I recently discovered Katie Couric has a podcast, and I really enjoyed her interview with the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. Back when I had cable, hers was always my favorite cooking show.
Sure, her soothing voice and the sounds of her making truffle butter scrambled eggs in the background were pleasing, but what struck me most about the episode was one topic in particular... Ina sharing her decision not to have children. When the topic came up she said, “We decided not to have children. I really appreciate that other people do and we will always have friends that have children that we are close to, but it was a choice I made very early. I really felt, I feel, that I would have never been able to have the life I’ve had. So it’s a choice and that was the choice I made.”
Hearing this made my heart swell, and made me itch to talk about that thing that is not often talked about... parenthood as a choice, not an eventuality in life. And to also address the awkward conversations I find myself having on a surprisingly regular basis, being a woman who has decided not to have children.
I think I always knew deep-down that I did not want to be a mother, much like I hear many women talk about how they always knew they did. It is difficult to describe since it's not any one thing in particular that keeps me from it, like the anxiety of financial burden or the fear of giving birth. It's just more an understanding of something that I am not meant to be.
So here's what's up... am I a huge fan of kids? No, not really. Do I think motherhood seems like a beautiful, rewarding, and life-affirming experience? Absolutely! I think conception and women giving birth is the best evidence we have that magic exists on this earth. Don't even get me started on breast feeding... miraculous! Yet, there is still not one single fiber of my being that wants to do it and therefore, I don't think I should. I have SO much respect for parenthood and for the little lives created in the process that I know I should not be a mother unless I truly believe I have it in me. I do not think I am being stubborn or living in denial - I examine my feelings at regular milestones like getting married, or my best friend and sister getting pregnant and having kids, or after losing my most beloved and nurtured cat. Brent and I also revisit the topic a few times a year together and talk openly about how we each feel about it. All I can do is carefully examine of all of the facts and after that, it's all gut instinct.
Seems simple enough, right? Well, here's the rub. I spend a lot of time not getting to share my life experiences, but instead defending my choice to people when they ask whether or not I have kids, and/or when I plan to. I don't think it's wrong to ask the question - my issue is usually with the responses I receive. It has been an interesting progression over the last decade - in my early 20s, it was 'Oh, you're so young... you'll change your mind'. In my mid 20s it was, 'Well, once you get married you'll start to feel differently'. Now, being 31 (in other words, T-minus 4 years until it would be considered geriatric or risky to get pregnant), people are shocked and usually start to ask probing questions regarding my relationship with Brent as if the subconscious reason for me choosing not to have children is likely due to having an unsuitable partner or unhappy marriage. Or, better yet... sometimes I'm given a flat-out threat like 'You better be sure you're OK with your decision before you get to your 40s because then it will be too late'.
Can we please talk about how f*cked up this is? The equivalent would be me telling a pregnant woman that I think she is going to be miserable and remind her to think of everything she will have to give up in life to be a mother. What really bothers me is that the responses along the lines of those previously stated is essentially an implication that something is wrong with me for not wanting children. What matters is not what choice is best as far as the rest of the world is concerned, but what choice is best for me as an individual, and as a wife to the person with whom I share a life and a home. In my opinion, I believe it should be assumed that we are not having children until such time we have weighed all of the pros/cons and believe we are capable and are certain we truly want to dedicate our lives to those we bring into the world.
I am not sure I have a good takeaway from this chain of thought other than to say if you find yourself in a conversation with a woman who is choosing not to have children, please find a way to just be positive and affirming of her choice rather than try to make her fear she's made the wrong one. Life is made up in large part of a series of choices we make as we age... I am acutely aware that there may come a day later in life that I regret not having had children. However, just as I do with any other choices I've made up until this point, I plan to focus on and celebrate what has brought me joy in this life rather than dwell on what I may have missed.