This is my experience: I have never wanted children.
When Iain and I first started talking about the possibility of spending some significant part of our lives together, I told him flatly: "I don't want children. If that's a deal-breaker, I understand, but don't get involved with me thinking you'll change my mind, because I won't." He said, with the obnoxious confidence of a young privileged man dating his first feminist, "It's not a deal-breaker, although I think you might change your mind." I chuckled. Instead, he has changed his.
Our family is complete.
Part of being a straight cis woman who is childless by choice is that you get asked why—why you don't have children, and, if you are bold enough to say you don't want them, why it is that you don't.
I started saying I don't want children from a very young age—my oldest ladyfriend, the oft-mentioned C whom I have known since I was 11, once described a shocking event by saying, "The only thing weirder would have been you announcing you were pregnant!"—so I've been asked to consider why it is that I don't want children for much of my life, and I've never had a great answer.
I used to say, simply and straightforwardly, "I'm selfish," which is true. I like lots of time to myself, and I relish the particular flexible liberty that can't coexist with obligation, and I enjoy the psychic freedom of never having to stay on top of a child's schedule in addition to my own. But it's more than that. I knew that even when I said it, and I said it primarily because that is what people tend to believe, irrespective of its veracity.
I sometimes say, to people with whom I can be more frank, that it is because I am afraid to be pregnant (true) and that I am afraid to duplicate the same dysfunctions that defined my family of origin (also true). But it's more than that, too.
Not having an answer isn't something that plagues my mind, because "I just don't" is sufficient for my own self-satisfaction, and I have never felt as though I owe anyone a more detailed explanation than that which contents my own curiosity.
But watching the onslaught of legislative attacks on reproductive rights unfold over the last couple of years, something has begun to percolate at the back of my mind—an answer to that question, a response to the why. In the last few weeks, under the oppressive drumbeat of this dehumanization, this thought has crawled out of its chrysalis and inched its way forward toward conscious thought.
I have never been more acutely aware of my reductive purpose as a babymaking machine, more subject to incessant, inescapable, insistent reminders that my personhood is debatable, that I am nothing if I don't use my body to have children, that I am a uterus with some meat attached in service to its reproductive capacity.
And comes the realization from deep down in the darkest depths of me that I do not want children, that I have never wanted children, because of my desperate yearning to be a whole person, to matter, always and only, on the value of me and not the other little people I am supposed to create.
Please understand: I do not judge other women who are parents by the measure of their reproductive choice. I am merely acknowledging my understanding of how society, and some of the particular subcultures and communities of which I am a member, would judge me if I made the same choice—and certainly judges them.
No one, after all, knows better the ways that motherhood can be used to devalue women than a mother.
I have understood, intuitively, from a very early age that, in this culture, in the spaces in which I move, to have children is to dilute one's value as a human, even as it is to enhance one's value as a woman.
To have children, in this culture, in the spaces in which I move, has felt and feels still like a concession to a destiny in which I felt I had no choice, unless I chose childlessness.
This is the thought that the assault on reproductive rights has laid across my consciousness in the past days, weeks: I don't want children, because I so dearly want a choice, because I so ardently want autonomy, because I so desperately want my full humanity. And I have lived a lifetime in spaces—familial spaces, religious spaces, educational spaces, cultural spaces—in which virtually every message I received encouraged me, coaxed me, cajoled me, coerced me into childbearing.
And now it is the endgame: Now they fight to force me.
It should come as no surprise that a movement seeking to limit my choice makes me feel like I don't have one. And still, I am rather astonished to discover that I have simply never felt that having children was ever a choice I believed I could enthusiastically make on my own, without having been compromised by the crushing pressure of procreative, anti-choice rhetoric.
For the first time, I consider the possibility that I don't even really know if I want children or don't want them. All I know with certainty is that I will not have them.
Not like this.