… I pull the cat’s arse face and stare intently out

the window. I buried a hedgehog that some children had kicked to death and vowed

never to bring forth such spawn… I want to write a book about the women who

have made this choice, and what they have done with the time, the space, about

regrets and relationships, about freedom.

Kirst Dalziel, Not Doing it for the Kids, in Chica Issue 1

And I just can’t imagine myself with a kid. It feels almost like I’m too

young, even though I’m 24 – it’s the same way I felt about getting a job,

or getting a boyfriend (I’m too young for that stuff). It’s crazy, because we

always hear about young teenagers getting pregnant. I think it’s this that’s

made me feel at the moment that kids aren’t for me (me? have a baby? you’re

joking, right?) – the subconscious idea that having a kid means I’d have failed

somehow, that there’s something better and bigger out there for me, that I’ve

worked so hard for. It’s like when in the Simpsons, Marge gets pregnant with

Bart and Dr Hibbert congratulates Homer, then hands Marge a leaflet showing a

depressed pregnant woman and the title: “So You’ve Ruined Your Life.”

I am living into the decision of having had the tubal ligation… Sex is more

enjoyable, freeing, and carefree; I feel more sexual and thus more womanly. The

decision not to have children will probably pull at me for the rest of my life.

It is an intimidating and difficult task to choose to live powerfully, to make

decisions, and to define myself beyond the roles that society has deemed for


Carolyn E. Megan, Childless by Choice, in Ms. (Oct/Nov 2000)

But could I ever make a decision like this? Make it irreversible?

Probably not.

I have no idea whether I am fertile, sub-fertile or incapable of conceiving, for

I have never been interested enough to find out. If I have a biological clock,

it must be silent and digital, for I have never heard it tick, even though I am

(at the time of writing) in my early forties. Over the years, however, I have

become wearily familiar with all the responses [of people]… and with some

bizarre variants such as “How dare you not have children when other women are

desperate to get pregnant?”

Joan Smith, The Selfish Jean, in Different for Girls (1998)

If I stay with my partner for years to come – when I’m thirty,

forty years old – having kids will be something I’ll be expected by society to

do. But it’s not so much a choice TO have kids rather than the decision NOT to

have them. In effect, unless you’re celibate, falling pregnant is

the default – if it weren’t, we wouldn’t need contraception. Unless you make a

decision to have a tubal ligation or whatever, it’s not so much a positive

choice, as a burden of using imperfect contraception as long as

you’re sexually active. This could be for the forseeable future – until the

menopause anyway.

This depresses me and I resent it. And it’s all because humans are apparently

the only animals that can get pregant at any time, (instead of having a mating

season). And this is not a decision that men get to make – as much as they

should be involved in childrearing etc, the final decision has to be the

womans as it’s her body, it’s her pain and agony.

It’s a tricky one, because no matter how liberated we are supposed to be,

nature always dictates this one – it’s the old “biology is destiny” thing. You

can’t argue with nature.

Can you?

Nature produced the fundamental inequality – half the human race must bear and

rear the children of all of them – which was later consolidated,

institutionalized, in the interests of men. Reproduction of the species cost

women dearly, not only emotionally, psychologically, culturally, but even in

strictly material (physical) terms…I submit then, that the first demand for

any alternative system must be: (1) The freeing of women from the tyranny of

reproduction by every means possible, and the diffusion of the child-rearing

role to society as a whole, men as well as women.

Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex (1971)

Shulamith Firestone wrote one of the most radical things I’ve ever read.

In the Dialectic of Sex, she wrote that all of the inequality between women

and men comes down to one thing – women give birth, men don’t. This is where

all the problems began, she claims, and it’s very hard to disagree with

that. But rather than simply accept it as the way things are, she postulates

that the solution is to challenge nature itself and use technology to free women

from the burden of childbirth. This idea could be a liberating freedom like

humankind has never known before – or it could be a hideous, sickening,

dangerous techonological nightmare, depending on where you stand. But it

makes you think. Why should we accept what nature has given us? Can we

question it? Should we?

So in the end, what reasons could there be for having kids? To experience the

ultimate “life-experience”? To ensure my “genes” are passed on (what’s so great

about my genes anyway)? To pass on something indefinable about me to someone

else? To ensure a piece of me lives on when I’m dead? But why is this considered

to be more worthwhile, than, say, setting words down on paper to last for

eternity – or influencing the world, leaving a legacy not in your genes but by

the good works you’ve done?

None of these seem like good enough reasons to make me decide to give

birth. I’d have to know, unmistakeably, deep down, that it was the RIGHT

decision. I don’t feel that at the moment. I wonder if I ever will.

It seems to me that the decision of whether to have kids or not forces us to

think about what really matters in life. What is life all about? Is it worthless

if I don’t leave a version of me to live on? Could I cope not leaving a

person to survive me, who is related to me, comes from my blood? Could I

live for the rest of my days knowing that it’s just me? I would have to make

sure my life was worth it, that my life was full and productive, that during my

short life on this earth I affect the world in a different way, that I leave a

different kind of legacy – different, but just as valid.

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