How can I expect to overcome the fear that I would hurt my children, just as my parents hurt me?
I never wanted children.
When other little girls were playing with dolls, I played with stuffed animals. Even when I played house, my home was filled with plush puppies.
When I was in high school, and people began to date and talk about marriage and children, I kept my mouth shut. If anyone asked, I would say that marriage was for someday, but that kids were a definite never.
“But you’d be such a good mother!” they’d exclaim, as if I needed a gentle push into procreation. Sometimes I’d fight back, stating that being a good mother and wanting to be a mother didn’t necessarily go hand in hand. Other times I’d let it go.
When dating, sex, and cohabitation came into the picture, I’d always be upfront with whomever I was seeing. But I started to seriously think, what was holding me back and keeping from ever pursuing being a parent in any serious way?
Now, at 27, I’ve identified it firmly: It’s fear.
I’m terribly, desperately afraid of having children.
Every parent will tell you that fear is a part of raising children, and that the incredible task of choosing to create (or adopt) another human being and raise them to become a well-adjusted, fully-functional adult is infused with doubt.
Parents say this is normal, that those fears can be overcome, and that having a family is the most rewarding thing they’ve ever chosen for themselves. However, I still say “no”—for six reasons.
1. I’m afraid that I would never want a child enough.
Kids love me and I love their love. When a little girl (because it’s usually little girls) decides she wants to show me her room and climb on my lap and beg me to never leave, it’s positively darling.
But at the end of the evening, I get to go home and be childfree. I don’t have to worry about getting my little one to eat, take a bath, play nicely, or go to bed.
I don’t have to do any actual parenting. I’m just the playmate. I’m the one who gets to enjoy the fun parts, and give a pleading look to Mommy or Daddy when I want some space. I enjoy children, but I’m scared of, worried about, and repelled by the rest of it.
2. I’m afraid that my career isn’t conducive to having kids.
I used to be a typical career woman. I had a 9-5 office job that paid well and provided benefits. I worked with many mothers who seemed to manage this well.
However, I quickly became miserable. I woke up hours earlier than I needed to in order to write and edit pieces for the magazine I was running at the time. My job may have been in medical data entry but I felt my career was decidedly in writing.
So, I left.
Now, I work part-time as a waitress, and the rest of the time is devoted to writing.
The point is that I get irritated when my low-maintenance cat decides to climb on my lap when I’m typing. I have anxiety when a deadline is looming and my roommate/mother is home. I imagine, if my child ran up to me when I’m in the midst of working, what sort of snapping would come out of my mouth, regardless of my unconditional love.
3. I’m afraid my mental illnesses would emotionally scar my children.
I have anxiety, depression, and bipolar II disorder. I’m not ashamed of any of these conditions—I didn’t ask for them and can’t control them beyond the bounds of therapy and medication—but I do know they affect me on a daily basis.
Some days, I wake up and the idea of getting out of bed is akin to exfoliating with a Brillo pad.
Other days, leaving the house is impossible. Out in the world, there are people who might interact with me, unaware that my entire body is protesting the fresh air. I forget how to speak. My mind takes benign sentences and turns them into biting criticisms. I worry about losing my job. I worry about my relationship. I worry that my writing is horseshit.
Worst of all is the bipolar: the swings between depression and its far more volatile cousin, mania. Sometimes with mania, energy abounds, and as a writer, ideas and motivation flow from my fingertips. But mania is also irritability, impulsivity, and recklessness. I make decisions without thinking of the consequences.
I know kids need be fed, regardless of whether or not I can imagine getting out of bed. Kids also need to get to school, the playground, and friends’ houses, regardless of how terrifying the world may be to me.
4. I’m afraid I’d have to give up my cat.
I have a furbaby, a cat named Beeb (a nonsense word, not a send-up to Justin), who has seen me through some serious relationships troubles. When I cry, she comes running with a chirrup and rolls herself into a ball in my lap, almost purring away my pain.
When I read a piece in xoJane titled “It Happened To Me: I Surrendered My Cats To An Animal Shelter To Protect My Baby,” it broke my heart. I believe pets are for life, and while the author of this piece does as well, she still had to make the hard decision between her child and her pets and ended up dropping her cats at a shelter. Having to make this kind of decision would absolutely break my heart.
5. I’m afraid of sacrificing my body.
I take great care of my body, feed it things that make it feel good, avoid the things that don’t. I don’t drink to excess. I quit smoking. I do yoga (albeit only sometimes). My day job keeps me on my feet and running around enough that I don’t have to worry about not getting enough exercise.
I don’t want to become pregnant and have cravings that wouldn’t normally plague me if my womb was empty. I don’t want to give birth and wait for my body to heal before I can engage in sex. I love myself the way I am.
6. I’m afraid that I never learned how to be a good parent.
My parents divorced when I was 2. My mother ran away from the home she shared with my father in the middle of the day, while he was at work. We lived in a shelter for abused women and kenneled our dog at a local vet.
As I grew older, the history of their abusive relationship never allowed them to speak to each other civilly. As young as 5, I would have to relay messages between them over the phone, while both of them badmouthed each other to me.
My father hit me and my mother kicked me out of her house multiple times, both while in high school. I stopped speaking to my father nearly eight years ago, and my mother and I still fight off and on. When we don’t fight, we’re the best of friends, but when we do, it’s ugly and personal.
I don’t feel like I grew up with good examples of how to be a parent. How can I expect to overcome the fear that I would hurt my children, just as my parents hurt me?
Perhaps one day my fears will dissolve into nothingness. Perhaps my commitment to being childfree will remain with me all my life.
Regardless, I’m firm in my decision to keep my mind open and take my fears seriously. After all, the question of whether to have and raise a child should be given the utmost care, no matter what the answer may be.
Liz Lazzara is the co-host of the Getting There podcast, the founder of Real Talk Magazine, and a rookie novelist.
This originally appeared on Ravishly. Republished here with permission.