Mad Scientess Jane Expat (nanila) wrote,
Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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On being child-free

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.
Tags: child-bearing, child-free, navel-gazing, social issues
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