Living With The Choice To Be Child-Free

Even without doubt, it’s OK to wonder “What if…?”

There are many Sliding Doors moments in life. Some you realize are happening, while others pass by unnoticed and only much later do you understand how profound those decisions were.

Choosing to be childfree was not a moment that slipped me by. It was instead a wrenching cerebral and emotional decision that took me years of agonizing to come to. I wanted to give it the respect it deserved. I could always change jobs, change my house, the country I live in, the car I drive—but you can’t change your children once you’ve had them. Well, you can, but that’s not the type of person I aspire to be.

Together with my husband I made the decision to be child-free. By no means a “traditional” decision, or one my grandmother’s or even my mother’s generation had access to. One where there are as many views to the right and left as there are in the middle.

Yet fertility is one of the remaining taboos of the 21st century. Human beings have been celebrating and wooing fertility through rituals as far back as Ancient Greece. It’s ironic as most people have no problem asking after you get married when little ones will be coming, or if you already have one, when the next will be on the way. But when I tell people I’ve chosen to be child-free, I’m usually met with a shocked silence.

Even if they try to hide it, it’s always there. In the sudden body freeze, eyes widening slightly in a double-take as they recalibrate who they think I am. Not barren (what a horrible word, summoning a scorched landscape devoid of life) or “battling” to become pregnant as they might have had their suspicions about. Was I a career woman, a staunch environmentalist, did I have an unhappy childhood and dislike my parents, had I been abused, was I materialistic and selfish or, gasp, do I hate children? You can see all the options being processed in stunned silence.

But I’m still just me. I don’t have one particularly strong reason I don’t want children. It bothers me too that I can’t put my decision into a neat little box. However, I’m just not motivated to spend the vast majority of my energy over the next 25+ years putting in the work to raise kind human beings who have social and emotional intelligence, who are healthy and happy, and who want to make a positive contribution to society. I’m clear that when you’re having a baby, you’re raising a person. It takes a lot of work. And frankly, there are other places I want to be and people to see.

What usually follows the long seconds of silence is the question “Why?” Or validations such as “you’re still young” (not said so often anymore); “you’ll change your mind,” and even “but you’d make such a good mother!” I find it a little patronizing, as when other people tell me they are pregnant I don’t ask why they want kids or challenge them, but say congratulations and am happy for their news.

I understand that swimming against the stream of society’s expectations is harder for some people to process. It’s been ingrained in us that life is supposed to follow the script: Get an education, get married, have children, wait for them to have their own children, then live out your days peacefully until you die.

It was a story I’d been told countlessly growing up. My grandmother even knitted clothes for my future children. Disappointing my parents who had dreams of living to see my children took great courage, as I knew they would mourn the loss. I also made sure they knew it wasn’t because of anything they’d done wrong.

I was 35 years old and married for five years when my husband had his vasectomy. I had no doubts the morning the big day dawned. After he left for the procedure, I searched my emotional state over and over again looking for a clue that I needed to hit the big red stop button. Yet by the time he returned home, walking like he’d just climbed off a horse, I felt only relief that the line had been drawn in the sand. The deliberating, the second guessing, the game of “what if,” the analyzing, the rational and emotional debating was over. Nothing left but relief of a thoughtful decision finally made.

See, for every reason I can give you not to have children (seven billion people and counting on this planet for starters, so there’s no evolutionary reason to procreate), there are as many in the affirmative. My mother tells me that I’ll regret my decision “when I’m old” and I understand where she’s coming from. But how can you miss something you’ve never experienced?

Five years after we validated our decision through medical intervention, even though I still have no doubts, I am fine with sometimes feeling a twinge of regret.

It’s OK to think about what might have been, what it would feel like to watch a human being we created grow and learn, or picture myself cuddling our baby in my arms. But that doesn’t mean I want to change the life I have or wish I’d chosen differently.

I’ve had people with children tell me that I’ve made the best decision there is. I’ve had others look at me longingly when I recount weekends of sleeping in, followed by a long walk and brunch, then later going out with friends without a small person tagging along or requiring supervised care in my absence. I’ve also seen the unintended hurt in the eyes of people who can’t conceive and didn’t get to choose their child-related status.

When it comes to this decision, there is no right or wrong. There’s only being true to yourself. Be patient, both with yourself and with others. Be prepared to have a lot of potentially uncomfortable discussions, but don’t feel guilty about your choice. It’s a choice only you can make.

Grazia Pecoraro is an inclusion and diversity consultant living in Sydney, Australia with an Honours degree in Communications majoring in English and Journalism (University of Johannesburg). She has completed a memoir to mark the idiosyncrasies of growing up with a Southern Italian father. She combines her passion for writing with her love of dogs and dog training through her blog.

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