It’s tough picking a word to describe our state. Childless implies something’s missing. Childfree implies some kind of antagonism towards children — that you think they’re something bad that you need to be free of. I met someone online who refers to himself as a non-parent, and I like that term. It’s not loaded with hidden meaning. It just is what it is.
Anyway, certain people have made it clear that they don’t approve of our non-parenthood. Infertility is not seen as an excuse. They ask if I’ve sought treatment, tried IVF, taken medication that stimulates ovulation, considered a surrogate. They ask why we haven’t adopted. They tell me all the reasons we should do these things. Check out a childfree bingo card — I’ve heard it all. They’ve told me that when my husband and I are old and alone we’ll have regrets. They’ve said that you don’t truly become an adult or learn true love or selflessness until you become a mother. One woman who had adopted children said to me, “I don’t know how anyone can be so selfish as to not make room in their life for children who need a home!” (Yeah, we’re not friends anymore.)
Oddly enough, people never direct these questions and comments at my husband. It’s always at me. My mother-in-law got me alone one day to have a chat with me about the situation. She told me that my husband had always told her he wanted three children, insinuating that I must be solely responsible for his dream not coming true. (I later asked him about this, and he told me he’d said that when he was about 15, and like a lot of things people think and say when they’re teenagers, he no longer felt that way.)
Thankfully, my own mother understands and doesn’t pressure me, but I know it causes her pain that she will never be a grandmother (I’m her only child), especially when her friends brag and whip out their photos of their grandkids, or worse yet, actually ask her if I’ve made her a grandmother yet. I would have expected people to stop asking by now (I’m 42), but they haven’t.
And meeting new people is hard because of the questions. Even though I admit that it’s completely appropriate to ask someone, “Do you have kids?” I feel awkward when people ask it. It gets even worse when I encounter someone who’s particularly nosy and asks follow-up questions. I have had awkward conversations with people like this:
Do you have kids?
No, no kids.
Are you planning to have kids?
No, no plans.
Why not? Don’t you like kids?
It’s not that I don’t like kids. I’m infertile. I haven’t been able to conceive.
Oh, so you do want kids, but you can’t have them?
No, I don’t want kids.
Oh… [Puzzled look.]
Part of the problem, of course, is that I’m not good at explaining when put on the spot. And when it comes to procreation there are three positions most people seem to understand, even if they don’t approve:
1. Want kids and have them.
2. Want kids, can’t have them, and feel sad about it.
3. Don’t want kids and choose not to have them by using contraception (or abstinence, or abortion).
It seems like no one’s ever heard of infertile and okay with it.
And I know from things people have said and from reading comments online what many people assume about people who don’t want kids: We’re selfish, self-centered, lazy, cold, unloving, immature. So being asked, “Don’t you like kids?” is extremely anxiety-inducing, especially when I’ve just met someone and I know they’re forming their first opinions about me.
I wouldn’t know how to answer it even if it weren’t such a loaded question. I’m not even sure how to define my feelings in a short sound bite appropriate for a first meeting. I mean, I like kids as much as I like any other humans, I guess. I wish them well. I want the best for them. I want them to be happy and well. I’m horrified at the thought of abuse in any form. But do I want to mother them? No. Do I want to be around them? I know it sounds horrible to say, but no. No I don’t. I don’t actively dislike kids, but I’m not good with them and the desire to be around them is just not there. Should I tell people all this? Isn’t it a lot of information to tell people you’ve just met? And why should I be put in a position to have to bare my soul with people right away?
If I could only figure out what to say, I might feel differently, but every option I can think of seems like a bad idea in some way. I don’t want to come across as annoyed or defensive. I don’t want to give out too much information to people I’ve just met. I don’t want to be dishonest. I don’t want to encourage undesirable treatment from people (like if I say I like kids, the next thing I know, I’m being asked to babysit or teach Sunday School, which I definitely do not want — or if I say I don’t like kids, I get ostracized or criticized).
Someone told me once that since I’ve chosen an unusual path in life I have to expect people to ask questions. That it just comes with the territory. I can understand that to a point, but that doesn’t make it any easier for me.
In spite of my concerns about the correct way to respond, I’m also aware that no matter what choices you make in life, especially when it comes to things like procreation, someone’s going to have a negative opinion about it. I’ve seen people get judged for being stay-at-home moms, being working moms, having too many kids, not having enough kids, having kids too young, having kids too old, having kids while poor, and even waiting to get out of poverty before having kids (“There’s never a right time, you just have to do it!” they’re told). My own mom was given a hard time for only having one, despite the fact that she wanted more and endured miscarriage after miscarriage after miscarriage. It’s crazy. So I’ve come to the conclusion that if I’m going to be judged for something anyway, I might as well be judged for doing what I want to do, and doing the thing that’s actually right for me and my husband.
I don’t really understand why some people are so interested, to be honest. It has never occurred to me to judge anyone else about the choices they make when it comes to procreation. But then, I already know that the way I think is not typical.