On Childlessness

There is a work event on next week that I can’t join, but would like to. It’s a discussion around being childless.

(Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a sad story.)

According to the information provided, one in five women now reach 45 without having started a family. That statistic is me.

I’ll be upfront about it – as far as I know, I don’t have fertility problems. There is (probably) no medical reason for me not to have children. I have just never wanted them. I have been in a relationship for 20 years, so it’s not like I haven’t had the opportunity. I just never wanted children.

And a lot of people have trouble accepting this.

“So when are you going to have children?” people would ask me, and when I said I didn’t plan to, I would get a condescending, “Oh you’ll change your mind when you get older,” or an upbeat “But I think you would be a great mother!” (Because yes, I’m bound to change my mind based on what you said and yes, getting advice from people who are not close friends and don’t know me well about what kind of mother they think I would be could change my mind.)

When I said I was never interested in babies, the standard reply was, “It’s different when they’re your own.” It might be, but I never wanted one.

I had hoped that as I aged the discussion would go away but the other day someone who I thought I knew well asked, “Are you planning on having children?” I jokingly pointed out that at my age it’s too late (and wondering how this person could know me so well and still ask this question), but they followed up with, “It might still be possible with IVF.” I really had to hold back to not get snappy with them at this point.

At work, during general discussions about families and children, I have had colleagues sitting next to me say, “People who are in relationships but don’t have children must have flawed relationships”, “People who are married and don’t want children must have mental problems,” and “People who don’t want children are just selfish.” I’m sure none of these people would have come up to me and said to my face that I’m a selfish woman with a flawed relationship and mental problems, but effectively that’s what they just did.

Selfish I might be; or maybe I have a greater degree of self-knowledge than some people. I never felt like I needed a baby or child to be “complete”. I never saw this as a life goal I needed to achieve. I never felt that this was an experience that I wanted or was drawn to (in the same way I accept that climbing Mt Everest is not an experience I am drawn to).

I also want to make it clear, I don’t hate children. Just because I don’t want them doesn’t mean I can’t see that they are interesting and engaging and funny and loveable, because they can be. But they aren’t that way all the time. They can also be whingey and pukey and contrary and exasperating. I know you don’t get one side without the other. I know that raising a child is a responsibility that should be taken very seriously and done properly, and that is a full-time, long-term responsibility that I don’t want.

I feel for people who want children and for some reason can’t have them, or can’t have them without medical intervention. Being asked “So when are you having children?” must be even worse for them. Sometimes I have felt like making up a medical excuse for not having children and faking a tearful response to deliberately make the person who asked me feel bad, and to maybe make them think twice before asking someone else. To me, the question is an annoyance; to someone else it could be a highly emotional trigger.

If you don’t have children, then your partner, and maybe family and close friends are the only ones who should know why. If anyone doesn’t know you well enough to know why, then it’s none of their business and they should not ask.

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