I am 35 years old, which means my fertility has officially begun its drastic decline.
Having children at this stage in my life is not impossible, but my chances of conceiving are drastically lower than they were in my 20s, with a higher likelihood of complications.
Technically speaking, however, this fact does not matter to me because my husband and I have made the decision to not have children.
The honest truth is that I’ve never envisioned myself being pregnant. I’ve never imagined myself as a mother.
It’s not something I became conscious of until my husband and I first began talking about whether or not children would be part of our future. We have these conversations regularly to check that we’re still on the same page and ensure that if one of our perspectives were to suddenly change, we’ve established the space to discuss the matter openly.
For the year or so after we were married in 2011, we were frequently presented with the landmine question, “When are you having kids?” There’s something about being newly married that makes people believe it’s perfectly acceptable to pose such questions during events like office Christmas parties and family reunions.
Whenever faced with this awkward query, my husband and I always shrugged it off as ambiguously as possible — “No plans.” The subject would invariably change, but it was always palpable — the puzzlement, the suspicion. She must be struggling to conceive, was the unspoken speculation, what other explanation could there be.
Apart from our short-lived status as newlyweds, we’ve fortunately been relatively free of the pressure to have kids. Neither of us comes from a religious background influencing our decision to procreate, nor has there gratefully ever been any expectation from either of our parents to provide them with grandchildren (though the fact that our siblings now all have kids probably played a role in devolving the notion).
We know it’s a privilege to be able to make the choice not to bear offspring…but it doesn’t mean we’re not quietly judged for it.
The culturally-held assumption that women aspire to motherhood is so strong, in fact, it’s hard not to attach a disclaimer to my response any time I’m asked for my opinion — “No plans…but you never know.”
I admit, part of it is me reserving my right to change my mind, because I’m aware that feelings can shift and situations evolve.
But there’s also always the truth of the fact that I’ve never imagined myself pregnant.
I’ll sometimes even conjure the image in my mind just to test how it feels, and know every time I do this with absolute certainty it isn’t me.
It isn’t me, and yet in a world that continues to elevate motherhood as a woman’s ultimate fulfillment, my disclaimer is less about sensitivity to change, and more about avoiding isolation. If I wholly profess to not wanting to be a mother, without the cautious caveat I’m careful to include, have I negated my role as a woman?
With my husband and I having been together almost 17 years now, the question of whether or not to have kids always remained safely in the future, some distant decision we’d eventually nail down in a far off time. The choice never felt urgent because we were always in agreement — “No plans…but you never know.”
Biologically speaking, at 35 and 37 years old, our window of opportunity is rapidly slamming shut. Which isn’t to say we still couldn’t try, if we were compelled.
It seems that conceiving in your 30s has, in fact, become the new norm. It doesn’t make it easy, granted—I know three women off the top of my head who endured the long, costly and emotionally turbulent journey of trying to conceive in their 30s. Each of them struggled, but in the end, their goals were achieved: they each, eventually, gave birth.
For so long, the question of whether to have kids remained a distant dilemma, but we are now crossing the threshold of finality. Our choice will soon become definitive, our dilemma a decision.
And guess what?
I am still okay with that.
There is only one time I can recall when I ever fully agonized over whether I did, in fact, want to be a mom. It was the same night my sister gave birth to my niece, her arrival in this world sparking the absolute depths of my love.
I was up late — my sister still recovering in the hospital, my mom asleep in the guest room below — scribbling page after page in my journal, questioning whether the sudden and profound love I felt for my niece was just a hint of the level of love I could potentially experience for my own child.
And in spite of falling asleep heavy with the gravity of those thoughts, when I woke the next morning, the confusion that had consumed me just hours before had fully subsided. It was as though the process of it had consolidated my decision — that it had enabled me to trust my choice.
So now I am 35, and my husband 37, and we have confidently made the decision to not have kids. We are comfortable with our choice, but there are a few things we can’t help but notice.
For one, the decision to not have kids is often seen as selfish. And while no one has outwardly accused us of being selfish, it’s hard not to ignore the unspoken sentiment of it. There exists the belief that people without kids have made their decision based on a preference to travel the world, advance their careers or simply watch their material wealth grow to Scrooge McDuck proportions.
It’s true that not having children improves our ability to travel and buy property and secure our retirement, but let’s really consider the fact that the cost of raising a child in the U.S. is currently estimated at more than $233 thousand dollars (source). Meanwhile, research suggests millennials will be the first generation to earn less than their parents (source). I know many parents would argue that you simply learn to adjust to the cost of raising kids — you make it work because you have to.
But what if you don’t want to? The vast majority of my husband’s and my income is consumed by a mortgage and bills, groceries and other living expenses. Is it truly selfish of us to not want to strain our finances beyond our abilities by having a child?
People seem to want to dismiss this argument altogether, arguing that the joy of having children far outweighs the financial burden, but in this modern climate of dwindling resources and increasing costs, and the fact that scientists are now reporting climate change could reach catastrophic levels by the year 2040 (source), the question of whether or not to have children requires some serious examination.
I’m not saying the potential for global destruction in the next 20ish years should necessarily supersede one’s decision to have children, but I would say it’s pretty important in this rapidly shifting environment to at least give some serious thought to our global footprint. With more than 7.53 billion people co-existing on the planet currently, it’s probably time to stop being unconcerned about adding to this number.
In terms of other assumptions, one of my biggest frustrations of the FUCK YOU variety is when someone with children tells me, “You’re only able to do that because you don’t have kids.”
This past winter I endured an unexpected traumatic injury to my foot that required me to be non-weight bearing — bedridden — for the better part of two months. When I finally had my cast off and began moving again (after what was a very dark and difficult period for me, emotionally), a friend with kids told me, “There’s no way you could’ve been off for that long if you had kids. If it were me, I’d have been walking again after a week.”
This same person has told me in the past that the only reason I have time for crafts or writing or to even just complete normal daily household chores is because I don’t have kids.
From how I understand it, my friend feels that she, too, could enjoy the life of leisure and extravagance I revel in (ha!) if only she weren’t constantly attending to the much more important responsibility of rearing children.
Her suggestion that not having kids makes me weak, or that being child-free is the only reason I’m able to be productive, is one of the most callous judgments I’ve encountered with respect to our choice to not have kids.
I know many, many people with children who have navigated situations more extreme than my injury, who craft and write and maintain an orderly household — who work demanding jobs and pursue unique hobbies and manage to make the space and time for self-care.
Case in point, my younger sister — mother to my three year-old niece. My niece is a major part of my sister’s life — and justifiably so, because my niece is amazing! This does not, however, prevent my sister from studying to be a registered holistic nutritionist, taking care of chickens, cultivating bees, dabbling in home brew and maintaining a virtually spotless household. My sister, in the throes of “threenager-dom” (facing off daily with a toddler who this very morning insisted on having a pickled pepper with breakfast, then left it untouched on her plate), is arguably more productive than child-free me.
You can absolutely have kids and still be productive, just as you can not have kids and be a lazy, wasting lump. So let’s just seriously shut the fuck up about who’s better, yeah?
One of the other beliefs about people who choose not to have kids is that it’s because they don’t like kids. This is a totally unfair assumption because it concludes there can’t possibly be any grey area: you can either love children by choosing to have them, or hate them by choosing to abstain from parenthood.
I’ve never understood why this case has to be presented in such extremes. I don’t hate kids. In fact, I’m pretty fond of them. I regularly pause my Facebook scrolling to watch cute kid videos (wasabi baby!), I will literally look at every picture you show me of your adorable offspring and respond with sincere enthusiasm and I adore my nieces and nephews more than I can elucidate with words.
I can’t help wonder if this assumption — that child-free adults must hate kids — is the result of some strategy of defence. Perhaps our not having kids is perceived as a challenge by those who do — troubling, uncomfortable, maybe even somewhat threatening — and so the “must hate kids” presumption helps solidify the position “we’re right, they’re wrong.”
Let’s be real: there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the question of having kids. It would be absurd for me to judge others for choosing parenthood — it’s the choice my parents made in having me, and I’m grateful it’s the one they chose.
Many of the people nearest and dearest to me are mothers and fathers, and I cherish the opportunity to glimpse into their roles as parents, to learn about their challenges and to celebrate their rewards.
I have serious respect for the work they do as parents. I also know their role as parents isn’t what defines them, just as my role to not be a mother isn’t what defines me.
My husband and I are pretty fortunate as far as our decision goes because, in spite of the quiet judgment we receive about our choice, we’ve never been emphatically told by anyone else that we’ll probably change our minds, that we’ll regret our decision or that we’ll never truly know what it means to love somebody else.
Beyond the fact that it is under no circumstances acceptable to tell another person how they should think, feel or behave, these types of responses — responses commonly received by people who choose to not have kids — tell people “there is a right way and a wrong way, and your way is the wrong way.”
And how does one even address the suggestion that our lives our virtually meaningless in the absence of children — that we couldn’t possibly be content or achieve anything as profound or truly know what it means to be human upon this earth (“Sorry, Oprah, you ain’t shit”).
We are still judged for our choice to not have kids, yes, but things are changing. Fertility rates in both Canada and the U.S. are reported to be dropping, while women are choosing to conceive later in life.
In a mental survey of friends, family and acquaintances, I can literally think of as many people who have chosen to have kids as those I can think of who haven’t.
People are finally beginning to talk about the question of whether or not to have kids, laying the foundation for a candid, honest dialogue, enriching our understanding that it’s not a simple matter of yes or no, right or wrong.
And that’s a good thing. It’s a start, at least.