Before I was a mother, pregnancy and childbirth gave me the heebie-jeebies. It just seemed so…gross. The idea of another living-thing living inside of me would literally make me nauseous if I thought for too long about it. I couldn’t help but likening pregnancy to those urban legends about earwigs laying eggs in people’s brains and stuff. (Don’t ask me what was wrong with me, because I haven’t a clue. Not a clue.) And childbirth just seemed so…animalistic. So below the innate dignity of human beings. And I know what many of you are thinking: pregnancy and childbirth are both natural and necessary for the survival of our species. Trust me, I get it now, but for many many years, simply the word “pregnant” made me shudder. (To be honest, I still avoid using the word “pregnant” whenever possible, mostly because we DO use it to describe both animals and people, and that bothers me. So I say “expecting a baby” whenever I can.)
And I already wrote a while ago about how I used to be a self-righteous, judgmental jerk, referring to parents as “breeders” and children as “spawn,” so when I began reading this series on Slate regarding people who are against having children, my interest was piqued. They’ve done a whole series on people who have decided, for a plethora or reasons, to remain childless. There’s one article about a man who was very concerned with his “career mobility,” one on a woman who had her tubes-tied at 26 years old because she was afraid she’d repeat the abuses of her parents, one where a woman called babies “alien parasites,” (me and that girl would have been BFFs back in the day), and one where the writer described a “baby-shower” she attended for a women who was not having a baby, but was releasing her first book. (Yeah, because those two things are SO similar. Does your book wake you up to breastfeed every hour and a half?) I hear so much of my former self in each of the women interviewed for the series: the self-righteousness, the judgement, the fear, the selfishness, the insistence that there “is no such thing as a biological clock,” and the unwillingness (or inability) to value motherhood equally to success in the marketplace. And it makes me so sad for them.
The series of articles makes it very clear that the child-free do not want to be pitied, and that they find my feeling sad for them to be offensive. But here’s the thing: I used to be one of “them,” a self-proclaimed non-breeder. A girl who used to go around proudly telling people that “I love my life too much to have kids.” And now that I’m on the other side, I realize not only how wrong I was, but how immature and completely bone-headed I was being. I was like so many young women, walking around with lower-back tattoos or breast implants: I made a decision that was right for me at the time, without fully understanding the longterm ramifications. Without leaving room for myself to change my mind in the future. I guess the good thing about being a self-righteous non-breeder is that it’s much easier to go back and change your mind than if you’re walking around with a tramp-stamp, or massive barbie-boobs.
The unifying tone that I hear, in each of the articles in the series, is a powerful aversion to wisdom from those who have “been there and done that.” None of the non-breeders interviewed wants to deign to hear anything a former non-breeder like myself would have to say. They effectively plug their ears and “lalalalala I can’t heaaar you” their way through the series, never once really hearing that there are so many women who used to feel just like them. They have the tone of a petulant twelve year old girl, being advised by her mother, that she will, in fact, find love again. (“No I won’t! He was SPECIAL! YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ME!” I can hear them sobbing, storming out of the room and slamming the door behind them.)
I want to tell the self-righteous non-breeders that I understand that feeling. I mean, honestly, no one wants to feel immature, or that their thoughts aren’t special. But listen: countless women have thought to themselves the very same thoughts you do regarding having children. Most of them, myself included, have found themselves on the other side of the situation, raising a child, and realizing just how wrong they were about the whole thing; motherhood has blessed us with an ability to understand ourselves, and life, in a deeper and more gratifying way than our careers ever could have (not to mention all the other blessings motherhood brings). We know this because we’ve been there, shouting from the rooftops that we’d remain childless forever, and we feel foolish about that whole thing now.
Notice that I am NOT saying that it’s everyone’s “destiny” to have children. If you hate children, I’d rather you don’t. What I am saying is that you need to leave yourself some wiggle-room. You need to keep your mind open to the possibility that you might change your mind one day. Try not to make being a non-breeder so much of your identity, that when your biological clock starts ticking, it ushers in with it an existential crisis. I used to be just like you, and here I am, twenty-eight years old, telling you that having a child was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Just consider that you might not know it all. And don’t go rushing to get any crazy tattoos, either.
(Edited to reflect that one of the articles I originally attributed to a woman was actually written by a man. Oddly enough, I remember telling myself to use gender-neutral language in describing the series, because men do weigh-in, but it look like I forgot that when writing about it. Thanks Laney for the heads-up!)