The Expected Why?
That’s the first question I always hear. When I tell my older relatives I’m not interested in having children, that single word is their first response. It’s not the question that stings, but the tone, the inflection, the sneer; the pregnancy-pressuring attitude they force upon me as if my body is theirs to do their bidding.
I understand that in past generations, many women had children in their early 20s. Even my own mother had a child when she was 19-years-old, and then at 21, again at 28—that’s when I popped out—and she had her last kid at 32. Most women in my family were married with a tidy house, a slobbering dog, a picket fence, and a child on the way by the time they were 26. However, there were still a sect of women in the generations before me who decided not to have children.
As for me? I shouldn’t have to say—or, well, write—this, but deciding to not have children, or delaying childbirth, isn’t radical, weird, or unconventional.
Sure, my body has the physical ability to pop out another soggy, wailing, tiny human—but it doesn’t mean my mind craves motherhood. I never was a doll-loving kid. I played with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I aspired to be as intelligent and compassionate as Jane Goodall. I took karate classes to kick away at dummies.
Even as a child, I never reached for the pink-clad Barbie doll. Instead, my little sister and I would turn them into zombies to attack our heroic ninja turtles. And yet, I still feel shame at certain times for not inwardly desiring motherhood because of that repulsed why? I am always given.
Why is that revulsion still present today even when being a childless woman is more of norm than not?
Well, see for yourself. There’s been a decline in birth rates among millennials with numerous reasons as to why. The 2008 recession was a difficult time for not only our parents, but us as well. A child is a life-long commitment, responsibility, and duty. And due to how expensive a child now is, caring and raising a child now is a primary reason why millennials are hesitant about having children; or considering not even having them at all.
So, I now ask the question, why? Why would I want to bring another child into the world if I can’t take care of him or her in a way that meets their physical, emotional, and social needs? Why add to the population when so many children are waiting to belong to a loving and caring family? Why should I conform to forced expectations even though I have other avenues in my life to explore?
Why should I constantly continue to receive repugnance from my relatives, my co-workers, even my peers who want other paths?
Given that it’s 2017 and I can advance in my career, focus on my hobbies, and explore new places—unlike women in past generations who had little-to-no rights or chances at independence in their lives—shouldn’t I then pave my own path? Given that it’s my body and my life that would be impacted by a newborn baby—and not theirs—shouldn’t I have a say?
It’s not like a child is a fish I have to tend to three times a week with a sprinkle of cheap flakes from PetSmart.
To be hesitant is to not say I may never adopt or birth a kid myself. Since I was 13-years-old, I have been a proud aunt to a particularly special niece. Seeing her grow up and blossom into the sweet, thoughtful, and bright girl she now is has given me fleeting moments of feeling like motherhood, despite the expense and sacrifice, would be worth it.
Or, perhaps, being an aunt to my nieces is all the motherly duties I want to have. Those two goofy girls tire me out enough as is. Imagine adding another kid to the mix that I can’t just visit every two weeks and leave for my sister to deal with.
The real punch in the gut about childless women being treated as radical, weird, or unconventional is that all those contemptuous questions I—and many other women—receive are not from male relatives, but female relatives. These women are proud feminists much of the time, too. And yet, they scoff, roll their eyes, or wag their finger at many young women who aren’t convinced of motherhood.
Isn’t feminism about choice? Isn’t that why women struggled for so long—to have a voice to proudly declare the way she wishes to dictate her own life, unchained by convention, societal norms, and male-enforced expectations, without adding another layer of shame by women?
Shouldn’t we empower other women rather than tear each other down?
Women are diverse. We all have different goals and achievements, desires and aversions, perspectives and insights. Of course, we all won’t agree on everything. Humans are very opinionated creatures, which is both a strength and a downfall of our kind. Still, not everyone’s lifestyle suits other people. Many millennial women don’t want to follow the worn-down path of graduating college, settling down with a somewhat good partner, adopting a dog, buying a house, and then having children.
If other women want to follow that age-old routine, then there’s no scoff, eye roll, or finger wagging from me or anyone else.
Yet if other women are hesitant about that long-winded trail and are contemplating about being childless, then don’t berate them with a revolted why. Instead, ask them about what they wish to achieve during their lifetime. Refuse to narrow down their whole identity to their gender. Dispel the thought that childless women are heartless slackers, bizarre misfits, or insensible mavericks.
Instead, respect them; support them; empower them.
I am one of them.