Monday, 5 August 2013

Some thoughts about not wanting children

I am 35 years old and childless, and I've just started my period.

Accepted social discourse would have me weeping and bereft; yet another woman who has left having children too late. There isn't an understanding that someone in my situation might feel relief - euphoria would actually be closer to the mark - at dodging the bullet of pregnancy for another month*.

Because whilst my peers busily organise their lives around child-bearing and child-rearing, I am going out of my way to avoid it. And this can lead to a nagging feeling of guilt. How dare I celebrate every period, while close friends battle to conceive?  When I know that, for some, starting a period is not a cause for relief but for grief?  By not wanting children, I'm definitely the odd one out amongst my friends.

I didn't always feel this way. Despite never being terribly keen on babies or children, I always assumed that one day I'd have kids. It's what you do, isn't it, if you're a woman with a working womb? But the time for having children was always far ahead of me. When I got pregnant at 21, I didn't hesitate about having an abortion. My life was chaotic and I was in no fit state to parent a child. "I can have children when I'm 30ish," I thought to myself. As that milestone approached, 34 suddenly seemed a more sensible age at which to breed, and as that birthday came nearer, back those goalposts went again. And now I'm 35 - the same age at which my mum had her last baby - I am becoming increasingly convinced that the ever-moving goalposts are a sign that perhaps I just don't want children at all.

In my twenties, and even my early thirties, having a baby was entirely hypothetical and could therefore be, rather like Schrodinger's cat, both a possibility and an impossibilty. It wasn't something I needed to examine too closely, I could just let the idea stay in its box. But when you hit 35 and having children becomes a question of now or never, you have to really consider... is this what I want? And my answer, I think, is no.

This is the bit where I should say, "I love babies, I adore spending time with children. I just don't want any of my own." But it's a lie. Babies both bore and scare me. I'm quite taken by their squidgy cheeks for all of, ooh, 2 minutes, but then I'm totally over them. And children... well, I love my nieces and nephew dearly but my gosh, an hour with them and I'm wanting to gouge my eye out with a spoon just to enliven proceedings. I prefer to enjoy them from a distance. Preferably one of some miles. There is nothing - literally, nothing - in the world that I enjoy more than returning to my silent, empty, blissfully childfree house after an afternoon with kids. 

"It'll be different when you have your own," people say. But the question remains, what if it isn't? It seems like rather a large risk to take. The notion that women (never men, have you noticed?) who choose to remain childfree are somehow 'selfish' is perplexing to me; I can't think of anything more selfish than for me to have a baby just to find out if it is different when it's your own.

I have the utmost respect for my friends and family members who have chosen to become parents, and I think they do an amazing job.  I'm also grateful to them for giving me an opportunity to buy cute baby clothes from Cath Kidston and hunt down cool children's books to share with their offspring.  But breeding is just not for me.

The fact is, I love my life exactly how it is. I enjoy my job (ironically, I love teaching children. I just like leaving them at work); I like to go out at the weekend and drink a bit too much and giggle with my friends; I love spending time with The Boy, whether it's quiet nights on the sofa or packing our bags and jetting off to a new city for the weekend; I love to read for hours on end, to experiment in the kitchen, to sit and write quietly. All of these things are so precious to me and when I think of having children, all I can think of is how it would stop me from doing all of them. Is that selfish, to prioritise my own well-being and happiness over that of a child who doesn't exist? I really don't think it is. If I did have a baby and I spent hours to myself, then that would be selfish. But I can't see how choosing not to have children in the first place is a selfish act.  How does choosing to be a good teacher, daughter, aunt, girlfriend, sister and friend rather than a most likely poor parent make me selfish? 

* I should perhaps explain that I do use contraception, I'm just extremely neurotic about its efficiacy and am ever-convinced that I will be in the 1% for whom it doesn't work.