I never wanted to have children. The thought, genuinely and honestly, has never crossed my mind throughout childhood, adolescence, and into my early 20s. As a little girl growing up in a middle-class household with a sister that was twelve years older than me, and parents that eventually divorced, I loved playing house and playing pretend. But I never wanted to be the mom. I was always the little sister, forcing my friends to either be an older sibling or the parent. When I played with my Barbies, most of the scenarios consisted of a large clan of orphaned sisters who had boyfriends and took care of each other. In high school, I fell hopelessly in love with a boy I met my freshman year. He was my best friend before he was my boyfriend, and embarrassing journal entries from the time reveal how I thought he was “the one.” But it’s hard to decipher in those journal entries what “the one” even meant to me at that age. I never mentioned marriage or kids. I only talked about how we would just be together forever. My 16-year-old heart just “felt” it.
When I was in college, I didn’t think about starting a family after I finished school. (When I was in college, I could barely wrap my brain around the fact that I had to choose a major and eventually get a grown-up job). I never day dreamed about one day marrying the man I had been with since I was 15, moving to the country, and popping out six kids. Those thoughts literally never entered my head. The main thoughts in my head at the time were “Wait what?! That’s how much I owe the government for 4 years of private school education?” and “Where am I going to move so I don’t have to live in my hometown?” When I was in my early 20s I was immature (like most people, probably… right?) and I accidentally got pregnant. I knew right away that there was no way in hell I was going to let something grow inside of me, and then be forced to love it and take care of it for the rest of my life, so I got an abortion. There was no remorse or regret, and if I’m being totally honest I’ve maybe thought about it three times since it’s happened. I am now 27 years old, and having children is still not on my list of things to do in life
I’ve started to feel some sort of phantom pressure from somewhere unknown. And by phantom pressure and unknown, I mean, it’s not unknown at all. I’m pretty sure that all of sudden, this pressure is coming from myself.
But, here is where things start to get tricky. Until now, I have never felt any pressure to want a family. My mom stopped making jokes about grandchildren years ago. My dad worries about my financial future, but has never asked me if children are in the cards. My grandma asks me when I’m going to marry my boyfriend every time I see her, and my aunt once thought she heard a rumor that I was engaged and was upset that I didn’t tell her. That is the extent of the outside pressure that I have felt in recent years. I think I’m probably really lucky. I’m a young woman in my 20s who doesn’t want kids, and there’s no one close to me telling me that I’ll change my mind eventually. (But now that I’m really thinking about it, no one tells me I’ll change my mind because for a while I was pretty aggressive with my “No Babies” campaign, scaring everyone I knew into never mentioning it again.) But guess what? I’ve started to feel some sort of phantom pressure from somewhere unknown. And by phantom pressure and unknown, I mean, it’s not unknown at all. I’m pretty sure that all of sudden, this pressure is coming from myself. I seek out and read articles about young women just like me who don’t want to have kids. I’ve put a book of short stories about authors who haven’t had children on my reading list. I constantly talk about how I DON’T WANT KIDS to my friends, my family, and my boyfriend. Then, when I’m alone, I struggle with feelings of womanhood and goals and legacy and nurturing and nesting and the love of my cat (how do I love her so much??) and the love of my house plants and my future career (when will it even start?) and what this all means!
The thoughts that plague me the most, are the ones that creep into my brain-closet when I’m driving in my car by myself. I find myself wondering if my life will be fulfilling without children. Who will remember me? And for that matter, who will take care of me when I’m old? Will I ever experience the type of unconditional love that my mother has given me? Will my partner be ok with this life choice? Would my kids be cute? (That last one is just pure curiosity). I wonder if I can truly call myself a champion of women if I will never experience one of the aspects of womanhood that so deeply differentiates us from men? I close my eyes really hard, (figuratively, not literally while I’m driving, you guys!) and I try to picture future Melanie with future babies. And to no one’s surprise, I still can’t do it! So then I circle back around and try to tell myself that of course my life without children will be fulfilling. When my closest girl friends start to have kids, I will get to experience that type of love through the women that I care about the most in this life. What could be better right?
I’ve already started to experience that crazy, deep-down, weepy sort of love this past year. One of the women that I have most looked up to since I was just a bumbling pre-teen, had a baby. She’s raising him on her own, and I have never met a child/baby that I love more (even my own niece and nephew you guys!). It seriously freaked me out at first. I went running to my mom and was like “Why do I love this baby that can’t do anything?? He just poops, and sleeps, and eats, and its awful!” And my mom, the smart lady that she is, told me that I love him so much because I love his mom so much. What? That happens?? I guess to most that isn’t a revolutionary thought, but it wasn’t an emotion I had ever experienced before (and emotions are terrifying, ok?).
It has taken me a long time to realize that I can not want to have children, but also wonder what my life would be like if I did. Those two thoughts and feelings can exist in my brain together. No one has ever told me that before.
Having children or not having children may not seem like a hot button issue but it is because there are plenty of people who try to legislate our bodies. It’s an issue because the pressure exists for so many young women. Maybe there are a lot of women who have never even considered the idea of going through life without having a family; they never knew they had a choice. There are plenty of women who confidently defy societal pressures, never second-guessing themselves, and that absolutely rules. I struggle with even writing an essay like this because I make the issue seem like such a big deal, and I think it would be cool if people would just let ladies do what they want, no pressure or judgment. Why do we even have to talk about this anymore? It’s so exhausting, right? But then I’m reminded that the decision to have kids IS a big deal. Your life changes forever. It will never be the same once you decide to bring another HUMAN BEING into the world. It’s a decision that requires preparation, and a great amount of certainty. (Sometimes I wonder if society makes light of child bearing and child rearing, like, “Hey! Its no big deal!”) It has taken me a long time to realize that I can not want to have children, but also wonder what my life would be like if I did. Those two thoughts and feelings can exist in my brain together. No one has ever told me that before. It’s ok that I think critically about this choice because it’s my body, and my life. It’s ok to be selfish. And I’m totally ok with the fact that some people think my decision is selfish. (I’m not ok when people tell me that I’m still too young to know… It’s happened to me recently, and I’m pretty sure I’m right on the cusp of prime child birthing years, so like, I’m not too young to decide.) It doesn’t have to be a big deal if you don’t want it to be a big deal, but sometimes it is and that’s fine too.
And now a playlist that comforts me in my most #NEVERKIDS moments (you can find this on my boyfriend’s Spotify which he so graciously lets me mooch), or for all you tech savvy people, click here.
1. “Young Hearts Run Free”- Candi Staton
2. “One of the Guys”- Jenny Lewis*
3. “Ode to Billie Joe”- Bobbie Gentry
4. “Kids”- Diarrhea Planet
5. “Embody”- Frankie Cosmos
6. “Thrash Unreal”- Against Me!*
7. “Young Turks”- Rod Stewart
8. “One’s on the Way”- Loretta Lynn
9. “Modern Girl”- Sleater-Kinney
10. “You Can Call Me Al”- Paul Simon
11. “Teach Your Children”- Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
12. “Hunger Strike”- Temple of the Dog
13. “That’s Not Me”- The Beach Boys
14. “Wildflowers”- Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris
15. “Wide Open Spaces”- The Dixie Chicks
16. “Babyhead”- Diarrhea Planet
17. “The Pill”- Loretta Lynn
18. “Sixpack”- Jeff the Brotherhood
19. “9 to 5”- Dolly Parton
20. “Poison”- Waxahatchee
21. “Feelin Single, Seein Double”- Emmylou Harris
22. “Serious Things Are Stupid”- Cayetana
23. “Wild Heart”- Stevie Nicks
24. “Before the Deluge”- Jackson Browne
*Suggested by the always wonderful and intelligent Erin Moore