An old man rode up to our deli counter in one of the store’s electric scooter carts. I felt my liberal bleeding heart cringe at the sight of the “Trump 2020 Keep America Great” cap perched atop his head, but that didn’t stop me from giving the polite customer service I would give to anyone else. I sliced the cheese he kindly requested and gave it to him.
“Anything else I can get for you?” I said with the customer service voice that’s been perfected from a near decade’s worth of retail experience.
“Thanks, baby!” he said, my body tensing at being referred to as “baby”. “Hey, are you married?”
He caught me off guard with the question and my natural reaction was to answer.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Oh, do you have children?”
Every quarter I get re-trained on how to deal with active shooter situations and workplace violence, but not how I should deal with a customer simply asking seemingly innocent yet extremely personal questions that make me uncomfortable. In another universe, there’s a sassier, braver, and wittier version of me that would have told him off with a lie like “Sorry, but I like anal too much” or “My wife doesn’t have a dick to get me pregnant with”. In this universe, I’m like a Raspberry Bismarck of social anxiety and fears about getting pulled into the office so instead I said this brilliant answer:
“Oh…um…not yet.” Fucking genius!
Without missing a beat, he cheerfully suggested, “Well, you should get on that!” before wheeling off in the electric cart with his half pound of white sharp cheddar.
…Jesus fucking Christ. No, Sir Boomer, I will not be getting on that because I’m never having children.
Now I didn’t suddenly wake up one day and said, “I’m not having children! Fuck that shit!” It’s something I’ve always felt. Maybe I thought about having them in the sense that it was expected of me to eventually settle down and rear children (especially when my last boyfriend expected me to be a mother to his existing son and have more children with him), but honestly I didn’t want them. When I was little, other girls my age wanted to pretend they were mommies and play with baby dolls that cried and wet themselves and I simply didn’t get it. By the time those same girls were upgrading to the real thing, I still didn’t understand the appeal of child bearing. I never grew out of those feelings and my experiences taking care of two brothers with varying degrees of autism, living with an abusive mother, and watching the struggles my friends with kids dealt with only intensified those feelings. Sometimes the desire to have children is described like a switch that’s either already turned on or just needs to flip on and, at almost 33, I’m sure mine was never installed to begin.
These feelings weren’t called into question until I got engaged to the man I’ve been married to for almost six and half years. We were barely in the planning phases of our wedding and people were inquiring about when we were having children—not “if”, but “when”. It should be noted that I was always asked about this, but my husband hardly ever got this question and we were together in the same place when he did because no one gives a shit about men having children.
I imagine these people expected that we had a time frame picked out on when I’d pop out a few children or maybe even a recent ultrasound image tucked away in my non-existent purse to show off on a moment’s notice. Except I didn’t have the answer they were expecting. In fact, one of the reasons why I agreed to marry him was that he didn’t want children either. We did discuss the pros and cons of it and we only could come up with horribly selfish and incredibly stupid reasons for having children: a big tax return, getting to name something, and dressing them up in cute costumes.
“We’re not having children,” I’d say. I thought the women who were asking would understand as most of them were mothers and would get that parenting wasn’t for everybody, but very few were accepting of the fact that I didn’t want to be a mother. I’d get responses like “Oh, you’re still young enough to change your mind”, “You’ll change your mind”, “Never say never”, “Its different when it’s your own!”, and other responses that suggested that my non-existent maternal switch would magically flip on one day and I’ll be crazy for babies.
Other women have tried convincing me they used to be just like me until they took an embryo to the uterine lining. I highly doubt any of them had tokophobia (on top of depression, anxiety, and Asperger’s) that brings on horrific nightmares about being pregnant, sensory issues with children screaming or crying, a stockpile of Plan B just in case a regular birth control pill is missed due to human error, and a plan to abort if the oral contraceptives and condoms fail. If they were exactly like me, they wouldn’t have had children.
One person at work kept half-jokingly calling me a baby hater. I don’t hate children. I just don’t want children of my own. Think of it like getting a puppy: they’re cute and adorable, but too many people get one without considering that there’s a lot of responsibility in taking care of one and that they’re going to get bigger.
“It’s different when it’s your own.” No shit! When you’ve decided you had enough of them for one day, you can’t give them back to their parents because you’re the parent.
“You don’t know what you’re missing out on”. I know myself enough to know that I would likely be miserable and that my on-going mental health issues would be exasperated by having children. You don’t always have to personally experience something to know you’re not going to enjoy it. Some people hate sushi despite never trying it because they can’t stand the idea of eating raw fish or seaweed, but if they do decide to try it and find they still hate it then they’re not stuck with eating it. If you have children when you don’t want them and find you hate it after having them, you’re kind of stuck with them.
“You won’t know what true love is until you have children”. I’m perfectly fine with that. I’m not okay with creating a human being just to have something that will love me unconditionally instead of actually wanting that child.
“One day you’ll get bored with the concerts and travel…” Even if I somehow do, that’s when I’ll find a new hobby. What a stupid and selfish idea to have a child I do not want and feel I wouldn’t care for just because I need some entertainment.
Thankfully, I haven’t been told that not having children makes me selfish or irresponsible like other child-free women have. Selfish is defined as “lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure”. Realizing you don’t want children and would be unable to properly care for them isn’t selfish because you’re considering the feelings of the hypothetical child and how that child would be affected. Actively preventing pregnancy so you don’t give birth to an unwanted child that wouldn’t be cared for is a responsible thing to do. What would be selfish is deciding to have a child just to see what the fuss is about, to give you a purpose, to fill a personal void, or a massive tax return.
It kind of baffles me that humans have existed on this planet for 6 million years, according to Google, and we somehow still have a good chunk of people who are shocked at the notion that a woman wouldn’t want children. We still have people who view women as if they are nothing more than incubators whose worth is defined by her uterus lining being implanted with fertilized eggs. The world acts like pregnancy is the best thing a woman can experience and that it is the ultimate bringer of joy. It’s 2020: Isn’t it about damn time we stop pretending that children are these magical creatures that bring eternal happiness to everyone and just accept that not all women are going to find having them rewarding?