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To have or not to have. 8, May 2012

Posted by Iphigenia in Thoughts.
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I wish I didn’t feel like I will be defined by whether or not I have children.

What has brought this on? I’ve noticed a trend when reading news or gossip pieces about a person of note who happens to be a woman. No matter what their achievements, many articles are at great pains to mention the number of children born to that woman. I often feel a woman could cure all disease, end poverty and stop all wars and she’d still simply be “the mum of three” I don’t think I’d even know her name until a good sentence or two in, something like“A woman has cured all the ills in society. The mum of three credits hard work and determination as the reason for her success. Jane Smith, 32…” etc.

Now don’t take this to mean I think no woman should pick her family as her main purpose. I know some women feel born to be mothers and see their kids as their best achievement. I’m happy for you to feel that way – it’s your choice after all. I just feel it’s a bit off when a woman achieves highly elsewhere that the number of times she happens to have given birth will be wedged in there. It’s often not relevant and it’s done in a way that I think is rarely done to men. I can’t remember the last time I saw a famous man who happened to be a dad referred to as “the dad of two”  in an article that wasn’t about his kids.

I feel I could be Jane Smith. I couldn’t be because I’m not a scientist so am in no position to cure disease but imagine I’m Jane Smith. At the moment I would be known as the woman who cured everything. I have no children you see. But I fear the moment I had one, I’d forever be “mum of one, Ms B” before anything else. I don’t really like that idea.

I have a confession to make that sometimes makes people look at me like I’m an alien species. I’ve never felt like I want children. Even when I was a child, other kids generally annoyed me. I can’t find babies cute, I just can’t. As a little girl I thought those toy dolls that defecate were revolting. Actually, I still do. Who wants to play with excrement even if it is pretend? Parents deal with dirty nappies because they have to but in my mind a toy that poos is one step too far up the realism ladder. I wanted my toys to be fun. I didn’t want them to shit on me.

I don’t hate children. Too many people go on the defensive and mistake “I don’t want kids” for “I want to eat your child for breakfast because his existence offends me” – I know the world needs the next generation and I know for most people the urge to reproduce is strong. Apparently I’m not most people.

I know I’m not the only one who gets a hard time over my child status. However, I don’t think some mothers realise how hurtful their language is – even when they mean well. I’ve been told I won’t ever know real love. Thank you for invalidating my feelings for my boyfriend. I’ve been told I won’t feel like a proper woman if I don’t give birth. I wonder if people would say this if I turned out to be infertile? Doubtful.

Then there’s the downright nasty. Calling me a genetic dead end and saying my life will have no meaning. Calling me unnatural and a selfish bitch. Humans do a lot of things now that aren’t natural and yes if I don’t reproduce then I am somewhat of a dead end. But there’s no need to say it with such smug superiority. Most of us, kids or not, will be a footnote in history at best. And that’s if we’re lucky. I doubt most of us will be remembered in a century apart from by future generations who will be researching their family tree. I don’t know why some people with kids feel like their immortality is assured whereas mine isn’t and that makes them better than me. It doesn’t. Genetically, ok you can have that one, your genes will live on for at least a generation. But I don’t need kids to do something memorable. I probably won’t, but you probably won’t either.

Again, I am not against the choice to have kids. In fact I get just as angry when I see women who decide to go back to work described as unfit selfish mothers. I am full of rage when a stay at home mum is referred to as obviously stupid and unambitious. Why can’t we respect all the choices women make?

But there’s the rub. It really is a case of women can’t do right for doing wrong. Someone, somewhere will criticise you for your choice and unfortunately it feel like women are our own worst enemies here. They’re usually the ones pouring scorn on another woman’s decision. However, I am enough of a pro at this Internet thing to have encountered male trolls with a particular ire reserved for western women who shun traditional gender roles. Even the ones that DO fit traditional gender roles are treated with suspicion at best and pure hatred at worst, you know…just in case she wants a divorce and gets the house and kids. Lucky for me I’m involved with a man who knows that the 1950s ideal didn’t exist for most people, especially in the working class. So he doesn’t care if I don’t fit the mould. He’s also not particularly bothered about children.

I think it’s very likely I won’t have children. As well as not particularly liking the idea I’m now 26. My fertile window is ever diminishing. Even if I wanted kids I am in no position at the moment to have them. I’m ok with my choice but yes, sometimes I have intrusive thoughts to the contrary. Am I going to regret not taking part in what “almost everyone does”? It’s how life goes isn’t it? You’re born, you grow, you have your own kids and you might live long enough to see them have kids.

My parents are in their 50s now and I’m becoming increasingly aware of their ageing. I have to face the reality that some day they will die. They’re almost certainly going to die before I do, unless disease or an accident intervenes. My parents say they’re not bothered about grandchildren but I still wonder – am I denying them? I only have one sister, no brothers. What if I could give my dad a grandson to make up for not having a son? He says he didn’t mind but there does seem to be a social expectation that all men want a son really, so I can’t help thinking this. At the same time I feel it would be quite callous of me to basically say “sucks you’re going to die one day. BUT behold! Your genetic legacy continues!” as I hand over what looks like a screaming prune swaddled in a blanket.

I think the above is me admitting something that the childfree feel they can’t say without conceding defeat. It isn’t a competition and it’s ok to have doubts. We do often think about our decision. We probably think about it a lot more on average than people who want or have children. Having children seems so automatic, most people do it. But deciding not to – it’s a big deal. You’re rejecting a social norm and as a result become the target of anything ranging from surprise to contempt. And yes you’re missing out on something. But missing out doesn’t mean lesser experience. I hope I can find meaning in other ways. I hope I can inspire the children of others. I work in a museum and seeing kids with a thirst for learning always makes my day.

When I state the above I often get asked “well why not have your own?” Occasionally I’m positively guilted into it with quite prejudiced language “it’d be a shame if a highly educated lady like you didn’t have kids. Too many morons breeding” – I don’t like that. For one thing it’s more mummy-judging (“ha! mothers are sooo stupid!”) and it also implies that I’ll have sole control over the adult personalities of my offspring. I don’t know if my imaginary kids would follow me to Cambridge for example. I haven’t exactly done anything spectacular with my degree from there. Also I could raise my kids as best as I can but they’ll still interact with others and form their own worldview. They might even go off the rails. Children aren’t clones.

I have the best level of respect for women, and men, who choose to be parents. I know most of you are just trying your best to raise the next generation. And you’re only human so it isn’t always easy and often doesn’t go to plan. I’m annoyed by ill-disciplined children but I don’t see a mother and automatically think “stupid breeding moo” as some of the more hostile childfree appear to do. Kids can be unruly, I get that. As long as you’re trying you’re alright in my book.

I’ve thought about this a lot because having children is a big decision. I’m not sure if I could do it. My only hope is that if in the unlikely event I become famous for something people don’t state “yes what she did was brilliant…but did she have any kids?”

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