It is a strong belief in most cultures that women only become truly fulfilled in life once they become mothers and that it is unnatural, even shameful, to be childless, whether by choice or otherwise. This is an idea that is further perpetuated by the media as women are widely depicted as these innately nurturing, motherly creatures with no other dimension.
I’ve grown up with the impression that all women should eventually desire to experience pregnancy, have babies, and choose the path of parenthood. It is expected that being born a female, I would eventually use my womb to nurture another living being and embrace that part of my genetic destiny.
This is fine in itself if you fit into that category and find yourself wanting biological children of your own, your own mini-me if you will, but I found myself questioning, what if you don’t?
I am a woman and I have made the conscious choice not to have my own children. This is a big statement that I feel raises many questions that need to be addressed.
It’s not that I necessarily dislike children (I actually think they’re adorable). I have just never felt the desire to have a baby or be a mother. I like the idea of being a mother with all the love, sacrifice, and nurturing involved, but I feel I cannot personally commit to rearing a tiny living human of my own with all the immense responsibilities that come with it.
So where does this leave me?
Amongst my reasons for not wanting children, I believe many of them are practical and based on personal health grounds. Firstly, I was born with a congenital birth defect and also have a mental illness upon which many studies have shown both have hereditary genetic components. This means that my children may inherit the same physical and psychological struggles I have had, which I think, although has given me strength and made me the person I am today, would also mean that I knowingly risked putting my children through physical pain and mental suffering. To me, this feels like an unreasonable gamble on the lives of my unborn children just to allow me my chance at being a mother, especially when all I would want is the very best that I could give them in life. I honestly do not know if I could look after a mini-me as I am still learning to take care of myself.
A personal risk for me would involve the pregnancy itself. I take various medications for my mental illness which I would have to cease upon conceiving a child. This could lead to psychological instability and at worst case scenario, potential suicide risks. I know that this is a rather black and white depiction of possibilities, but to bring a child into the world it would be important to me to assess all the risks and educate myself on the realistic possibilities, because it’s not just me that would be affected.
My mental illness limits me in many ways, and in knowing my limits, I believe I do not have the full capacity to be the parent I would need and want to be. A mentally ill parent is a difficult thing. I’ve mentioned my own personal barriers, but I want to clarify that people with mental illness can be extraordinary parents. We have the ability to see the world in all its different shades and have a deep understanding that only those who have suffered and struggled truly know. We are able to provide our own unique perspectives based on our experiences and allow children to understand the wonderful differences that can make up humanity.
I have often been asked, “But what if your partner wants kids?” My answer is, that my partner’s desire for children should not be my primary reason for actually having children and is actually not enough of a reason to have children. I have to want children to have children. Children need to be loved unconditionally, so if we can’t both meet that bar then we have no business being there. I was extremely transparent on my childless stance with my current long-term partner when we started dating as I felt it was important to set expectations right at the outset. If he wanted to continue being with me, he would know that biological children wouldn’t be on the cards, but I also made it clear that pets, plants, and maybe even the possibility of adopting children could be discussed in the future.
The most common judgement I have received about choosing childlessness is being told that I am selfish for not wanting children or that I will regret it once I’m older. I don’t think it is necessarily selfish. I think in many ways it is actually more selfish to have children when you don’t want them or are unable to care for them. It is not selfish to want autonomy over your own body. It is not selfish to recognise that you are unable or unwilling to bear the responsibility of a child.
Choosing to not have children is a very personal, conscious choice, but because it seems to fly in the face of acceptable cultural norms it is also a controversial choice.
I believe that everyone, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, should have the ability to make the conscious choice to have children, and to not have children. Whether that be their own biological child or by adopting, if you are sure that you have the immense love and commitment inside of you to share the rest of your life with a child and to help them find their path in this confusing world, then you should be able to make that choice. It is a courageous endeavour and I imagine, a wonderful adventure awaiting you both.
All women are equal, and all men are too, which is what feminism is all about, right? It’s okay to break away from the mould if you find you don’t quite fit. You don’t have to have your own children to be fulfilled in life. It is the path that many take, but we don’t all have to. I am not less of a woman for refusing to have children of my own. I have found a myriad of ways to be a “mother” on my own terms.
I should mention that I am soon to be the loving parent of two cats (to be adopted from our local shelter in June 2017). My partner and I are more than excited after making this decision together to adopt, and we believe that we will be the best parents to our cats and give them a warm and loving forever home. So I am/will be a “mother” to my cats, my house plants, and even to my little worms in my compost.
I am certain of my choice in not wanting my own children and am even considering permanent sterilisation in order to match my values. For females, it is known as tubal ligation or “getting your tubes tied”. I am not sure what the process/barriers are here in Australia. Stay posted for updates as I need to discuss options with my doctor at my next checkup.
Thanks for reading.