How does it feel to become childless? One afternoon in my mid-30s, I was in the office of a worried-looking endocrinologist. “I have to talk to you about your family plans,” he said. “There’s no easy way to say this.”
He told me my thyroid didn’t work properly, and that my options for having a child would be complicated, expensive, and possibly fruitless. All the while, he scanned my face for signs of an impending breakdown that never arrived.
I found the diagnosis comforting. I’ve always known I didn’t want children, and I’ve always been told that I’d change my mind — that I just had to meet the right person, that it was something I’d regret one day.
Some people accused me of being selfish; some even suggested that I should have a baby and trust that my mothering instincts would kick in.
The news from the endocrinologist was an affirmation. It turned out that “I can’t” was the retort I didn’t know I needed.
I’m more than fine when being childless
I’m the last in a line of women who didn’t want to be mothers. Even my own mother would agree that having children wasn’t part of her original life plan. “I never wanted kids,” she often said. “But I guess I’ll keep you!”
She’d laugh when she said it, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t true. There were three reasons she agreed to have kids. Two of them were because my father promised they’d both keep their jobs and that they’d be a team.
Her mother hated having kids. She was abusive and generally terrible at it, and I remember my father’s mother being mostly indifferent. Ultimately, my father wasn’t much for parenting either. He left when I was about 5 years old.
Some people become parents not because they want to, but because they have to.
My grandmothers had children because that was just what was done. My mother, a brilliant computer programmer, got stuck with it. When my father left, she tried to make the best of it and hired people to help until we couldn’t afford it anymore. I was 9 years old when I learned to do grocery shopping. I always knew I wanted a different kind of life, and I chose accordingly.
My mother had an abortion and had no regrets about it
My mother made choices, too. Before she had children, she chose to have an abortion. She’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that she’s never regretted it, and that being able to choose when to have children was the third reason she agreed to do it at all. While her mid-1960s abortion was illegal in the US, the availability of abortions has always been about where and who you are.
It’s now 2021, and people are trying to take away access to abortion care. There’s SB 8 in Texas and more than a dozen laws in progress in other states, as well as the looming threat of a Roe v. Wade reversal. Like it always has, this legislation will mostly affect people already critically underserved by healthcare.
None of it will stop people from choosing not to have children. People have been doing that for as long as they’ve been getting pregnant.
I’m child-free because I chose to be, and my life is wonderfully full of all the things I hoped I’d have. I want that choice to be there for everyone. Maybe being child-free is a rest stop, or maybe it’s your destination. Either way, parenting isn’t for everyone, and it shouldn’t have to be.