Twelve years ago, I penned an essay for a Salon series called “To Breed or Not to Breed,” about the decision to have children or not. It began this way: “When I tell people that I’m 27, happily married and that I don’t think I ever want children, they respond one of two ways. Most of the time they smile patronizingly and say, ‘You’ll change your mind.’ Sometimes they do me the favor of taking me seriously, in which case they warn, ‘You’ll regret it.’” The series inspired an anthology titled Maybe Baby. It was divided into three parts: “No Thanks, Not for Me,” “On the Fence,” and “Taking the Leap.” My essay was the first in the “No” section.Most of the mothers I know used to proudly declare they never wanted to have children. Not some of them, not many of them, MOST of them. That is why the correct response to a young woman declaring that she doesn't want to have children is to laugh at her, because bearing children is the prime raison d'etre for every woman. The woman who fails to do so is, quite literally, a failure as a human being.
So I felt a little sheepish, when, a year and a half ago, the writer Meghan Daum asked me if I’d be interested in contributing to the book that would become Shallow, Selfish and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids. I wrote back to tell her that I couldn’t: My son had just turned 1.
It’s embarrassing to be such a cliché, to give so many people a chance to say, “I told you so.” (And some people, I’ve learned, will say those actual words.) I fear I’ve let down other women who disavow children and who, because of my example, might face an extra smidge of condescending doubt. Worse, if I’m honest, when I hear younger women confidently describe how they’ll feel when they’re older, sometimes I feel a pinch of such condescension myself. Not because I think they’ll all necessarily want kids, or that they should have them, but because one tricky thing about your 20s is the need to make decisions for a future self whose desires are unknowable.
Thursday, May 28, 2015
Knowing the unknowable
It's shocking, I know, to discover that proud young women continue to be unable to successfully predict how they will feel about having children in the future: