Tuesday, February 19, 2008

My uterus is my business

I have a secret to share. I am a woman of child bearing age who has no desire to have a biological child. This is not such a secret to those closest to me. It is certainly no secret to my husband. But I rarely discuss my lack of desire to reproduce with others, particularly other women, because their reaction is always the same. Take this exchange with a friend of a friend at a girls' night out a few years ago:

She: When are you going to have kids?

Me: I have kids. I have two stepchildren.

She: But when are you going to have your own kids?

Me: I'm not.

She: (in horror) Why!?

Me: I never really have had the desire to have children.

She: Is it because you think you can't have children? Because it took my husband and I a while to conceive and...

Me: No. I have no reason to think I can't have kids.

She: (pausing, staring at me quizzically) Well, my daughter is the best thing that ever happened to me. I love her more than anything. You just don't know what love is like until you become a mother.

Me: Okay.

When I say that I do not want to bear children, it is not because I don't like them. My 22-month-old niece loves me to death. She beams when I walk into a room. And I love to pick her up, squeeze her chubby little body, smell her baby smell and make her laugh. My 12-year-old nephew and I are reading the Alex Rider teen spy series together. And my six-year-old niece and I have a Saturday afternoon date this weekend. I aspire to one day be one of those eccentric, well-loved Auntie Mame-type characters.

When I say that I do not want to bear children, it is not because I am afraid of hard work, as one friend frequently subtly suggests. This friend once thought that child-free married adults were "selfish," but now that she has her own children, she says she understands. "Being a parent is hard work." But the implication is that all adults without children are living hedonist, responsibility-free lives of leisure that we cannot bear to interrupt. That may be the case for some, but not me.

When I say that I do not want to bear children, it is not because I do not understand the importance of being a parent. How can you deny the magnitude of being charged with molding a new life into a conscious and caring citizen of the world? I reject that parenthood is the most important job one can have, or the only job that matters. Would Joan of Arc or Mother Teresa or Harriet Tubman have been better women, more a service to the world, had they bore children? But certainly being a parent is one of the heaviest responsibilities one can undertake.

When I say that I do not want to bear children, it is because though I like children, I have never yearned for them. I have never felt that my life would be incomplete without them. I can explain it no better than that. It seems very simple to me. But to most women I encounter, the idea that I can choose not to have children is foreign and either insulting, a mistake or proof of some fatal flaw in my character.

As with the friend of a friend that interrogated me on my choice not to bear children, the calm assertion of my decision is often met with a breathless monologue about the joy of motherhood, how having a child changed the mother in question's life, how she did not know love until holding her newborn, how she was not whole until giving birth. Those feelings may be true for some women, but why must they be true for me? Why must I be treated as if I don't know my own mind? Because, what often comes after the aggressive proselytizing about parenthood, is the affirmation that I will change my mind some day. I am closer now to 40 than 30, and I feel the same way I felt at 16 and 26. I do not wish to have a baby.

I am not lazy, as my sister charges, or selfish, as my friend suggests. I value children and think the decision to have one should be made carefully. It should never be automatic. I believe children should not be something you do just because it is time, or because you like the way they smell, or because you want to see the blending of your genes and those of your beloved, or because your parents want grandchildren, or because you want someone to care for you when you grown old. Children deserve the best the world has to offer; too many do not get that, often because they are mercy to the whims of their parents. Why is it selfish for me to approach the decision to have a child thoughtfully?

It is also interesting that I do not get credit for the mothering I do. Though I have two stepchildren that I love and my stepson lives with my husband and I, this does not count or so the baby police say. Though I help to clothe and feed him, answers questions about girls, and help him with his homework, I am told my relationship with my stepson is not the same as a biological relationship.

Also worth noting is that for all the tsk tsking about single mothers in the black community, several professional black women that I know, who have chosen not to have children because they are not married, often get the stink eye from other black women for even that decision. It is as if, no matter the circumstance, we are not women until we have squeezed a child from our loins.

Why are so many other women eager to, as a friend puts it, "be all up in my uterus," questioning or demanding that I defend my life choices simply because they are different?

I fault no woman for choosing to be a mother and I fault no woman for choosing to be child free. Choice is freedom. For all the ways that society seeks to oppress women, we are too often accomplices who narrow the choices of our sisters through disapproval and badgering.

If you are confident in your choices, mine should not concern you.


Danielle said...

Tami - You have echoed my every thought on the subject of motherhood. I too am childless and have never had a desire to be a mom. I have a lovely nephew and niece. I have seen my two 20 something cousins grow up, graduate grammar school, high school and college.

I don't see the desire to not have children as something terrible or selfish. Children deserve to be loved and cherished and you should want them with every fiber of your being. That is not me and I am at peace with myself.

God put us all here to serve Him and we all have our purpose. Contributing positively to life, serving others and fulfilling your mission as a human being is very much a personal thing.

My choices are exactly that; my own. No one needs to concern themself with my life or decisions but me.

SheCodes said...

Hi Tami,

If people would stop pressuring women to multiply, there would be many more women in this world who aren't stressed out, overworked, and unhappy in this world.

Childbearing is for those who are called to it and are ready for it. I hate the fact that even young teenagers feel pressured to get pregnant these days. What the heck!?

I never had an overwhelming desire for babies, although I do have a hope that I'll have one someday. And if my 'childbearing days' are over when I'm ready, I will adopt a baby. Simple!

wisdomteachesme said...

hi tami,
your thoughts are very interesting, well thought out and well written, that is what kept me reading your post. also the name of it gave me a good laugh.

i do have a child that i gave birth to and my partner has a child. So i have 2 girls, and i love the one like i do the other, even though i did not give birth to her.


i could do nothing but smile as i read your post. i think you are very correct in your observations and acceptance of how you feel about, what you want to do in your life and what you do not want to do.
Loving who you are and accepting your decisions is love of self. and you have been given much!

I had my child "late in life" as i was soon told. (i was 35 when she was born) it just hit me one day-after spending years living solely to please myself :D. and one day ping--
BUT, i do not say that to offer you any advice or change your mind--lol, i don't think it's right to do that. I'm saying it because i agree with you even though i do have a child that i gave birth to.

as a former teacher, let me tell you this, i KNOW that your "bonus son" (i think the prefix 'step' is like walking on a person),
is appreciative of you being with his father and in his life..
You are a bonus mom to him.
i have seen much from 18 yrs of teaching, and just know that if you are in this childs life as you are--then you are his mother as God sees it.
you should continue to enjoy all the responsibilities and Rewards that go with being a childs mother no matter how the 2 have been put together. we are not to understand and know everything--we are just to do it! obey the leading and know that He is not going to send us into a place that will take us out--that will not bring Him glory.
You are to be teasured and you should enjoy the treasures that you have been given.

no one is going to order steps like that but Him. You all are living within His love and don't give any thoughts to being like anybody other than who God created you to be!
I commend you for your stand concerning truths of being a woman.

may you continue to live within His completeness.


Tami said...

Danielle, Shecodes and Wisdom--Thank you for your kind words and support.

baby221 said...

Sounds like something I could've written about a month ago.

And then, well, the test came back "Yup, Preggers!"

And now, well. I still feel like I could write it, because I don't want children, and the idea of pregnancy terrifies me. But for some reason this one little one, this growing one, is okay by me. I'm even excited about her :)

Anyway. I guess my point is that I empathise. Especially with the interrogation, and especially with the snide "oh, you'll change your mind," which is even more annoying for me because it wound up to be (sort of) true.

It's your own life, yanno? Take good care of it as best you know how. That's all any of us needs to do, really.

ac said...

Brava, brava, well said. The decision to have a child is such a uniquely personal one. Why must the analysis behind the decision be trotted out for public display and approval on demand?

I didn't expect to find myself still single at my age but I am. I've come to accept that being single changes my stance on some of the goals/ideas I thought I "had" to have achieved at my age, like having kids, the perfect home, husband and career.

I don't have any of that and yet I am content with what I do have and "still I rise".

More power to you Tami. You make the decisions that are right for you and own them. Only you know what is right for you and there is room for all of us under this big tent.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you Tami! You've captured my thoughts exactly.

As an adoptee, I always thought if I did end up with children it would be through adoption rather than my giving birth to a child. However, the desire to be a mother never kicked in.

I find that my close circle of friends, all of whom have at least two children, understand my choice. It's members of my extended family who want to attach the "you're selfish" label to me, because they can't comprehend the choice I've made.

While I will probably never be a mother, I'm thoroughly enjoying my new role - proud new Aunt!

Lisa said...

Tami, I have one child and people call me selfish for just having one. . . My problem is, nobody has to take care of any of MY children BUT me! So, I figure they'll be alright :)

It's your body, and your life!!

Ferocious Kitty said...

This mom of two (one biological, one adopted) sez, "Amen and amen!"

Why don't people mind their business?

I always suspect that when people broach privacy like this it is either because 1) they perceive a choice you are making as a judgment about them (narcissistic, much?), or 2) the opposite is true--they are ambivalent or not as happy as they would suggest about their own childbearing decision, and by trying to convince or challenge you, they are in essence trying to convince or remind themselves of the significance and meaning of their choices.

Motherhood is woefully undervalued, and some moms are super-sensitive to anything which remotely sounds like "Motherhood ain't all that"--which isn't of course what you're saying. But what you say and what people hear can be vastly different things.


Tami said...

Wow! That's what I love so much about blogging, you learn that on issues where you have felt alone, many people share your thoughts.

Thank you, everyone, for your input.

Baby, congratulations! I often wonder how I would feel if I were to become pregnant. I imagine much like you. A little scared. A little excited. Full of love. Best of luck to you and your little one.

Anonymous said...

*loud applause*

You've taken the words right out of my mouth. Here's my story:

As a kid, I would say I wanted to have this or that many children - the way any little girl does. But frankly, I never really had any basis for the statement other than it's the type of thing you say when you're a kid.

As a teenager, I don't think it was something on my mind at all. Same through college; just not something that interested me on any level. Then recently I was diagnosed with a huge honking fibroid - of a size where the "h-word" starts being bandied about. I reviewed my options and definitely wanted to avoid a hysterectomy.

After much stress and strain, I opted for a uterus preserving procedure, fibroid embolization. In the end, I chose this procedure not because I wanted to "maintain my fertility" but because - selfish hedonism alert - I didn't want to risk premature menopause and/or decreased sexual function from a hysterectomy.

It forced me to really ask myself some questions, and I can honestly say that I want to be a mother about as much as I want to be an astronaut.

I think people are always looking for something to make them happy - a spouse, a baby, a job. But at the end of the day, you have to be a self-contained unit. Sure, it's nice to have external sources of pleasure, but ultimately, you only have one person you can depend on in all cases - that's you. So doesn't it make sense to be able to provide for your emotional well being?

Meanwhile, as a 28 year old, feminine lesbian, I am increasingly dealing with women who want me to be their baby incubator. If you think it's insulting to have your best friend question why you don't have children, imagine if you were DATING that woman - a woman who is essentially telling you they think the notion of pregnancy is horrific, but they want you to endure it so they can push a stroller.


I don't have any philosophical reason for why I don't desire to reproduce. It's very simple - I just don't want to. Life would be so much easier if people simplified.

Anonymous said...

I hate when single, broke mothers try to look at you funny when you don't have children. They aren't doing the world a favor by contributing to the jail and child protective services population

womensspace said...

You know, women can't win in this. If you don't begin bearing children by a certain age, everybody feels entitled to know what your plans are, why no kids, when will there be kids. If you bear children too young, you're wrong for that. If you bear children when you are too old, you're wrong for that. If you bear too many children-- definitely wrong. If you bear the acceptable one or two children at an acceptable age, everyone still demonstrates their disregard for your personal boundaries by feeling free to touch your pregnant belly, comment on the size or shape of it, ask intrusive questions, etc. Our wombs are still perceived somehow as public property, as though we aren't titled to privacy around what we do with them. Great post, Tami, as usual.

Jenn said...

I've been thinking so much about this lately (even more than I usually do) and I honestly think that the source of a lot of this hostility is the fact that people do not have enough choices, or any choices for that matter, or at least don't feel as though they do. The pressure to aspire to and achieve the norm of the All-American nuclear family is out of control. And even if you are able to "achieve" it, the pressure to maintain it and do at an unattainable level of perfection is insane.

Motherhood is not valued or respected in this society, and parents do not get the support that they need which is very unfortunate. And I think that, plus the lack of choices people have/feel they have, as well as the lack of outlets parents have for honestly discussing what it's like to be a parent, manifests itself in the behavior of some parents towards those who are childfree or childless. I think that because I'm childfree, and confident in that decision, I'm a glaring reminder of this. I also think I'm a reflection of the choices they've made with regards to parenthood and their lifestyle, and the fact that they, too, at one time may have had a choice but didn't realize it or take advantage of it. And if that's the case, yeah they're going to try their damnedest to convince me (me?) that parenthood is the greatest decision one could possibly make.

I wish that no matter what women chose to do, they got adequate support and respect for it. But that just isn't the case. Not yet, anyway. It starts with the individual, though. We, as individual women, should really take the time to listen to, understand and support each other no matter what decisions we make, or how much we may or may not agree with them. We have to eliminate this pressure to conform and aspire to these unattainable and absolutely ridiculous standards. I see people all the time, whether they're parents or childfree/childless, in knock-down-drag-out battles over this. And when I take a step back, what I see so much of is hurt, anger and frustration (and maybe even some jealousy and envy) due to lack of support, lack of choices, misunderstanding, and disrespect.

Jenn said...

To Anonymous @ 11am: I know plenty of kids who were raised by broke, single mothers, myself and my brother included. None of us turned out to be criminals or part of the CPS system.

Mes Deux Cents said...

Hi Tami,

Great post! I don't know how I feel about the kid thing but It is always good to have options.

Krista said...

Thank you for sharing your feelings on this topic. I got married 3 months ago becoming a wife and a stepmom of two young boys.

The culture i grew up in encourages large families, but i know i don't want that for me. I have felt so selfish for not wanting to have children, or at least not many.

I agree with you that it is an individual choice that each woman should be able to make on her own without all the judgments of others.

I do want to have at least one child of my own, but whether i have more, i want to be my decision...not something i do because of social or cultural pressures.

Thank you for your honesty and for sharing such a personal subject

Leigh said...

Tami, I haven't decided whether or not I will have children one day. Your words are part of the reason why I lean toward deciding against it. So thank you for putting this out there.

Its unfortunate that people judge you for a decision that is entirely your own. I don't understand why your being a stepmom isn't given credit. If you couldn't have children and adopted people would validate that and praise you for it. But the fact that you are participating in the parenting of children that you have adopted in a different way isn't given the same treatment just because you choose not to have children.

Anonymiss said...

I really need to work on my etiquette because I'm inclined to tell someone to mind their business. Tami, you're very patient.

I've been asked about why I don't have children yet (I'm 26) and that question has come mostly from foreigners. In their homelands, I should have had a tribe of children by now.

When Americans ask me why I don't have any kids yet, I tell them I'm not ready and I'm not married. It's crazy how that answer leaves people puzzled. People think that because I'm a woman that I should be dying to have kids and that motherhood is a rite of passage towards womanhood.

Yap Enquirer said...

So many people have already said such eloquent and powerful things, that I don't really need to echo their thoughts, but I did want to say that this post really hit me in a deep and personal way with things I've been struggling with regarding my own quickly diminishing fertility (I'm turning 38 this year), with my firm belief in adoption and other forms of mothering/parenting (love the commentor who wrote about bonus-children!) and about the decision that we women have to make these choices for ourselves and ourselves alone.

Thanks again for such provocative and timely thoughts!


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