I’ve decided that I’m not having kids. As with any decision, there are losses. Sometimes I have a pang of sadness but mostly, it feels right.
I was never someone who just knew I wanted kids. In my 20s when friends would tell me about really feeling the desire to have a family, I’d ask about it. How do you know you want that? How did you figure it out? Inevitably they’d say they had always known, or they never really thought about it, or they couldn’t imagine life without it. These explanations left me more muddled.
What was wrong with me that I couldn’t feel that? I’d search my own inner world for these signs and come up with a non-feeling, a sense of blankness about it. And this was confusing because I also couldn’t connect with the feeling of not wanting kids. It was just…nothing there.
Somewhere along the line I came to the conclusion that I must be open to the idea but it just wasn’t time. I assumed this feeling of knowing or wanting would grip me when the time was right and decided not to worry about it. I was pretty good at having life goals and making them happen, so I figured I’d let things take their course naturally.
In my 30s, friends started having kids. I figured this would help me get some clarity. But as my own marriage struggled and finally collapsed, kids were the least of my worries.
The few conversations my husband and I had about parenting together did at least evoke a stronger feeling – terror. I remember thinking, why would anyone want to give up their life like that? A pregnant friend shared with me about her struggle at work; how her colleagues treated her differently, how she feared being laid off, how she felt marginalized.
I couldn’t see a way for myself here. By now I knew enough about myself to know I’d feel really down without the sense of purpose and accomplishment that I got at work. How could I possibly stay at home even for a few months without going totally stir crazy? And who would want to feel as powerless as my friend was feeling? To give as much as kids needed and still take care of myself seemed impossible and not very appealing.
To add to this, I began to dread when my friends got pregnant. Of course I was happy for them, but honestly, it also hurt because the friendship was never the same. Inevitably, we’d stop being friends in one way or the other. Sometimes they’d abruptly disappear into their own happy world of suburban domestication never to be heard from again. Other times we’d both make an effort to stay in touch, only to discover that our lives were now just too far apart despite good intentions.
After years of trying to adapt to 9pm bedtimes and constantly interrupted conversations, I decided that my life was a lot more exciting and that babies made my friends turn boring. I got a snarky, cooler-than-thou attitude about it. And when I heard someone was pregnant, I’d use it to emotionally distance myself so that the changes didn’t hurt so much.
When friends talked about the joys and frustrations of their new lives as parents, I found it harder to pay attention. I spent less time around babies even when the invitations were there. New lives and new choices happened; I followed a dream to work overseas, resettled in the US, switched careers to become a Marriage and Family Therapist. The awareness that I had to think about what I wanted and that time was passing slipped into the background.
Then I turned 40 and found myself with a partner who was also on the fence about kids. With my new career as a therapist thriving, I felt more happily rooted than ever. Suddenly, I had space to face the question I had left to chance in my 20s and covered over with defenses in my 30s. Do I want to have children?
It began to sink in that I couldn’t avoid this decision any longer. My young life that could have made it happen by accident or circumstance, just hadn’t. Now it was up to me to really think about it.
As I began to get curious about my responses – the snarky attitude, the distancing – I saw more clearly how these were defenses, helping protect me from the real feeling beneath; fear.
Of course it’s scary as hell to have a baby, but this fear was about deeper patterns connected to my sense of self-worth and my own childhood, and the devaluing of care that’s endemic to American workplace culture. As I faced this and healed I was finally able to feel about it.
For the first time, I allowed myself to feel the parts of me that wanted to have a child – the joy it brings rather than just the losses. I grieved that life and I grieved getting here so late in the game, but in the end, the yes just wasn’t loud enough.
Ironically, it was through feeling my yes that I finally found my no.
Show me a baby strapped onto dad’s chest in those little backpack things, and I still feel sad. But as a friend said to me recently, you regret if I you do and you regret it if you don’t. Maybe that’s more true of people like me who could have gone either way. But I know I’m excited for the life I have and for what’s going to be birthed next.