Vulnerability, stop one: to breed or not to breed

angry-babyIt’s been a few months since I’ve written anything here; my last post attempted to wrestle with the loss of a friend, not through death but through abandonment, the second “lifelong” best friend to tell me I’m not good enough. I’m angry, I’m tired of being set up and I want to rant. But the refusal to be vulnerable, to admit our fears (outsourcing them as blame or shame instead) and to strive to remain connected and responsible to each other is, among other things, exactly why this country is so close to electing an extremely dangerous man as our president.

So I’m doing a new thing with this blog, which I’ve retitled Burning By Heart. Vulnerability is hard; anger is hard; fear is hard; change is hard. My hope is to explore the connection between vulnerability and fear, to strive to heal my own anger and to invite those who are willing – who think listening, carefully forming opinions and learning is more important than asserting the right to think whatever you want – into the kinds of conversations we seem unable as a broader culture to have but really need to. I’m going to start with a raw topic for me and, since I’m not claiming to be perfect, I’m unable to talk about this without getting at least a little mad.

I’ve been excited about the articles coming up lately regarding going childless for life. There are environmental reasons – how ethical is it, really, to bring new people into the world when we have ostensibly reached the point that we can’t guarantee a safe future for even ourselves? This one by Meghan Daum got my hopes up high; I thought I’d find camaraderie, the relief of not being alone in my desire as a woman (God forbid) not to ever have children. Instead, I got guilt-tripped and further entrenched in shame.
First, I’m aware of how judgmental all this will sound in a culture that privileges parenting and makes women who don’t want to produce new humans with their own bodies no matter how sound their reasons are feel like monsters. Several of my friends have kids and I’m afraid to offend them in a way that they are not afraid to offend me; they are in the “normal” group. Their positions and desires are common; people generally don’t react with horror or patronizing platitudes when a woman expresses a desire to have babies. Just as I have no idea what it’s like to want kids, the women who want kinds have no idea what it’s like to live in a world where the ultimate self-actualization for a woman is having kids and not wanting them. Why is the former so much more acceptable? Just because it’s more common?

Before I get into how Meghan Daum’s New Yorker article further entrenches the sexism, fear and doubt surrounding what should be a personal choice – legitimate either way, I just have to note that kids know when they are not wanted, so it’s pretty irresponsible to not take steps to avoid getting pregnant if you’re sure you don’t want to be a mom. I’ve also marveled at the nonchalantness with which so many people approach creating whole new people. It should be taken more seriously than anything else. As in, “because I want them” – even if I did – would not be a good enough reason for me to pursue having children.

Megahn Daum writes about the guilt she feels for “not making her husband a father.” This, along with The Central Sadness that their marriage is childless and they can’t seem to quite come to agreement on that, is the main theme of her article. So…1950 called. It wants its attitude back. It’s legitimate to struggle with the lack of desire to have children (does this mean I’m irretrievably broken? does this mean I’m not a real woman? who will be my family when the older generations of mine die?) but it is no woman’s responsibility to make any man a father. Maybe she really feels that way, but even so, it’s hard for me to believe that culturally enshrined patriarchy hasn’t influenced these feelings.

I’m not at all saying the desire to have children isn’t real. I’m just saying that the desire not to have children is just as real, especially at this point in history (the only Christian commandment we’ve obeyed, it seems, is to be fruitful and multiply…to the brink of our own existence). I’m a woman and I have never wanted children, not after I got older, not after I met that special someone, not after my friends started having families. I don’t feel guilty about not wanting kids (I’m afraid of the ramifications personally and socially, but not guilty) but I’m now worried that I should. Or at least feel guilty about not feeling guilty.


Beth Marie
November 2, 2016 at 3:01 pm

Thank you for this. I’ve felt all those things. It’s validating to have them so beautifully spelled out. Hug!

November 2, 2016 at 6:16 pm

SO. I have something to add! =D Which is that I agree, though for slightly different reasons.

I will preface by saying, as with may of my desires, I have moments where I am internally tugged in the opposite direction of my overarching opinion and decision, but those moments do not counter the overall decision I’ve reached. Also, that this decision has also been discussed with my SO, who agrees (for his own reasons).

But I will probably not have children. My genetics are not the worst, but they are not a walk in the park either, in terms of potential physical issues from birth, later-in-life diseases, and mental health. And the thing is, with my tiredness and struggles to balance my own mental health, I have about enough in me to take full day-to-day care of one person, and that’s me.

Now, I’ve wanted a dog for a very long time, but I won’t get one. I really do not mean to compare, here, but I have had similar thoughts about getting a pet as having kids. I refuse to get a pet that I cannot maintain “just because I want something fluffy to pet.” If I can’t settle with my ethics enough to get a dog because I don’t think I can give it the attention it needs (walks, playtime, taking it out every few hours), how much MORE does this apply to having a tiny human?

I may be wording it in a cutesy way, but I’m dead serious about this. Also, I agree with you about the “kids know when they’re not wanted” part. I think that if there is a decision to have kids, it needs to be Resounding Yes + Resounding Yes = Having Kids. Because if you have Resounding Yes + Meh or even Resounding Yes + Do I Have To? kid is going to feel unloved and like a burden. The decision affects three lives minimum, so ONE person should never ever be the overriding voice.

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