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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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On being child-free [20100514|11:22]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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I've been thinking about the prospect of having children lately. My position on the subject has always been ambivalent. I'm not militantly child-free. That's just how my life has turned out. As I approach my mid-thirties, I wait for the mad drive to reproduce to kick it in. It's not happening. I know, in a detached, cerebral sort of way, that my biological clock is ticking. My fertility is dropping. But when I probe myself for feelings of urgency or anxiety about the subject, all I get is more gentle ambivalence.

This puzzled me for a long time because I like children when I'm around them. Especially once they become capable of complex verbal expression. I find them fascinating, as I think is shown by my recent post about Little Niece. I like teenagers, when I get to work with them. They have a horrible reputation in the British press, who seem to think teenagers spend all their time puking in gutters, loitering in noisy gangs, menacing passersby and skulking through parks with knives. You know what, England? Most of your kids are nice. They're pragmatic, intelligent and funny. They have energy and ambition and hope, and the way your media constantly kicks all of them to the curb for the actions of a violent minority (from which all societies suffer) makes me angry.

Ahem. I digress. The point is, I like children. However, I don't feel especially deprived of their company when they're not around, either. I occasionally have thoughts like, "If I have a child, I will follow this parent's example and do X, where X == reinforce a regular sleep schedule, teach appreciation for a healthy diet, supply giant microbe soft toys." These thoughts go into a mental filofax, to be called up should they ever become necessary. If I try to scare myself by thinking, "What if they don't become useful and I've wasted those neural connections?", it doesn't work. My brain simply shrugs mildly at me.

One thing I can muster up a strong feeling about is childbirth. I am terrifed of it. No matter what people say about the rewards, it sounds awful. So does late-stage pregnancy, for that matter, and most women have to work during that as well. This isn't an insurmountable barrier to parenthood, though, should I decide childbirth is an intolerable prospect. I could adopt. I believe I have the means, financial and emotional, to make this happen if I want to be a mother enough.

And this brings me to the crux of the matter, I think. I ask myself if I want to be a mother right now and the answer is an unequivocal "No", for two reasons. The first is that I really like my life the way it is. I have a satisfying career. I've found a way to make my commutes not only bearable, but quite productive creatively, through writing journals and pieces of fiction. I have time to indulge my passions for photography and painting, and sufficient income to attend to my needs and have fun, too. I have a fulfilling relationship with the bloke in many ways. (I'm going to draw a discreet veil over further discussion since this post is public.) I don't have much motivation to disrupt all that by bringing a small, needy person into my life who didn't ask to be there.

This leads me neatly to my second reason: having a child is not a reversible decision. You can't "stuff 'em back in and ask for a refund", in the words of the fabulous Bernadette.* I'm not big on irreversible decisions. I haven't made a lot of them in my life. Going to university a thousand miles from my parents at 16? Could have gone home when it got tough. Attending graduate school? Could have quit after completing a master's. Jobs can be quit, too. Houses can be sold. Even pets can be re-homed, though I've only had to do that once and that was to my parents. I hope never to have to do it again. Children are another matter, to me. I attach a good deal of responsibility to the act of bringing a human, a fully sentient being, into the world. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it properly and that means a lifetime of commitment. (I feel similarly about marriage, which is partly why I haven't done that either.) It's an irreversible decision.

I'm not ready to make that choice yet. I can't predict when or if I ever will be. I don't need to make a decision to remain child-free to satisfy some sanctimonious belief that the world is overpopulated with humans. I don't need to make a decision to have children just because biology might deny me the capacity to produce my own offspring. I'm tired of thinking that ambivalence is wrong.

* As played by Terence Stamp in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
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[User Picture]From: cataragon
2010-05-14 11:09 (UTC)
I think your position is entirely reasonable, and sounds somewhat similar to my own, minus a couple of weird complications.

I am a firm believer in the idea that there are, in fact, almost no irreversible decisions in the world, but having children is one of the few exceptions.

I get the childbirth thing, too. I've obviously never had kids, but it sounds horrible. Women say things like "Oh, afterwards, you forget, and you have this wonderful baby" and I was always super sceptical.
Then I had gallstones, which are supposed to be as/more painful, and were really horrid. But afterwards, the pain memory went really fuzzy, and even though it's the worst pain I've ever had, it's not nearly as clear to remember as much less painful things.
And that's without benefit of happy hormones or whatever. I also learned that I can live through quite horrid pain, and childbirth is, at least, of limited duration. So now I'm not terrified of childbirth, even though in my case it's probably academic anyway. Your mileage, is obviously, quite free to vary. :-) I think I'm now more afraid of the lack of sleep required in looking after infants.

One thing you haven't mentioned, and which I find interesting in my own take on kids, is that I sometimes wonder about what it will be like to not have kids when I'm older, and if I will regret/mourn it. I value family highly, and not having kids means that when I'm 70, I'll only have extended family, really. But that seems a selfish reason to have children in the first place - so as to have someone when you're old.

It's such a complex subject.

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[User Picture]From: anthrokeight
2010-05-14 17:30 (UTC)
nanila: to all of this, every last word of it (except the finances and commuting part), AMEN. A-hallelujiah-MEN.

and in addition:

cataragon, to this: One thing you haven't mentioned, and which I find interesting in my own take on kids, is that I sometimes wonder about what it will be like to not have kids when I'm older, and if I will regret/mourn it. I value family highly, and not having kids means that when I'm 70, I'll only have extended family, really. But that seems a selfish reason to have children in the first place - so as to have someone when you're old.

ALSO, PREACH IT, WISE ONE.

I am so glad I am not the only one who feels this way.
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[User Picture]From: cosmiccircus
2010-05-14 13:42 (UTC)
How does the bloke feel about having kids? How long have you two been together by the way, and do you ever plan on getting married? (and apologies in advance if those are too personal of questions).
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2010-05-27 19:45 (UTC)
No worries! We've been together more than two years, although both of us are a bit vague about an actual anniversary. For purely practical reasons, I would prefer to be married before having children here as it makes life easier from the point of view of claiming benefits while off work and for dual citizenship. He's pretty certain he wants children, but doesn't have a sense of urgency about it.
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[User Picture]From: mysti77
2010-05-14 15:05 (UTC)
You are such a sensible woman :) I think for me I wasn't ready to be responsible for a little person, but I know that I wanted kids at some point. I just didn't know when was the right time. But I did feel the clock ticking because of my PCOS. And I figured that no time will be the right time for me because I am genuinely a selfish person who likes her own space and time. So it was a decision on what I wanted more, my carefree, party lifestyle, or children. In the end the baby inside me won. I'd prevented it from happening for so long and somehow from the time I found out I was pregnant I knew I was ready for that massive change in my life.

I do think it's a shame that we are restricted by biology as to if and when we can have children. But at least there's stuff that people can do to try to have kids if they are having trouble. I am also terrified by giving birth, and unluckily for me I've had a very shitty pregnancy in terms of negative symptoms. But some people are lucky, so don't let that put you off I'd say. And you mostly ever hear the horror stories, not the nice ones, because those are more fun to tell. Plus, I'm not going to say no to any form of painkilling drugs if it gets too tough for me. I'm no superhero and I've seen videos of labour with women who had epidurals. Looks so much more peaceful!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2010-05-27 20:01 (UTC)
I'm glad that your soul-searching brought you to a happy resolution of your unexpected circumstances! Also, that you're being practical about pain management. If you don't like it, there's absolutely no reason to put yourself through it when there are solutions.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2010-05-27 20:04 (UTC)
I'm afraid that visualizing you & the boy taking on child-rearing responsibilities at this point in your careers fills me with worry for you both. You'd push yourselves to be the best possible parents on top of everything else. That is a scary idea!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2010-05-27 20:06 (UTC)
"If I'd had kids I would have been up for three hours by now."

Haha. I have to get up at 6 AM every morning already just to commute to London and I rarely come home before 6 PM in the evening. If I'm still doing this job I have children, I shall likely be forced to dump most of the child-rearing responsibility on the bloke during weekdays.
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[User Picture]From: jixel
2010-05-14 17:45 (UTC)
though i hate giving out private info on public blog posts
i say go for it. i speak from experience & happy to tell u all about it
if you wish to hear another angle to your angst-rom
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2010-05-27 20:07 (UTC)
If I get to the point where this becomes a bit more of a critical consideration, I'll take you up on that. Thank you. :-)
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[User Picture]From: swerve
2010-05-14 18:08 (UTC)
I turned forty last month and my clock hasn't made a sound. I like other people's kids, but have never wanted children of my own. Lots of people know they want children. There's nothing wrong with feeling and living otherwise.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2010-05-27 20:08 (UTC)
I never get tired of hearing that from women who've settled happily into the child-free bracket. Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: imho_im_a_givin
2010-05-14 18:49 (UTC)
I never wanted kids and now I find myself extraordinarily jealous of people my age who have kids that are almost in college. I find myself saying where did my life go. Why does someone else have that experience and I have deprived myself of that wonderful experience of being called "mom", having a Mother's Day, etc... It gets to be very depressing on holidays and everywhere on tv there are always families and babies. I have been very pessimistic for most of my life, and that has led to a bad decision regarding children. There's plenty of support systems for making decisions about your child. Lots of people come to the conclusion that they want to have children late in life and wind up paying tons of money to have children through an IVF clinic or through adoption and so on. I think that people also feel guilty because they may not feel they can support a child with the lifestyle that they lead or due to the economy. So it's not a decision for many people to come to. But, you ought to read the March of Dimes and find out what your particular age group has in terms of miscarriage rate.
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[User Picture]From: sekl
2010-05-14 19:53 (UTC)
Children great, childbirth, at least in the States, no. The generation that invents an artificial uterus in my opinion, shall be called the Greatest. The US has this thing about having people lie down to bear children. Having had two, I must point out that this works against everything in your muscular structure and gravity itself. And woe betide the idiots who argued against me with these vague notions of hospital policy.

In short, the pain wasn't the issue, it was like cramps on steroids, the suffering of idiots, though, was excruciating. It's as if you express the slightest bit of noise that you're in pain, they threaten you with a C-Section. Idiots. And you don't feel like reading either. Major downside.

But adoption can be a rough route, too. You've had no control over the gestation of the child and some bad things can have happened to them. You can only love and protect them from that point on.

The highs are greater the lows are lower with kids. If you get to the point where you feel like taking that risk, go for it. If you continue to like the way your life is, there's nothing wrong with being happy as you are. People never put enough value on happiness and too much on checking ticky boxes in life.

You are right in that a life with sleep is extremely pleasant, but on the flip side it is immensely comforting to have a child like yourself. I can't explain it, but one bright only childish person to another, the feeling that there are intelligent people just like you is extremely powerful. Having that moment where you get to explain a cartouche or a nebula is spellbinding. Sleep does not compare.

Doesn't seem to be the same feeling you get with the niece and nephew, but the BIL keeps us pretty cut off from his kids so YMMV.
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[User Picture]From: alice_mccoy
2010-05-14 20:14 (UTC)
About to hit 40 and child free.
HL and I just look at kids, look at the cat and know we made the right choice. Some people are meant to have kids adn some just aren't. Thank goodness we have that choice.

Yes, I do know I will have a lonely life when I am older. To be honest I am lonely a lot of the time now, why should I have a kid to try and get around this. The only worry I have is if I have chosen this path because I am lazy or because I am avoiding responsibility.

I wouldn't mind donating my eggs and letting others use them. I am a biologist, part of me would like to see my DNA staying out there but I want nothing to do with the results. Unfortunately I am too old to donate eggs which really annoyed me when I found out. I suppose that was my "I'm definitely not going to be a mother" moment.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2010-05-27 20:15 (UTC)
Having a kid won't guarantee that you won't be lonely when you're older. I know this sounds pretty negative, but the assumption that your children will want to remain in contact with you once they're adults is not a good one. I grant you that they're likely to do so if you treat them well but it is by no means certain.

What's the cutoff age for donating eggs, by the way?
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2010-05-27 20:19 (UTC)
Your example is a remarkable mixture of the pinnacles and perils of parenthood and your openness about it is inspiring. I admire your ability to maintain such a sanguine and generous outlook on life. Your experience makes me both more hesitant and more courageous, oddly.
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[User Picture]From: wurlitzerprized
2010-05-14 23:15 (UTC)

i LOVE that you quote ralph!

I'm tired of thinking that ambivalence is wrong. - my feelings exactly.

i have about five years on you, i think, so i'm pretty much beyond/at critical decision time and i'm still ambivalent. i have not yet met the criteria i have set for myself when i *was* a child when i used to think about having a child, which is mainly, that i cannot feel ambivalent about it. (other important criteria: in stable relationship, stable home, stable job, stable mental health. i have woven in and out of these stabilities, and even at this age, i have not achieved all four at once). but ambivalence is the main one, and yeh, you can't return a child.

i have finally started feeling the urge to procreate though; either my biological clock has finally started ticking loudly enough for me to hear it, or psychologically, i am just more aware that i am running out of time so i gravitate toward babies when i see them. it's possible i feel remorse, but not quite, it's not a complete emotion. i adore the children in my life who i am an aunt and godmother to, and they might be the only children i will ever have in my life. i think in many ways i still feel i have some time, even if it is only a little bit more time, and if i don't or i continue to run down the clock, so be it. so there you go...ambivalence.

i wrote about this topic a while back when i was in my mid-30's (wow, has lj been around that long???), but i still can't get over the irreversible decision part. or the motivation to disrupt...by bringing a small, needy person into my life who didn't ask to be there part.

it's weird that in this day and age, we still feel pressured to have children, as if we are somehow incomplete as women without them.



Edited at 2010-05-14 11:17 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: nationofsheep
2010-05-15 02:28 (UTC)
It's certainly okay not to have children. Certainly okay to wonder about whether it's the right choice for you. I have plenty of friends who have chosen not to have children. The friends I have who regret the choice later in life have always regretted something along the way anyway. You don't strike me as the type to regret a whole lot of things that are deliberate choices that you make. I know I don't. I really am happy about the choices I made. I have two really great kids. But I knew I wanted kids. I didn't know why. I just knew that I wanted them. And I feel the karmic burden and all that it suggests. You say 'yes' to a whole lot of intangibles when you choose children. I knew that the intangibles were there but they were intangible. Each day brings new challenges - spiritual, emotional, intellectual, interpersonal. It's unreal. And I wish everyone made their choice with as much gravity as you, because it makes parenting difficult when not all parents have as much in the game.

All that being said, I know a lot of people that made the choice not to have kids that would make terrible parents. I really appreciate them knowing that about themselves. With you, I get the sense that you would be a great parent. But that doesn't mean you have to have children. It just means that you would probably be just as happy with them as without them.
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[User Picture]From: giles
2010-05-15 04:54 (UTC)
I think ambivalence is the best place to be until you're not ambivalent anymore. So ideally you should be ambivalent about being ambivalent.

I was going to scan a Jim Mahfood comic and post it here where he's encouraging cool people to have kids because the people who DO have lots of kids are [insert right wing stereotype corporate necktie man here] but it just didn't ring as true to me as it did when I was younger.

Kids are great, kids are huge, and I probably should have sorted out some things in my life before having one. But maybe I never would have sorted them out if I hadn't.

And now I will link you to another comic which has a great quote about hide and seek in it:

http://achewood.com/index.php?date=11192009
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2010-05-27 20:25 (UTC)
Kids are great, kids are huge, and I probably should have sorted out some things in my life before having one. But maybe I never would have sorted them out if I hadn't.

I think you hit on an important point here. One of the mistakes I don't want to make is arbitrarily deciding some ideal state during which I will be suited to have children. I was once told, "There's never a good time to have kids." I think that's probably true. At some point you just have to do it if you're going to.
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[User Picture]From: sanat
2010-05-15 04:59 (UTC)
I can only speak for myself. Myself, I want a kid, and it'd be nice if more of my fun clever friends had kids so we can support each other raising them, even from afar.

But it is, entirely, up to you.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2010-05-27 20:27 (UTC)
Oh, I agree. I think a ratio of several caring adults to one or two children (related or otherwise) is ideal. It stops the parents going insane, and provides the child with the experience of learning to cope with different sorts of people.
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