Avoiding the Nursery
Please welcome guest writer Fluidfyre, with a piece on choosing to be child-free.
In the late ’80s I was a snot-nosed little kid in grade two whose hair was a bird’s nest and whose favorite shirt was neon orange and had the words Oh Boy emblazoned on the front. In art class one day, we were given stacks of magazines, Sears’ catalogues, and construction paper and asked to paste together a scene of what our future family would be like (inclusion of our spouse and kids heavily implied). I plastered together an image of future me and my daughter travelling to what I now know is Victoria Falls. I planned to have her artificially because I would never have a husband and never ever wanted sex, that was for sure.
I remember the project now as one of the only times I thought it’d be nice to have a kid.
Getting older, sex education came into play and I realized maybe sex wasn’t such a bad thing. And along with all the other growing up, I started realizing I didn’t really want kids. At least not anytime soon. Who knows when? I had to finish school, obviously; I had dreamed of going to university since I was little.
Escaping to live on my own at 19, I worked three jobs to stay afloat, barely saving enough to go to take an environmental science class in the evenings. I did insurance claims during the day, worked at Black’s Photography a few times a week, and at a bakery on the weekends. I hid a cat from my landlord. What was once an idea to maybe have a child in ten years became a firm, “no thank you” in my mind. I saw others with babies and had no desire to hold them close; no desire for one of my own. Whenever someone handed me a baby, I mostly hoped I didn’t break it. I’ve never even changed a diaper.
I married young, expediting my partner’s immigration, so he could join me in Canada after almost a year of separation (we met online). With marriage comes assumptions, and the biggest one of all is that we would have children.
His support enabled me to go to university when I should have been getting pregnant. The shower and the wedding, even if both were small, surrounded us with knowing smiles and laughter. People made insinuations that we’d change our minds, that we didn’t know ourselves well enough, that it was just a matter of time. We heard these things from some friends, from family, from the nebulous cloud of acquaintances who only know us on the surface.
“You would make such a good mother! You will love being a mother! It makes you complete! Oh ho ho don’t worry, you’ll change your mind. You have to have kids, it will change your life!”
The statements were all reiterations that what I wanted didn’t really matter. They contributed to self-doubt. The thought that I might change my mind scared me, but also gave me some relief. Maybe it would happen and I could feel normal. I knew it would bring change, that nothing would ever be the same, and that’s what frightened me most of all.
I learned quickly that not wanting children wasn’t acceptable—especially for those with a uterus. Motherhood was supposed to make me whole; it was supposed to be my reason to live. In university I had a falling out with a friend after she laid into me for not wanting children:
“What about your parents? Don’t you think that’s unfair to them? Don’t you love them enough to give them grandchildren? That’s pretty selfish, you know.”
The notion of children stuck out like rusty nails when talking with people, something to avoid stepping on or brushing into as you go down the stairs of conversation. “Not now,” “someday,” and “we’ll see,” were safe answers. I could hide in the ambiguity while, inside, shuddering at the thought of pregnancy, of being tied to another life, of it being wholly dependent on me for 20 or 25 years. Of feeling like there was one more thing wrong with me because I didn’t want that bundle of joy. Of feeling like I had no choice; that having a child would erase my right to choose anything for myself. Because I knew that a child meant I would need to make my life about them if I wanted to do parenting right. Half-assing it wasn’t an option.
I didn’t feel the call to procreate until I was in my thirties, and then it was only for a couple of months that I didn’t trust. I had dreams in which I was pregnant, and everyone was telling me, “I told you so!” Or, dreams in which my husband and I had a child and I was holding a baby, our baby, caring for it and loving it. However, I was forced to drop out of grad school because of it; forced to change our lives because of it. They warped from dreams of a bodily need into something of despair and ruin. They seemed to be reiterations of the continuous fear that played through the years—that I would get pregnant and it would ruin my life.
That’s what a child was (and is) to me. Despair and loss and fear. Loss of who I was, what I wanted to do, a future where I couldn’t matter.
I analyzed my desires and thoughts and my life over and over, coming up with justifications on more than one occasion. Because it always had to be justified; normal people wanted children.
Maybe the lack of parental instinct was a product of lying in bed at night while my drunk parents threw plates. I was trying to sleep, hoping they would quiet so I could sleep. I hoped they wouldn’t be bitter and hungover in the morning. What if I were like them? What if my children saw me as I see my parents? What if I did as bad a job? What would they be like as grandparents? Could I leave my children alone with them? I didn’t think so. I’d be alone. I wouldn’t have family to help me raise them.
Maybe it’s a product of struggling with mental illness and self-hate, skin disorders and more, worrying that any spawn I might produce would be burdened with the same amount of suffering. I couldn’t help or stop that suffering, but I had played a role in creating it through their birth.
Maybe it’s being a climate scientist, knowing the world we have created and worrying for a future. Worrying what kind of a world I would bring a child into. Rising sea levels. Bleaching coral reefs. Desertification. Declines in freshwater. Hatred. Misogyny. Suffering.
Maybe it was my distant grandmother’s stories about her teen years, about having her first child at 16 and a second at 19. She admonished me again and again, “Don’t do it the way I did.”
Maybe I am a selfish bitch who doesn’t want the strings that come with a child; who sees how society treats mothers, treats women, and sees the obligation that will invariably come with it. What being a mother means and how undervalued they are. That I want the time and capability and money to do what I want my way when I want to.
Maybe I think about how society responds to a man who would say the same.
Maybe it’s because I have a uterus, and if I didn’t then I would gladly have children. Because I think of the vomiting, the morning sickness. I think of mothers who can only eat cheese for months on end, of perineums splitting during childbirth, of post-partum depression, of the commitment needed to raise a child with disabilities. Of a mother’s obligations that are laid down by others without thought or intent.
I think of the suffering sacrifice and the respect that comes from deep within me for anyone who undergoes pregnancy to create another life. There are people who are impressed that I am going after my doctorate—that I am a scientist—and to me it is nothing by comparison. To me, I chose the easier road. Life is infinitely easier without children. The world doesn’t need me to have a child. My country doesn’t. Isn’t it better to regret not having children than regret the child? I don’t regret my choice. And I don’t want to. I have never wanted to.
I don’t want to.
Why can’t that be enough?
Fluidfyre is a polymath alternating between being a soil and climate scientist, writing speculative fiction, and producing art for sale on Etsy and on display in her home in Central Canada. Find her on Twitter @fluidfyre