Friday, November 18, 2011

Buns in the oven: I think I'll just bake actual buns, thanks.

WHEN ARE WE HAVING BABIES?

Everyone is multiplying.

I can’t get away from it: everywhere I turn, there’s another friend, foe, or family member with a bun in her oven.  I read somewhere that we’re in the biggest baby boom since the 1950’s, and I believe it. These women, for the most part, seem really happy with their approaching motherhood, taking to it like a mother duck to water. I’m happy for them, I really am; but there’s a problem, too: they provide an all-too-easy segue into the question that plagues all newlyweds,

“So when are you having kids?”

I’m going to tell you the answer right now: we’re not having kids. We’ve talked about it many times, Brian and I, and it’s a decision we feel very confident in. Please don’t think this means we hate children; in fact, Brian in particular is a fabulous preschooler playmate, and I have a soft spot for kids around kindergarten age, when they start to ask blunt questions, blurt out comments to strangers, and stumble around like tiny little drunks. Which is, so you know, why I’m forever envious of kids: they can run around, clumsily knocking into things, telling strangers exactly what they think of them, and having a cry whenever they need to…and the only time we tolerate these behaviours in an adult is at the annual Christmas party. Kids don’t know how good they have it.

Anyway, yeah, we’re not reproducing, much to the misery of my mother, who wants grandchildren very badly and has (rather successfully) supplemented that need by adopting four Italian greyhounds. But she’s not the only one who finds ways to bring up the baby topic. In fact, now that we’re married, it seems that questions and comments about my uterus’s ‘career plans’ are fair game for all. It seems like every time I turn around, someone’s mentioning an idea or plan for when I get knocked up…everything from promising me baby blankets, to offering handmade creations. And I always reply the same way: “Oh, we’re not having kids. Puppies, yes. But not kids.” This inevitably elicits a scoff, a frown, or an outraged eyebrow raise, and I feel totally powerless to fight fire with fire—though that’s ridiculous, because we are discussing my body and my entire future, so you’d think I’d have the guts to say, “Enough. I don’t want to discuss this further!” But I don’t.

THE SHAME OF BEING CHILDLESS

Why don’t I snap at people and tell them to leave me and my husband alone? Because there’s a terrible shame that comes with admitting you aren’t having kids. I swear, some people have actually implied that if it’s true we’re not making babies, why was it so important to get married? I ask you, honestly: is that what marriage is for, making babies? I counsel a lot of young single moms who would disagree with that concept. But there is a huge and terrible pressure on women, once married, to heed their biological clock and get cracking with those eggs, already. And our baby-crazy culture makes it embarrassing and shameful to confess we aren’t going to do so…and worse yet, our culture also seems to think it’s okay to judge the childless. In fact, this judgement is so prevalent that I have had to weigh the possibility of losing readers by writing this post. Imagine the hubris, of determining the value of an entire person’s work by whether they make one single (albeit BIG) life choice?

I have many reasons for not reproducing, none of which will ever stem the flow of arguments from those who’d see me pregnant. I am a genetic mess, for one, with a disability and with a uterus that’s fertility-impaired. I have never once had a maternal urge, or a desire to mother…though I also feel like I’ve done my share of childrearing, after a decade of social work with youth, raising the kids who couldn’t be raised by their own guardians. I’ve treated Mother’s Day as a private holiday for many years now, permitting myself a bit of congrats and treats as I acknowledge that my job, where I see kids at their lowest, is a maternal one in many ways.

I admit, I sometimes would like to be pregnant, though only in my sleep: some of my best dreams are of being round with child…but the excitement only lasts while I can eat heaps of food while people keeping telling me how glowing I am. The moment the labour starts, I wake up in a cold sweat.

LIFE’S GREAT ACCOMPLISHMENTS

The reality is, once you get married, you’re expected to get pregnant. It’s as if life has a series of gold stars you can achieve:
1-get born
2-get through high school
3-go to post-secondary school
4-get a job that pays well and/or benefits the greater good
5-find a mate and marry them
6-make babies
7-buy a house
8-retire and die quietly and politely

It’s a depressing list, because, a) I feel like most of the gold stars are behind me now with only some crummy ones left ahead, and b) I will never get that 6th gold star. And there’s no replacement for it; no matter how many puppies I adopt or cool jobs I get or money I make, they will never add up to a gold star for childrearing. It’s like I’m a girl scout and I didn’t get my sewing badge, so there’s this empty spot on my sash that nothing else can fill. The amount of praise, adoration, and appreciation my pregnant peers get—even those who got knocked up by an affair or other ‘oops’ moment—is intense, and as selfish as it may sound, I’m jealous I won’t ever get that level of approbation. It’s a bit like having an offbeat wedding, actually: if you choose to work outside the box, people just don’t hand that gold ‘wedding’ star over quite as readily.

THE JUDGEMENT SHIFTS…

It’s funny how things change. When I was in my early twenties, I went to the doctor for a pregnancy test. My then-partner and I had talked before I went to the doctor, and we’d decided that if I was pregnant, we were going to keep it. It wasn’t something I would ever have made happen, but as a surprise event, I felt a little excited about it, particularly because my partner was so thrilled. (I emphasize that this was a very specific instance, when I was young and didn’t know myself, or my boyfriend, that well.) I peed on the stick, gave it over to the nurse at the clinic, and waited the interminable five minutes ‘til she returned to the room. She walked in and said, “Good news!” My heart leapt, and then she added, “You’re not pregnant!” and then she pretty much left. I sat on that bed and had a good cry before putting on my coat and leaving.  I was incensed that the nurse had judged me—young, unmarried, with a mohawk—and had deemed it ‘good news’ that I wasn’t pregnant. The same blind judgement, now reversed in terms of good and bad news, is being applied to me at the age of 29.

SO…NO KIDS.

I’m still a child, myself, in many ways. I have committed to myself that I can have all the time I need to feel grown up, and seeing as there is a real biological clock to consider, this choice means I won’t be having kids. I am only now beginning my career as I really want it to be, and I feel about six years behind the career game because of it. I want to write books, blogs, and magazine articles. I want to travel, in ways my parents never got to. I want to be able to afford my groceries every month for the two of us before I even consider a second dog, let alone a child. And when all these reasons/excuses are gone, there’s still the reality that I just don’t feel it. Have your babies, friends…please! Do a good job of it, and I’ll hold your hand while you fight to push ‘em out for twenty long hours, then spend twenty long years pulling them back into your arms. Motherhood is a wonderful thing, but I think my job—motherhood’s best girlfriend—is also a good thing. It’s time to stop implying, joking, suggesting, or straight-up telling me I want babies.

But puppies…you can ask me about puppies anytime.

POST SCRIPT:

As a childless female blogger I actually feel a bit odd-one-out sometimes, as one of the minority who don’t fit into the ‘Mommy Blogger’ realm. As such, I will never claim to be an expert on the parenting experience, nor will I speak with false expertise on childhood development. However, I may from time to time address the childrearing topic, as someone who is immersed in an age group that is spawning like salmon; I hope to occasionally share some thoughts both from my own brain as well as from the minds of my pregger and parent friends, who have some fascinating new perspectives on the topic. I also want to give a huge thank you to the Mommy Bloggers who I’ve met over the last year, who have been so supportive of my writing and our blogs…and a special virtual hug for Karen, Lara, and Bethany, who gave me the guts to write this post.

FURTHER READING:

Check out Karen Wilson's blog, talking about the question-asking we all do when people are expected to take the 'next life step'.

Check out this post about the Kid-Free Twitter List, by @schumtzie here.

Part 2 to this post, published April 2012, here.

12 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you wrote this post.

    I would like to give you a gold start for not having children if you don't want children. It drives me nuts that people seem to think convincing someone they should have kids is a good idea.
    I wanted kids like nobody's business. It was my biggest desire in the world. And you know what? It's SO HARD! So if me, who wanted it more than anything, is all 'wah wah it's so hard', imagine how someone who did it because they felt they should and not because they wanted to would feel.
    Nobody who doesn't want kids should have kids and nobody should try to convince people who don't want kids that a) they should want them and that b) they'll change their minds (you'll see).
    That being said, I have a hard time not wondering if people are PLANNING on having kids - even though I know it's a tough question and generally don't ask any more. :)
    *GOLD STAR*!

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  2. I'm so very glad you wrote this. I met a couple a few years ago (right about the time we were trying to have a child) who said pretty much the same thing and I had so much respect for their decision. They since changed their mind, but you know what? That isn't going to be the story for a lot of people who don't want children and it shouldn't be a point of judgment. As I said in my post today, it is an intensely personal decision and you and Brian know yourselves better than anyone else.

    I nearly cried for you when you shared the story of the nurse. Those are hard words to hear when you've built up a positive expectation and attitude in your mind. That attitude is wrong and needs to stop.

    I have no doubt that you already make a very good mother figure to the kids you work with. We need people like you in the world to do the work that you do.

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  3. I really enjoyed this post.

    Children are NOT necessary. I respect everyone else's decision to have them but there are many, MANY reasons not to. Your decision NOT to have them should be equally respected!

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  4. I am a mom who totally understands the many reasons you would choose not to have children (and the many things I will probably miss out on because I do have a kid).

    And having a kid certainly doesn't shut people up - people started asking me way too early when we would have our second. I can't understand why it would be anyone's business.

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  5. Gold star for an amazing post! Far worse would be to have children for all the wrong reasons (ie pressure from others). Too many parents find themselves in that unfortunate situation and don't realize it till later. Kudos to you and Brian for sticking to your guns. And if folks give you grief, then you are perfectly entitled to dish it right back!

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  6. Like I said, start poking old people at funerals and tell them that 'they're next...' (off-coloured, but very freakin' funny!)

    AND i think it's way more important to know that you don't want to have kids than to have kids and wish your life was different. What you have there, my dear, sounds like a wonderfully solid sense of self. And that is something that earns you the BIGGEST GOLD STAR EVER!

    : )

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  7. Angele @ Shoebox-Be-GoneNovember 19, 2011 at 7:05 PM

    Gold start from me as well! As a mother of 2 (and possibly counting... who knows?) I applaud your decision to stick to your guns.

    ...and you could always answer with a question about the size, color & activity of their bowels ;) That'll shut them up! lol

    And Kudos for your writting - you're an execptional writter!

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  8. Awesome! Awesome! Awesome. Keep walking to the beat of your own drum. There is beauty in knowing what you want and standing tall in what you know is right for you. Have fun traveling, bloggin, writing and fulfilling all your dreams. It seems to me like you are doing a damn good job!!!

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  9. Actually you are not the minority, you are actually part of the majority now. I am thinking that the people who are asking you when you are going to start having babies are probably part of the baby boom group that think that your gold stars system is the truth. But in fact you would be wrong. With the population now at 7 billion people, there really isn't a need to keep populating the planet. People are getting married later or not even at all, focusing on careers and education that the nuclear family is very different form what it once was.

    so all in all I think you made the right choice not to have kids. We don't need any more people in this world. not to mention that the world is very different then it use to be. (drugs, shooting etc..)

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  10. Thanks for writing about this! It's amazing what just speaking your truth does - I agree with anonymous that there are more people making this choice these days but there is still some societal stigma attached to it so they may not speak up or voice their opinion very loudly. So thanks for this!

    I think being 100% comfortable with our decision makes it easier to speak up and was really thrilled to see this being offered:

    http://marianne-elliott.com/2011/10/maybe-baby/

    No matter what it's just good to know that there are others out there who understand these struggles and can relate!

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  11. I've been digging through your blog to find this post (it was alluded to in the recent Ottawa Citizen article). And the reason I was digging is to write that I support you and Brian to make this decision and voice it. The "gold star" thing is so true ... and it never ends. Have one child, and you won't get the gold star until the next one ... it's all ridiculous and intense at the same time. I commend anyone who has taken the time to seriously consider if they actually want children at all. I think many people are like sheep, just following along and doing what is expected of them.

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    1. Julie, thanks for the support! We've heard (confidentially) from a lot of women that after you birth that first kid, another is expected, or a different sex, etc etc etc...what a ton of pressure! We take children way too seriously around here to fall into a 'sheep' behaviour and produce one without serious self-reflection. :)

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