Saturday, I took my six-year-old niece for a birthday mani-pedi, then lunch. And we spent the rest of the afternoon playing Just Dance on the Wii with her sister and brother (They thought they could out-dance me. Ha!). I love spending time with them, just as I’m enjoying helping my stepson navigate through life after high school and gossiping with my stepdaughter on the phone. These are my kids. I will never have biological children of my own–by choice.
I have a secret to share. I am a woman of child-bearing age who has no desire to have a biological child. This is not such a secret to those closest to me; It is certainly no secret to my husband. But I rarely discuss my lack of desire to reproduce with others, particularly other women, because their reaction is always the same. Take this exchange with a friend of a friend at a girls’ night out some years ago:
She: When are you going to have kids?
Me: I have kids. I have two stepchildren.
She: But when are you going to have your own kids?
Me: (I thinking my stepchildren, whom I love, are my own kids, but…) I’m not.
She: (in horror) Why!?
Me: I never really have had the desire to have children.
She: Is it because you think you can’t have children? Because it took my husband and I a while to conceive and…
Me: No. I have no reason to think I can’t have kids.
She: (pausing, staring at me quizzically) Well, my daughter is the best thing that ever happened to me. I love her more than anything. You just don’t know what love is like until you become a mother.
When I say that I do not want to bear children, it is not because I don’t like them. When my nieces and nephews were babies, I loved to pick up their chubby little bodies, smell their baby smells and make them laugh. I read the Alex Rider teen spy series with my oldest nephew. And I’ve had numerous girls’ days with my nieces. I aspire to one day be one of those eccentric, well-loved Auntie Mame-type characters.
I love my stepchildren, who I think of as my own. I’ve been a significant part of their lives since I met their dad when they were 6 and 10. My son has lived with us since he was 13. My home is his home and my daughter is similarly welcome here, though she’s all grown up and living on her own now. I have helped with homework; ferried kids to summer camps and baseball practice; nursed them through sickness; laughed and cried. So, when I say that I do not want to bear children, it is not because I am afraid of the hard work, as one friend has subtly suggested. This friend once thought that child-free married adults were “selfish,” but now that she has her own children, she says she understands. “Being a parent is hard work.” But the implication is that all adults without biological children are living hedonist, responsibility-free lives of leisure that we cannot bear to interrupt. That is generally not the case, even for child-free adults who have little to no contact with or responsibility for children.
When I say that I do not want to bear children, it is not because I do not understand the importance of being a parent. How can you deny the magnitude of being charged with molding a new life into a conscious and caring citizen of the world? I reject that parenthood is the most important job one can have, or the only job that matters. In particular, many people advance that a woman’s life without children is meaningless. But would Joan of Arc or Mother Teresa or Harriet Tubman have been better women, more a service to the world, had they bore children? Certainly, though, being a parent is one of the heaviest responsibilities one can undertake.
When I say that I do not want to bear children, it is because though I like children, I have never yearned for them. I have never felt that my life would be incomplete without them. I don’t desire to know what pregnancy is like. And I don’t believe the only way you can have a significant role in a child’s life is through biology. I can explain it no better than that. It seems very simple to me. But to some people I encounter, the idea that I can choose not to have biological children is foreign and either insulting, a mistake or proof of some fatal flaw in my character.