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.


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