The Biological Clock
Catherine Redfern wonders what would convince her to ever have kids.
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.
hump over my shoulders
The tendons pf my thighs
flex in and out
My neck turns
toward the stars
Water laps around my ankles
Of the Universe.
Joanne Lanicotti, from The Birth Project, in Return of the Great
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?
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
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.
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.