You can choose to be childless

Hi, all–

Just putting in some thoughts even as Women and Words winds down to its hiatus (which begins June 1, ICYMI).

I read an essay today on Feminist Giant by Mona Eltahawy titled Essay: Unmothering.” Eltahawy is a feminist author and speaker.

It starts thus:

I am childfree by choice. 

My maternal grandmother had 11 children. My mother is the eldest of those children and she has three children of her own. I am the eldest of those children and I am glad to have none of my own. 

It is still a taboo to say that.

She continues, discussing her realization that she didn’t want kids and that she never wanted them. And I think about all the ciswomen out there who have been pressured or felt pressured to reproduce. Eltahawy did marry a guy, but divorced a couple years later:

If marrying him was the biggest mistake of my life, not having children with him was the biggest relief of my life. If at age 16 my vow to not have children had been unspoken, it was loud and clear when I was 35 and newly divorced. You can walk away from a marriage and I did. You can fly away from your family and your country of birth and I have. But you can’t walk away from children. I want to be free.

Eltahawy does public speaking, too, and she notes that after she does this and talks about being childless by choice, ciswomen (presumably) would track her down afterward backstage or in the bathroom and tell her how glad they were that she had said that, and that they had never heard another (cis)woman say it out loud.

And I think about things like this every Mother’s Day, especially, because the entire purpose of this day is to celebrate ciswomen giving birth (successfully), basically.

Eltahawy also points out in “Essay: Unmothering” that most books on being childfree by choice are written by white ciswomen, and she’d like to see that shift, too:

Most books/essays I have seen about being childfree by choice are written by white cis women. We need to hear from more women of colour and women from different cultural and faith backgrounds as well as trans men and non-binary people who choose to be childfree by choice. I have my own book planned.

So, I know some folx really appreciate Mother’s Day, and I don’t want to take anything away from that because hey, I have a good relationship with my mom and I know lots of other folx have the same with their moms and I know that there are people out there who are parents and love being parents and they have great kids (and yes, I’ve met lots of great kids and lots of great young people). Kudos to you and thanks for that hard and totally unappreciated work of trying to be a good parent/guardian.

And if you’ve lost your mom, this day may have both special meaning but a lot of grief and pain so all the love and support to you.

But every time this day rolls around, I always think about the ciswomen who don’t want to have kids by any means, and how cultures pressure them into either doing it or feeling bad because it’s not something they want to do.

I know I don’t like being reduced to my reproductive junk/capability, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked by doctors/people in other industries and “well-meaning” randos whether I have kids. And when I say no, the person is usually taken aback, as if it never occurred to them that a cisgender woman would not have kids.

Almost as if it’s expected of everyone with a uterus that there will be children.

Almost as if that’s the only thing we’re supposed to do with our lives, is put that reproductive gear to work in the service of — I’ll just say it — cisguys and kids.

I made a choice to not have kids (never wanted to; so wasn’t much of a choice) and no, I have never regretted it. Even when all those “well-meaning” people who ask me whether I have kids then start acting like you COULDN’T have kids — like your junk doesn’t work properly and oh, isn’t that sad, did you consider adoption or foster parenting? (because there’s just no way a ciswoman wouldn’t want kids amirite)

So I then have to explain that no, my junk probably works fine (I never got it tested, tbh, but I assume it was capable of the whole conception and birth thing prior to menopause). I just never wanted kids.

And most don’t even know what to do with that, because apparently, ciswomen/AFAB folx have some kind of biological imperative that requires us to have children, and if you don’t want that, then you’re somehow abnormal. Or weird. Or selfish.

And women deal with the brunt of these double standards.

Because it’s okay for cismen to not want kids. They’re not considered selfish if they don’t want to be parents or guardians. They’re “finding themselves” or “getting established in their careers” or it’s EXPECTED that they won’t be responsible where children are concerned, which is a super-crappy thing to saddle cisguys with who actually do want kids and want to be involved and engaged parents. But systemic crap like this is a whole other issue.

All of this said, as someone who identifies as cisgender, lesbian, and gender-nonconforming, I have spent a lot of time around queerfolx, and I have never been asked that question in largely queer circles. We can talk later about how those circles sometimes express hostility toward ciswomen who do have kids from a previous/current relationship (particularly if that relationship was/is with a cisguy), and that hostility is, at the very least, biphobic and just crappy all around. But I digress.

I bring my experience with queer circles up with regard to not being pressured to have kids because some of my straight-identified ciswomen friends who don’t have children have commented to me on how nice it is to not be asked whether they have kids when they’re around queerfolx. They like being asked where they’re from, what they do for work, hobbies — things that have to do with them as individual PEOPLE, not as walking wombs. And I think about how much more straight-identified ciswomen have to deal with that expectation and pressure in the larger andro- and heterocentric circles (often theocratic, too) that define so much in not only this culture, but others.

To them I say, you don’t have to have kids if you don’t want to and I’ll support you in that decision. And to all the people who keep asking this question of ciswomen, especially, think about how you might be reducing them to reproductive organs and capabilities and you’re not seeing them as whole people outside that role of “motherhood” (which conflates with “womanhood”). If they have kids and they want to talk about that, let them bring it up if they want to.

I’ll leave you with more of Eltahawy’s words from her essay, which really resonated with me today.

I wonder if I am my ancestor’s wildest dream or wildest nightmare. I am 53, divorced, queer, polyamorous, and childfree by choice. I am determined to become the wild ancestor for future generations that I have always wanted to have. …

Happy Nonmother’s Day to those who have chosen that path, and happy Mother’s/Parent’s Day to those who chose that one. Define yourself as you see fit, and do what works for you on your journeys.

5 comments

  1. Kudos to Ms.Eltahawy. Many people give me strange looks when in conversing I mention that I NEVER had the slightest inclination to have children and that it was a choice I made in my late teens. I was one of 5 children and my Mom was one of 9 but that had no bearing on my decision – I was quite content to be an “Aunt”, spoil them and send them home. I am still blown away that in this time this still is discussed. Great post Andi.

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  2. Good for you. I did wonder whether I wanted kids or whether I wanted to carry on working and have a good lifestyle (you didn’t work with kids in the 70’s – no maternity leave back then.) My mother had been ‘wondering’ since we got married when she was going to be a grandmother (no pressure there then) and I was, frankly, bored with my job. So I had four kids (it’s like having all the aunties for Christmas; they keep each other occupied).
    My eldest two have two each (my daughter having broken up with hubby no.1 because he wanted children and she didn’t – then going on to have IVF with partner 2).
    First time I thought I was pregnant and then found I wasn’t I was a little tearful – it’s the hormones that do it to you.
    My younger daughter, on trying for a baby, was found to have ovarian cancer and has received chemo, so it’s no children for her. Despite her upset at the time, she has accepted this and never looked back, but I can’t help feeling it would be easier for her if the general view of mankind wasn’t (still) that the chief purpose of women is to produce offspring.

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    • lol

      I just never had any interest at all in either getting pregnant or adopting. None. That biological urge ciswomen are supposed to have? ABSENT. Okay, wait. I had dogs. And that was more than enough.

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  3. I meant to comment earlier. At one time, when I was a teenager, I wanted a slew of kids, but as I got older that thought went by the wayside. I was more afraid of the process, as opposed to downright not wanting them. I had picked out a male friend (an ex) who was going to be the father. I gave myself until thirty to ultimately decide. He kept asking, but eventually found his wife, but by that time, I decided not to have any; the fear was still there. I constantly got pressure from my Ma; crazy pressure. She wanted me to have a child, if only to let my sister adopt them. I was steadfast, no children. My one thought is that as I become elderly, and unlike the majority of my siblings, I’ll have no one to care for me. I acknowledge that, and hope I’ll do an okay job on my own. 😊

    Interesting article Andi. These articles always give me pause. Thankyou for giving me an opportunity for my first, and only, blog post. I hope you, and your team, at Women and Words enjoy your hiatus. Take care and be safe. ✌🏽

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