To Have Children or Not to Have Children?
I have many memories etched into my brain about growing up as a girl in the rural South. My best friends and I had sleepovers creating intricate setups revolving around limp baby dolls—as helpless as real babies. At my grandmother’s behest, I helped out in the church nursery with small children whose sticky faces were often the harbinger of crumbs, mystery gunk, and other unidentified food objects. And the best “real” compliment teenage girls got was something along the lines of “you’ll be such a great mother one day!” You know, because holding an infant without it shattering into a million pieces immediately qualifies everyone to be a parent.
While I look back on these simplistic memories fondly, I see more insidious reasons behind them. Playing house was just what we were encouraged to do. And, as an already somewhat strange kid, it provided an easy outlet to connect with more normal girls. I always volunteered to play “Dad.” Spending entire sermons in the nursery with my grandmother offered an escape from the boring, unrelatable spouting of the preacher. Because what 12 year old girl dwells on a message instructing her to submit to her husband and give birth to his brood? The older women who stood over me, beaming at my uncanny ability to not drop an infant directly on its head? Funny how they never mentioned staying up for hours on end, tending to a shrieking baby who simply won’t be pacified. They called it “fussy” or “collicky.” I envisioned a special slice of hell.
At 27 years old, I see these seemingly innocent memories for what they are: induction into motherhood. All the baby dolls given at Christmas and birthdays? Practice. You know, so we don’t drop the babies on their heads. The gaggle of girls working the nursery each Sunday in rotation? A procession of young women in the making preparing for their Godly duties of giving birth to and raising children of their own. Crooning about how we’d make such great mothers? Grooming to make it look easy. All women want babies and will have them one day. No exceptions.
Imagine folks’ surprise when I blatantly stated that I don’t want kids. I repeated this phrase throughout my teenage years. They met it with, “you’ll change your mind.” This was fair enough, because few people know what they want or who they are during those years. Aesthetics and music taste define them more than character, behavior, or belief. Teenagers like to rock the status quo—and aren’t yet women. Tunes changed as I traveled deeper into adulthood. I started becoming with new transformations of myself. Yet, my stance remained the same. I don’t want kids.
Then came the inevitable comebacks from extended family. Despite years of little communication, a particular aunt felt it appropriate to bring up the future activities of my uterus without apology while visiting a family member in the nursing home.
“I think it’s about time you got some grandchildren,” she said to my mother, while glancing knowingly at me.
“Is there a grandchildren store I’m not aware of? Can my mom get senior discounts?” I retorted.
“Well, you’re having children someday, right?”
“That’s a hard no from me.”
“But what if your husband wants them?”
What I wanted to say: “Lady, what comes in and out of my body is absolutely none of your business. Unless of course, you want to talk about your last gynecological visit or the most recent time you had sexual relations with your husband.”
What I said: “I wouldn’t marry a man whose future ideals don’t align with mine.”
This was neither the first nor last exchange I had regarding my body—specifically my uterus, and what I was doing with it. Later, I learned that there’s a word for my stance. I am childfree and far from alone in my preference not to procreate. But Southern culture harbors some of the greatest pushback for women like me. We are reviled, destined to become Liliths and Jezebels, taking away our husbands’ (existent or not) rights to carry on the family name, and will regret our decision to avoid providing for our nameless progeny. Whether spoken in concrete words or implied with phrasing, the consensus is clear. We are not real women since we will not fulfill our womanly duty of producing children from our bodies.
But we exist in greater numbers now than ever before. The availability of birth control and other resources offered the first options at family planning. The state of the union and economy created more reasons to either wait or not start a family at all. But why should any of us have to give anyone else reasons for our decisions? Pushing that a woman wants to and should give birth or will “change her mind for the right man” is sexist, heteronormative, insulting, restricting, assumptive, and—the list goes on. More than anything, what any woman does with her body is quite frankly not open to public opinion.
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