I think it’s the bravest thing not to have a child; all my friends and I felt pressurized into having kids, because that’s what adults do.
When I read that the singer Adele said this to Vanity Fair the other day, I immediately dusted off the weary eye-roll that I reserve for mothers who espouse childfree living.
I wish I could do whatever the fuck I wanted, whenever I want. Every single day I feel like that.
Most mothers I know feel a version of this: a desire for space and freedom, a hankering for time alone, which can be hard for many childless-not-by-choice people to comprehend. (Adele’s is also an assumption that if you don’t have kids you’re not subject to the normal strictures and constraints of a normal working life, but hey).
The interview ends in the way I expected it would: she goes on to say that because of the love she feels for her son:
I don’t care if I don’t ever get to do anything for myself again.
Contradictory, a bit? I get it: it’s complicated. But she got me thinking. Not having a child is one of the bravest things an adult can do in the society we live in. I know that because I wasn’t made of strong enough stuff to make the decision on my own.
Sari Botton wrote a piece (click on image above) about how she fell into fertility treatment despite feeling decidedly ambivalent about babies. Whilst contemplating $15,000 IVF, she visits a newborn relative and feels a visceral aversion towards him. She is ashamed of her feelings and fears judgement, yet she continues with her infertility investigations and discovers she has adenomyosis. She says:
Some part of me expected to fall apart when I heard those words. Instead, I felt myself relax. It was as if I had been granted a reprieve from some difficult, looming test, like the SAT.
I felt a bit like this when I discovered I had endometriosis. I felt relief that I wouldn’t have to push the hormone treatments too far: I had a valid Do Not Pass Go card in the form of a disease that officially and unequivocally puts the skids under IVF success rates. I felt tragically unlucky….and lucky, a bit. Botton says:
Deep down I didn’t want to have children, but I kept limping toward motherhood anyway, because I thought I should want them until, in the end, my anatomy dictated my destiny.
Personally, I don’t know whether I really didn’t want to have children, or whether life experiences and skewed emotions had conspired to lock me in a state of denial and self-preservation. But like Botton, I arrived at not having children “in just about the most cowardly way”: I let fate decide for me. Why couldn’t I decide for myself?
I haven’t quite embraced childfree-living the way Botton has. But it’s definitely getting to be my normal.
I wish it hadn’t taken a serious medical condition for me to feel permitted to embrace not wanting children. I hope that in future generations, more women will feel free to be childless without feeling they need a doctor’s note.
Me too, me too.
I hope that in future generations, more women (both ambivalent and non-ambivalent) who can’t have children will be able to say no to often hopeless treatment, easy in the knowledge that they will be as ordinary and accepted in this world as mothers are.