All grown up and still no kids

by Liz Smith // 17 August 2014, 21:02

Tags: children, choice, gender roles, maternity, motherhood, response post, stereotypes

baby bird.jpgAs I read Abigael Watson's recent blog post 'The mother of ambitions', about the assumptions young women have to deal with about their future, I earned myself a few odd glances from my partner as I sat there nodding at the screen like one of those dog toys on a dashboard when you've just driven over a speed bump.

I was like Abigael 16 years ago: ambivalent at best about whether motherhood would be in my future. I had to deal with the same assumptions, everyone from classmates to family members looking at me as though I had just grown an extra head if I expressed any doubts as to whether I wanted children. Mostly, people assured me I would grow up and embrace my inner earth mother.

At 32, I'm still waiting for my inner earth mother to come out. If she ever was in there, she's probably got tired of waiting and packed herself off to bother someone else with a working biological clock.

I wish I could tell you it would get easier as you get older, Abigael, but I'm sorry to say, prepare for the pressure to ramp up.

In your teens and twenties, people will mostly tell you you'll change your mind. But fast forward another 16 years, if you're still holding out, people actually start to realise that you might just mean it - you really aren't going to have children.

You may be admonished for being selfish. For not giving your parents grandchildren. You might even be advised to have them anyway as you might regret it if you don't - you can't leave it too late, you know. People will throw statistics at you about your fertility falling off a cliff at 35. Personally, I can't wait for the cliff - since the NHS considers me incapable, as a woman, of making a decision about sterilisation while I'm still in prime baby-making territory, I'm looking forward to when they no longer consider my eggs hot property and will consider sealing them off.

My antipathy to motherhood means that in the eyes of some, I'm not a Proper Grown-Up yet. People who don't know me well think it's about lie-ins and unbridled alcohol consumption, both of which ceased to be a regular feature in my life some time ago.

I sometimes say "not yet" when I'm asked whether I have kids. It's not true, but sometimes, it's just easier. If I do tell the truth, I find myself having to soften the blow by emphasising that I happily babysit for friends and I used to be a youth worker. I will take pains to make sure that people understand quite clearly that I do not, in fact, eat babies on toast for breakfast.

Here's the thing though: I am not, in general, that fond of babies and young children. But that's another thing I can't be open about as a woman. I don't want to hold babies, but it is assumed that all the women at social gatherings will be fighting to take a selfie with the newest bundle of joy. I usually plead that I am just getting over a cold and wouldn't want to pass on any germs, partly because I don't want to offend the mother but also to avoid being interrogated. It's perfectly acceptable for men to melt away and congregate around the beer fridge when the pass-the-baby-parcel starts. But as a woman, it's weird not to want to hold the baby. After all, a woman of your age, surely you'd want to get the practice in, it'll be your turn next.....

And you can see where that conversation would be going.

I realise that I'm fortunate to be able to make this choice, living in a society that accepts women's reproductive rights. Despite this freedom, there is still an element of taboo in making the decision not just to define the size and timing of one's family but to skip the family altogether. I don't begrudge anybody's choice to have children - it would be considered unforgivably rude if I were to interrogate a new mother over her choice to have a baby in the same way as I am often harangued over my decision not to, sometimes by people I barely know.

My choice not to have children is just that - my choice. It is not the sum total of who I am as a human being. I would prefer to be judged on the contributions that I make to the lives of others, rather than whether or not I used my reproductive organs for their biological purpose.

The photo is by Ryan Keene and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows a nest with a baby bird's head poking out. It is facing the camera directly, its beak open wide.

Comments From You

Sophie // Posted 18 August 2014 at 08:39

Both your wonderful article and the equally as fabulous one by Abigal you have responded to have really struck a cord with me.

From a young age people have always spoken to me in that "you'll understand when you're a parent" type of way. I can remember people pushing the idea of motherhood on to me when my sister was born and she's only 7 years younger than me.

The part about the funny pass-the -parcel made me giggle as I've recently had the exact thing happen to me at a family gathering. Except everyone commented in that "knowing way" because I wasn't holding the baby at arms length. Lots of "we knew you'd take to motherhood" were said with huge we-told-you-so grins.

I also get lots of advice to have a baby "soon", bit awkward at 23, living at home and jobless.

lividlili // Posted 18 August 2014 at 11:37

Yes! All of this! I'm 35 and people still give me the 'oh you'll change your mind one day' talk. I understand that for many people having children is very important. But please don't get smug and assume that your experience is my experience. I have no desire to have children, plain and simple.

I was at a wedding and a complete stranger asked me to help with her grandchild (because obviously I'm a woman and know all about kids). The child's father was standing RIGHT THERE! I guess his beer was more important than mine...

The Goldfish // Posted 19 August 2014 at 00:50

I commented on Abigael's post that things get easier and in a way they do (16 is an age when everyone is talking about your future & telling you how everything you want is wrong). However, I imagine I get things a lot easier because I am disabled and few people want me to have children.

Even so, I've been denied drug options because I'm still an age where I could get pregnant, even though pregnancy would be a personal and medical disaster for me. And that stings; in another life, I might have been a mother and enjoyed it, but in this one it is not a viable or desirable option. So it's pretty hard when doctors are considering, very seriously, the welfare of the child I have told them I will never bear when working out the most appropriate treatment for me.

Liz - if you're monogamous and your partner is a chap, over 30, a long-term fixture who feels the same way about kids, he'd get a vasectomy much easier than you'd get sterilised on the NHS; partly because it's simpler, safer and cheaper, partly because it's theoretically reversible and partly because of sexism. I only mention this because folks can forget vasectomy even happens.

lividlili - a pet hate of mine is when my sister is away, family members refer to my brother-in-law "babysitting" his own children. In some minds, mothers take care of their kids, fathers babysit - for free, as well, what heroes!

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