When A Woman Tells You She Doesn’t Want Kids, You Should Listen

This originally appeared on AimeePerkins.com. Republished here with permission.

I was sitting in a pub with two fellow students from my grad program, both of whom are in their early 20’s, one male and one female. Our conversation meandered in the way they do when there’s beer on the table and I found myself saying, “I will never be pregnant because I don’t want to be.” One of them said I would change my mind, and one of them said I was a revolutionary.

If you guessed that the person who said I would change my mind was the woman, you’d be right. She is a young woman in the very bloom of her childbearing years.  

Motherhood is a highly charged topic. It’s universal, one of the few things every single person on the planet can have an opinion about because they have personal experience with it. It doesn’t matter how you’ve turned out or who you want to be, your very existence means a mother was involved. It’s difficult to have a conversation about feminism, or even about being female at all, without reproduction coming up.  

As women, we spend the early part of our sexuality trying to avoid reproducing because we’re told a pregnancy too early will ruin our lives, and the other half pursuing it with a fervor generally reserved for religion because we fear that we’re too late. What’s a girl to do?     

The implication is that to be a woman is to be a mother. You have some say as to when it happens, but pregnancy is not to be intentionally avoided forever. If possible, it is to be stage-managed in the pageant that is your life. And if not possible to manage it, best to get your chin up and get on with it.

If you are older than 30 and not trying to become pregnant, then what do you do? To opt out of reproduction is cheating the system. It’s like being a draft dodger. 

I’m young enough to conceive, healthy enough to bear a child, mature and sensible enough to raise it, and possess many of the qualities well-meaning relatives have pointed out would make me a great mother; yet I have never in my life wanted to be pregnant. I do not feel a biological clock ticking away, counting down the minutes of the life before my actual life, until I finally wake up one morning (preferably in the arms of my loving husband) to the clear bright realization that, oh yes, I do want to be pregnant. This does not keep me up at night. I count it as a blessing that I am not wracked with the agony of a woman who wants to be pregnant and isn’t.      

When I tell people I don’t want to be pregnant they immediately assume I don’t like children. That seems a bit of a logical leap to me, to conflate pregnancy (being a nine-month physical state of discomfort that ends in major trauma to parts of my body I’m very fond of) with children (being amazing little human reminders that we are capable of far more than we remember as we get older).  

I can like the product without having to experience the process. I’m not one of those people who feels the need to ferment my own wine in order to enjoy a nice bottle with dinner. I respect those people. They amaze me. I enjoy sitting at their table and listening to them explain what they are passionate about. The knowledge they have and the love they embody for something that brings them joy is incredible. I have that, too. Just not for making babies.    

I must tell you, I never thought it was a revolutionary position. I thought it was a decision that didn’t need to be talked about as long as I didn’t mind spending the rest of my life dodging the question of when I’m going to have a baby. But then I read an opinion piece in The Independent by Grace Dent that picks apart the absurdity of the modern childbearing window and at the end of it she says,

“With the empowerment of women will come thousands then millions of women who just don’t have babies at all. Feminism is about choice and this is one matter where we need to begin exploring our options.”

Her prediction of a possible future where choosing to not have a baby, ever, becomes a legitimate option for women, one that wouldn’t be questioned or even given a second thought, struck me as what it may well be: the next phase of woman’s reproductive choice.

No one ever asked me when I was growing up if I wanted to be pregnant (that’s a weird question, right?). But if they had, I would have been able, at a very young age, to say no, that’s not interesting to me. I wonder how many girls, if encouraged to think through all of their options as they are growing up, would feel good about choosing to not have children? How many of them would decide there are other things about them equally as important as their uterus?

Children take an incredible amount of time and focus, not to mention energy and money; all of which ends up being begged, borrowed, and stolen from somewhere else. Women worry about that constantly, wonder how to fit it all in and do it all well because that is the narrative we have been given to recite. What if we, and I mean all of us—mothers, aunts, best friends, sisters—what if when we ask the little girls in our lives what they want to be when they grow up, we take their responses seriously? What if when they say they want to be the President of the United States (like I did, after also wanting to be a gold medal Olympic gymnast, of course) we say, Amazing! Yes, you can absolutely do that and this is what it would take. 

The revolution would not be in hearing them say they want to be anything they can imagine, which is the gift my generation was given, but in showing them how to get there safely, sanely, and with grace, no matter what they want to be. It would be a revolution of absence. The world would be changed because babies were not born, women would be able to build their lives without any assumptions. What an interesting, strange possibility.  

I have already missed one opportunity. I didn’t ask the young woman at the table with me that night if she wanted to be pregnant and I should have. I know she has big dreams and a huge imagination. I should have been more interested in how her future is peopled. 

Aimee Perkins is a Chicago writer and performer currently pursuing her MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University in England. She has had just about any job you might imagine and managed to find something good in all of them. Working on a novel is her favorite one so far.

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