On Babies; The First Installment

I have been told, second-hand, that my non-desire to have children means I have no idea what it’s like to have a family.  The Old Man has been attacked for MY decision as if it’s his manhood that comes to bear.  Others have been told that this quirk of my nature is unnatural and that they shouldn’t offer their own babies up to my arms because of it.  Apparently, I’m an aberration of nature.  What have I, the mutation of female, got to say for myself?

Get over it.  Babies do not a woman define.

As I knock on the door of number 32, I find that I am smack in the middle of those hideously-named Child-Rearing Years.  The girls around me are coming down with babies as if drinking in pregnancy from the water and I’m left surrounded by coo-ing mommies as I flounder desperately, compelled to explain clearly why I’ve chosen to let my uterus go unused.  I’m that girl you know.  The odd one, constantly fighting nature and what was “meant” to be.

I never wanted children.  I knew too well the power of my temper.  Knew intimately the genes from whence I came.  The neuroses by which I was reared.  My aversion took root there, determined to break a cycle of emotional abuse.  It grew as I realized I never wanted to ruin my body; that the misery I’d heap upon myself would surely overflow, a deluge that would certainly transform a tiny, giggling mass into a mute and hollow-eyed ghost afraid to tip the scales of my moods.

The reasons grew with the years and became part of my identity.  The idea of mountains of primary-colored toys and the death of social, adult interaction repulsed me.  In my mid-twenties, as girlfriends began sharing “The News”, I remember staring aghast as if we were all still 16 and they were throwing their lives away.  Other people’s children irritated me and I wondered if they were looking at the same child as I was when they pronounced him “so well-behaved.”  Had they lost hearing, becoming immune to the fact that the little imp had been interrupting the conversation ad nauseam for the past 45 minutes?

And so I shout, plain and loud, over the din of braindead coo-ing:  I do not want to know the sex of your soon-to-be-baby, nor do I wish to see 78 pictures of The-Cutest-Face-Ever! that he made whilst eating strained peaches.  Further, I am wondering what percentage of your Facebook friends actually care that she is .2579 percentile points ahead of all other babies EVER in terms of development.  You are not the first to get pregnant, it’s actually a pretty common occurrence.  Just because it happened to YOU does not make you (or your child, for that matter) special.

What amazes me far more than this “miracle” that mommies are continually spouting off about, is that they’ve forgotten that they had an identity prior to shooting that alien-faced, skin-wrapped, bag of warm Jello out of their vaginas.  So fond are they of vomiting out story after story about their child’s daily shit, they’ve lost all ability to carry on an adult conversation.

I’m tired of being judged by those on the Mommy Track as inferior or flawed for my decision to maintain control of my uterus.  I’m sick of the sidelong glances and the outright disrespect, the fake smiles followed up by gossip-y whispers.  I don’t need to breed a baseball team in order to craft an identity.  My refusal to play host to parasitic embryos does not indicate that I don’t know what FAMILY is.

It would seem that my 30s have landed me smack back in a world eerily similar to junior high, where babies are the cool thing instead of HyperColor T-Shirts, and if you don’t have one, your inferiority is held aloft for all the world to see.  For a split adult second, I saw my thirteen year old self in the mirror cringing while she silently prayed: “not again….please not again.”

But I woke up, and saw shocks of grey in my hair, and realized that I am a grown-ass woman.  I am not defined by the fruit of my loins, but by my actions and the way I love.  There is no law dictating reproduction as the ultimate in female fulfillment, no standard of womanhood to which I fall short.  Those distended bellies are not badges of honor, the carseats not signifiers of femininity perfected.  They are merely paths divergent of my own.

So I raise my wineglass to myself.

Because I can.

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29 thoughts on “On Babies; The First Installment

  1. I don’t see how having a child means you know everything about family. I consider close friends as family. The concept of family is a state of mind not the possesion of children. Rugby has been family since 1994. Before I ever had kids. Telling someone they don’t know about family because they don’t have kids is a load of crap! Unless you were an orphan you know what family is. I RAISE MY BEVERAGE TO YOU TOO! Choosing what we do with our lives is our choice if you don’t like it then PISS OFF!

  2. Love it all. If it matters, I’ve never thought you were weird for not wanting kids and have never thought it made you less of a woman. (I couldn’t stop laughing over “I don’t need to breed a baseball team in order to craft an identity.” Btw). You’re like one of the coolest chicks I know and the epitome of femininity in all those classy vintage dresses. Miss you, wish you were still around to hang out with. ❤ Katie

  3. Im turning 27 this year and my clucky boyfriend has already picked out names. He thinks my utter abhorrence of anything under 4ft tall is ‘just a phase’ that will pass. Sometimes I hope just for him, that it will.

    Im with you in the 16 year old self! Everytime a friend announces an impending birth (lately its been around 6 months after they got married – what is with that!?) I have to hide the shocked look on my face and the exclamation of ‘but youre so young!’

  4. P.S. I agree with Ollie. Family are the people you choose to surround yourself with. I grew in two very old world families. One side was off the boat from Serbia/Bosnia and the other was Native American. Both sides asserted that “If you’re not blood, you don’t matter”…it’s crap. I left home, I haven’t been back except to visit and I’ve made my own brand of family out of my friends and the people I care about and it’s far more loving then home ever was. You don’t have to have a “traditional” family to know what family means. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers, THEY obviously don’t know the true meaning of family.
    ❤ Katie

  5. I had to laugh at this a little. A few days ago, I was lamenting the number of baby showers I’ve attended in the last year and how everyone I knew was popping a kiddo out (my girlfriend suggested we throw a party for ourselves for NOT getting knocked up – cos hey, that takes effort).

    The thing is, while I recognize the social relevance of having children, and why parents are genuinely excited to reproduce, it just doesn’t interest me all that much. I helped to raise 2 sisters, and that was enough. If I’m ever feeling like some little kid time, we have several nieces and nephews to play with and spoil.

    By the way, I think it’s a positive thing to know yourself enough to know what you want and not reproduce just because “everyone else is doing it”.

  6. Amen, and kudos to you for publicly taking a stand, although it’s sad to think you should even have to remotely defend your choice. You are NOT inferior – in fact, I think you are far SUPERIOR to those that would frown upon your wise decision. Although I do have children (yes, plural *cringe*), I commend you for living life on your terms…with a slight hint of jealously over the absolute freedom your life choice grants you. I raise my glass to you too. Because I can, and because you deserve it. Cheers.

  7. I agree with you it shouldn’t define who you are if you have children. I personally am slightly envous of you and all your free will at your fingertips. Me as a mother of two has to constantly wonder what the kids are doing, find babysitters, feed and clothe my kids. It is a constant never ending battle to make them happy and them making me happy in their daily lives. You are a great person and would make a great mother; but it is your choice and your choice alone to have children.

  8. I agree that having children doesn’t mean you have a family. And you can have a family without having children. And oddly enough, my husband and I often hear how selfish it is that we only have one. And only plan to have one. Do what feels right to you. Don’t have kids, have one, hell – bear a baseball team, just do it on your own terms.
    PS, I love my daughter. A LOT.

  9. I catch shit for being childless all the time – especially from my family. Usually I’m not bothered by it, just mildly annoyed at the predictability of the small-talk. Everyone brings it up, EVERY time my wife and I visit either my family or hers. Partly it’s our fault, because we always leave a door open by saying “We don’t want kids right now, but who knows about the future.” But that’s just being honest. The thought and/or feeling of “I wish I were parenting right now” has simply never occurred to me, not once in my life. Same for my wife. It’s not that we have some policy against reproducing. The only times I get riled up is when I’m accused of being “selfish” or “self-centered” because I don’t have kids. My ten year old nephew even dropped this one on me last time I was home. He’s only beginning to develop the faculty of reason, so I can forgive him for failing to think straight, but his parents have accused me of the same crime. I remember getting in a heated argument with them once about it, reminding them that their son did not exist when they “unselfishly” decided to create him, so who exactly were they doing it for? Why not adopt a kid who already exists and who needs a loving parent? Their response: “I want MY kid to look like ME, to have MY genes!” Wow, how selfless!

    • I’m glad you and Mark weighed in. It’s nice to see other relationships represented, especially from the gentleman’s point of view.

      That word “selfish” is such a hot button with me when it comes to this topic that I purposefully left it out. It brings out a very aggressive side of me that is none to productive (if you’ll pardon the pun).

  10. As the mother of two teenagers, I always wanted to have kids; but, I’m surrounded by people in my family (both of my brothers, several cousins) and friends that do not have, and have never wanted kids, for whatever reason. I think that it’s crap that you get pressure or heat for not wanting kids. Not everyone gets baby fever, and even women that have kids grow out of it. We had our kids fairly early in our marriage. It was hard, and it took a toll on our marriage sometimes. I wouldn’t trade our kids for a minute, but I don’t automatically transfer that desire to have kids to other women. It’s funny, though…even after I had our second child, people would ask, “Don’t you want another one?” Um…no. Have you met the two I’ve got? I guess we just can’t win.

  11. I can relate to this. Like *really* relate. Only it’s worse because I am also not married and so I get a double helping of, “When are you going to get married?” and “When are you going to have kids?” I don’t need a husband or a child to solidify who I am – I can do that all by myself, thanks.

    And really, why is it ok for people to ask either question? Aren’t these personal decisions? Why is it everyone else’s business???

  12. I’m in the position of having read the second piece first. I kind of like that.

    I’m also childfree. At 37, I now cannot even imagine my life any other way. My husband is the same; our lives are adult ones and I wouldn’t give up the freedom for anything. I’m fortunate that we don’t get much grief from our families about reproducing. My grandmother will get a little wistful and say I just think children are a gift. And they are, I guess. But you can return a gift if it doesn’t work out.

    Reading the post, this sentence struck me: In my mid-twenties, as girlfriends began sharing “The News”, I remember staring aghast as if we were all still 16 and they were throwing their lives away. I have had that moment with friends of mine and to some extent I still do hold my breath. I never know whether my friend will become that person who stops talking about herself and dissolves into her child. I know parents take it very personally when childfree people lose interest in them, but I can’t help it. I don’t care about children. Friends who still retain their identities after becoming parents are worth their weight in weapons-grade plutonium.

    • So far, only a few of my “close” girlfriends have become Mom’s. There is a definite change in attitude and amount of contact. I know that this is selfish of me to point out, but what hurts a lot is the fact that somehow, there is an unwritten wedge. From their side, it reads: “don’t share these things with her, she won’t understand”, from my side, it reads: “you’re no longer needed because the baby is here.” Neither is true. It’s a very odd circumstance.

  13. Judgement is everywhere, even after you have kids. Many people have looked shocked – SHOCKED! – that I have an only child with no plans for another. I am positively ruining her life, according to them.

  14. Read this blog post I wrote here: http://www.scoutiegirl.com/2010/07/the-fabricated-family.html

    I went to a baby shower when I was 23 and single. People were cooing and talking about afterbirth. That was the beginning of my hatred of baby showers and really the beginning of the crystallization of my hatred of the identity of “mommy” and all things “girly” and “female.” I continue to battle with the general disdain for the identification of women as boobs and womb (as you read in this blog post http://blog.elizabethhoward.net/2011/02/08/sweaty-and-sexy/) but as a now mother (yes, I AM there mother, even though they didn’t slide out of my vagina and I didn’t name them), I can identify with the purposeful and the meaningful in parenting and motherhood, which disgustingly, often get turned into the sap and syrup of pink tutus and hair tousles and other such shit.

    Want to know what is real about being a mother? At 8 p.m. you look into their room where they are asleep and think “THANK GOD” and that thanks has many many layers. BUT the top layer is just “THANK GOD THEY ARE FINALLY ASLEEP SO I CAN FINALLY RELAX AND BE ME AGAIN.”
    Except that you realize that you are you, with them. Which you start to see as time goes by. An identity shift occurs, like when a baby isn’t a baby anymore or when a squidgy teenager is suddenly a man, or when a woman is suddenly beautiful because she is comfortable in her body.

    All that bullshit about cooing and squealing and dressing them up is just the noise we make to help us cope with how hard it is to be a parent. It’s hard and it’s hard and it’s hard and it’s all love-work, all day long.

  15. Around 15 years ago I had this conversation with my cousin and her husband. I had one child and was soon to have #2 and she made the comment that she had no intentions of having kids.
    Me: “Seriously!? Why would you NOT want kids?”
    Her: lots of good reasons
    It eventually dawned on me that just because it was right/good/whatever for ME doesn’t make that a universal truth. They’ve lived very happily together, child free, ever since. I’m on marriage #2 and my parenting dreams have long since turned to nightmares. Go figure…

  16. I missed this the first time, but glad I caught it on the second round. Well written. I admit I felt a little wounded being a mom and all, but I gained an appreciation for how you’ve had to weather all that bullshit when you say you want to stay child-free.

    My husband and I were married for six years before having kids. I’m glad we had time to spend together as a couple doing the things we loved because when you have kids, sleep and hobbies disappear.

    Friend dynamics shift incredibly when one or more have children and one or more don’t. I’ve been on both sides. Conversations get boring because children are all consuming.

    Before the child-rearing years, I always hung around with the jocks. After kids, not so much. I fit workouts in the dawn’s early light (or darkness) or at lunchtime during work hours. I can’t keep up with those sporty types anymore (not at their level anyway). But the tables have turned a bit for me. I find endless conversations about training and charting your training kinda boring.

    I had to cast about for friends in stumbling distance from my house (and the dreaded Mommy and Me group) and I now I hang around a group of women, so eclectic and funny and interesting–artists, musicians, social workers, writers–and it was our children who brought us together.

    I hope this doesn’t sound defensive because that’s not my intent. You’ll have a lot more time to spend on your craft and that’s important to us all. Your writing is a pleasure to read.

  17. You didn’t sound defensive at all Patti. Not at all. I must say that I understand the drive for children and have any number of friends who have kids that have found a miraculous way to make it all work and still retain autonomy (and I have a pretty strong feeling that you fall into that category.) I wrote this piece in response to some very catty things that were said about me and The Old Man in mixed company while we were absent and unable to defend our (well, MY) decision. I still hope for the day when I wake up and decide that maybe I do, after all, want babies, but for now, I’m not interested. And I don’t think that makes me an aberration of nature–just honest and self-aware.

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