Just before I turned forty last year, I was having a catch up/gossip with an acquaintance when the topic of kids came up. When are you going to get round to having kids, she said, as if having kids was a chore I’d just forgotten to do (note to self: pick up the dry cleaning, clean the bathroom, cut my toenails, have kids…). She was herself a mother of three, a year younger than me, and her permanently knackered facial expression and relentless schedule of kids’ clubs and homework duties, on top of the usual family dramas and domestics, had not really sold me on procreation. When I told her I had decided not to have children, there was a sharp intake of breath (you would have thought I’d told her there had been a world-wide shortage of avocado #middleclassissues), her eyes went wide with shock and she patronisingly purred, “But if you don’t have kids, you will have no legacy”. No legacy?! I was absolutely fuming.
What did that even mean? If I die without having had kids then my life has been worthless, was that it? I couldn’t believe I was hearing such a statement in 2017. I don’t need to give birth to a child to validate my existence. That’s a ridiculous notion. I don’t judge people for choosing to have children so I don’t understand why I am sometimes judged for choosing not to have them. All women are different and have the right to choose how they live their lives. To be viewed with pity and perceived as lacking because I haven’t chosen the same life path as those who want to be mothers is deeply offensive.
In my twenties and early thirties when asked if I wanted kids then I felt I had to say yes for fear of putting off potential suitors or being viewed as odd. For me, it was always a ‘One day’ situation. Something I would probably do one day. Like learning to drive. Getting my eyes lasered. Climbing Everest. It was a bucket list option that always remained a hypothetical. Surprisingly, I was quite broody when I was a teenager and I liked the idea of kids, even having a list of baby names I selected (Ava and Freya for girls, Ethan and Alexander for boys) but the reality never really appealed to be honest, and certainly not the older I got. If you feel ambivalent about starting a family then it’s probably something that you shouldn’t do. Nor should you do it just because everyone else is. Having kids was discussed a few times with my ex-husband and boyfriends over the years but I think they all knew my heart wasn’t in it. It’s just not for me. I have been accused of being selfish for not wanting kids but that’s not entirely fair – if anything, having kids is a responsibility that I took so seriously I probably over-thought it. Never really felt comfortable adding to the world’s population when there are already so many kids out there who are in need of a safe, secure, loving home. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll feel differently about raising a child and adopt.
I did actually have a close shave with motherhood in my late twenties. Being a conscientious soul, I took my contraceptive pill daily from the age of sixteen, without fail, until, well, one day I failed. I was going away for the weekend with an ex-boyfriend I now affectionately call sh*tbag (a moniker completely deserved due to his repeated cheating and pathological lies – this guy would tell you black was white and make you believe it). I was meant to collect my prescription from the local chemist before we left but in all the excitement, it slipped my mind. As I had been on the pill for years, we took the risk. A few weeks later, I felt weird. My mum told me she knew she was pregnant with me early on as she experienced symptoms immediately and I was experiencing the same things: morning nausea, a metallic taste in the mouth, fatigue etc. Panic-stricken, I booked a doctor’s appointment. We worked out the dates of my cycle and as I’d been at my most fertile during the weekend away, she agreed that it appeared likely that I was in the early stages of pregnancy but it was too early to do a test. Sh*tbag’s face when I told him was priceless. We had to wait to see if my period arrived on time and if not, we had to do a test in ten days time. He mumbled something about supporting any decision I made, speedily exited and then went AWOL, not responding to texts or phone calls until I let him know my period arrived a few days late, that it had arrived and we were in the clear but our relationship was obviously over. When I spoke to the doctor again, she explained what a chemical pregnancy was to me and that the pregnancy just hadn’t taken. Although relieved about the lucky escape – I would have had to think about whether I should continue with the pregnancy given my poor financial situation post-divorce and the unreliable potential father – I felt the loss of what might have been and cried. Had the pregnancy proceeded, the child would have been eleven now and I cannot imagine how differently my life – and I – would be with that little person in it. It is what it is. Nature took its course and it was not the right situation anyway.
Not all people who choose not to have kids dislike them. I like kids very much. I enjoy their energy, their inquisitiveness, their innocence and honesty. I have nieces (pic is an oldie of me with my niece Libby) and nephews who I have loved spending time with and could not be more pleased for friends as I watch them start or expand their families. Having a child is a truly amazing and beautiful thing. Just don’t judge me for wanting my life to go in a different direction. My legacy lies with the students I’ve taught, the memories I’ve formed with family and friends, and my writing.
Take care, Lisa.