Ashley Lauren Samsa says her womanhood and her ability to be a good wife is not dependent on producing children.
In my life and in my writing, I’ve always been very adamant about my right to not have kids. Since even before my husband and I got married almost three years ago, people have been asking us when we plan to have children. These personal and prying questions have grown in frequency and intensity the further we have gotten from our wedding, but my response has always remained the same: I don’t want kids right now. Sometimes I’ll add a dash of it’s-none-of-your-business,
I have, however, changed my tune a little in my writing. I’ve been writing a lot more about what our family might look like someday under the assumption that we will have at least one kid. I didn’t announce this shift; it just happened, but people were noticing. One of my former students in particular wrote to me asking how I would address this issue with people who either wanted to brag that they told me so when they said I’d change my mind or with people who just questioned me about what caused the shift.
I think it’s a great question, and I think it deserves being addressed. I know I’m not the only woman out there who is pushing 30 and who isn’t on the baby train, and I know I’m not the only woman out there who might change her opinion on this issue. After all, as famous slam poet Taylor Mali says, “Changing your mind is one of the best ways of figuring out whether or not you still have one.”
I don’t, however, think this was so much a question of me changing my mind. I have always been open to the possibility of having kids, but closed off to the people who ask me when it will happen as if it is just a given, or as if it is any of their business. I’m much more open to someone asking me whether or not I think we will have kids; it’s still none of their business, but at least they aren’t making the assumption. I shudder to think of how all of this would feel if my husband and I were desperately trying to have a baby but to no avail, and what I am really trying to do when I buck their assumptions is showing them how not to tread over the very clear line between personal and public information.
I do want kids. Someday. In a far-away future. Even though I’ve said that I don’t, I probably always have. However, I don’t want kids in the way some women—particularly the ones who ask me so candidly when I’m going to get pregnant—do. For many of those women, it seems that my womanhood and my ability to be a good wife is dependent on producing children. What they really seem to be asking me is: “What good is this womb if I don’t use it to procreate?” I’ve always seen my uterus as more than a child-carrying organ, just like I’ve always seen my marriage as more than a stopgap on the way to child bearing.
Before now, I never wanted to be a mother because I thought that, in doing so, I would have to give up everything. That is the main narrative society gives us as far as motherhood goes, and I don’t buy into it. Originally, I thought that if being a mother meant giving up everything, then I just wouldn’t do it. Interestingly enough, though, marriage has taught me that I can take what society tells me, chuck it in the trash, and make my own life. As a feminist, I’ve made my marriage what I want it to be, and I’m happy. Similarly, I can make motherhood what I want it to be, and be happy with that, as well.
All in all, this shift hasn’t been about changing my mind at all, and I imagine for many women in my situation it isn’t either. It’s been about changing my perception of what it means to be a wife and mother. And maybe that’s more important.
Of course, I don’t have kids yet, so it’s possible I’m completely off base here. I’m willing to accept that possibility. However, if there is anything the modern feminist movement has taught us it is that there is a different way of being a woman for every woman who exists. It follows, then, that there are many different ways to be a wife and mother, so I’m going to try to choose my own.
Ashley Lauren Samsa is a high school English teacher and freelance writer in the suburbs of Chicago where she lives with her husband and their two adopted dogs. She blogs about marriage, family, and education at Small Strokes (http://smallstrokesbigoaks.com) and is a Causes Blogger for Care2.com.