So far, the posts in Kids/No Kids week have been from mixed-gender couples’ perspectives. And in circling major marriage issues, we’re always wiser when we talk about the LGBTQ perspective (gay marriage makes your marriage weaker, my ass). So today I’m thrilled to bring you Liz, discussing choosing to (probably) not have kids with her wife. She explores the complexity of the maybe-no decision, and how fraught so many of our decisions are with ambiguity. In case this week hasn’t driven the point home: there probably are no perfect decisions. And that’s ok.
I always assumed I’d have kids—I love kids, I’m good with them, I was a nanny, and I have very strong opinions on how I would want to raise them. My wife, on the other hand, never necessarily assumed she’d have kids, but wasn’t opposed to it. If I really, really wanted to, she would have been okay with it, but she didn’t have really strong feelings either way. That’s where we were coming from in the beginning. Whether or not we’ll have children is a conversation we’ve been having for the past six years or so.
Since we’ve been together, we’ve handled some pretty big life things: four years of law school for me while we both worked full time; major changes in her employment situation (commuting fifteen minutes became commuting two hours each way); wedding planning and wedding; and most recently, unemployment for both of us at the same time—just after the wedding. All of that is to say that it was definitely the wrong time to have kids, if we were going to do it. At the same time, that never stopped me from looking at baby things or cooing over cute kids. Sometimes I would (and still do) get a twisted wringing-out of my heart at seeing a child holding its mother’s hand.
Here are some of the reasons that we “should” have kids (some good, some…not so good): We would be great parents, we could get rid of our TV, I could test my parenting theories on my own kids instead of someone else’s, my mother-in-law would have another grandchild (she has seven already, which she adores), we could buy tiny clothes for it, we could have Christmas and holiday traditions that are hard to create without kids, we could hang out at playgrounds without people thinking we were weird, we could prove wrong the people who think that two ladies can’t be good parents/raise great kids, we could create more people who were raised as much as possible without gender expectations, we wouldn’t have to grapple with the what-ifs of not having kids.
But there are also some significant issues. The first is logistics—how would we make it happen? The ideal way for us, I think, would be to not use birth control and “see what happens.” Of course—I’m not on birth control and haven’t been since we got together, and the answer to what happens when two presumably fertile ladies have unprotected sex is…oh, right—NO BABIES FORTHCOMING. That sounds obvious enough, but I just always assumed that when I was ready to have kids I would go off the pill and take what came, and it actually did take quite a bit of processing, and some grieving, to truly internalize that my unexamined and unacknowledged idea about how my childbearing would progress was physiologically not a possibility.
So crossing out the “whatever happens” option means turning to some sort of assisted reproduction. From my point of view, there seem to be two broad options—the less expensive version (which could be a one night stand, a friend/relative who’d be willing to donate, or a sperm bank, with home or minimal medical assistance) and the more expensive version (her eggs/my uterus? Her male relatives’ sperm and my eggs [which I’m not so comfortable with]? Some other combination?).
Second, we have no idea whether either of us are even fertile or could carry a child. We’ve never been tested for fertility. Although hardly “old,” it’s pretty much a certainty that neither of us are at 16 and Pregnant levels of fertility—she’s thirty-eight and I’m twenty-eight. I charted for a few years using Taking Charge of Your Fertility, and man, it was eye opening. My cycles range from thirty-two to fifty-four days—that’s my “normal.” So getting the timing right if we did want to do it would be a challenge. And I would be the one carrying it—she has zero interest in actually being pregnant (which is a shame, because she’s the one with the reproductive system that runs like a Swiss watch).
You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned adoption—when I was with my ex (a dude) it was definitely something I wanted to do, and it was possibly my preference. But now that I’m with my wife, the fact that I can’t have biological children with just her makes it feel like that’s the only thing I want to do. And if we did decide to adopt, that would bring up its own set of logistical and financial issues.
Third, we live in Florida, which is not exactly the friendliest state for same-sex couples or parents. Although at least the gay adoption ban is no more, that’s far from saying there would be no headaches. It wouldn’t be possible for both of us to be on the birth certificate, we’d have to do second parent adoption, and we can’t be legally married in the state. The paperwork alone to make sure the children were legally protected would be expensive, exhausting, and time-consuming—and it still wouldn’t guarantee anything.
The fourth issue is that I’m prone to depression and have a significant family history of it. Stress, lack of sleep, and lack of security/stability/control all contribute to this for me. Adding a child to the mix would, I’m fairly certain, trigger much deeper and more serious depression for me.
Against all of these very good reasons not to have a child, I weigh the fact that sometimes I really, really, really want to hold a child that is ours. The idea that we won’t have kids to spend time with and raise and teach and go on vacation with, and won’t have a big family is very painful at times, especially when we are spending time or vacations with my wife’s giant family. But these wantings that come up every now and then are not worth the resentment that, it has become clear to me, I would have for a being that would inevitably insinuate itself into and change our life as it is right now.
The thought that I would resent a child has to do with some relatively recent events involving our cats (we have four—three girls and a boy). This may sound unrelated but is really quite relevant. The issues we’ve had this year have really clarified our thoughts on the responsibility of children. In brief, we switched from free feeding to timed feeding because they were getting fat. They let us know their displeasure by crying, peeing on the couch, and not letting us sleep past two in the morning (i.e., they turned into demon cats). We’ve resolved a lot of this now, but there are still some issues. If we’re hugging in the kitchen (not a euphemism), the boy will come and insinuate himself between our feet and meow until we pay attention to him. Oh—and at night, they all climb into bed with us. So I can’t cuddle with her like I once did. I resent them and the time they take from us. Sometimes I sit in the car reading for an hour just to get away. I don’t want them to die, but I do regret having them. The memory of the four years of fun we had with them is quickly being erased by the four months of hell so far this year.
And these are just cats. Children are more work and more responsibility. You can’t leave them alone with a bowl of food and a clean litter box. This is not to say that the cat situation made us decide not to have children; but dealing with their issues has really clarified for us just how much we’re willing to rearrange our lives for the needs of someone who is totally dependent on us. How much, you ask? Not very much.
A post from Lauren a few years back helped me come to terms with the idea that every choice you make also means that by necessity other choices are off the table (e.g., if I choose to take a vacation to Paris I can’t take a vacation to Hawaii at the same time), and that it’s okay—and often necessary—to mourn those things you can’t have. It’s a fact that we can’t both have and not have children. And Lauren’s post this year further contributed to our conversation and our thoughts on the subject of children. Over the years, I think we’ve both come to a point where we’d rather mourn not having children than have children out of the fear of missing out and then a) resent them or b) regret it. I can deal with my own grief and regrets, but I refuse to bring a child into the world and put that burden on its shoulders.
Some people have said that we don’t want to have children because we’re “selfish”—but that implies that being selfish, in this particular context, is a bad thing. The decision not to have a child just affects you and your partner, and your family, and your friends—okay, obviously it affects many people, but they are all existing people. The decision to have a child affects all of the above and the child that you are choosing to create. I’m not willing to play with a non-existent person’s future and feelings and life like that.
Of course, we also agree that the conversation remains open, and feelings can change. We’ll love the hell out of the children in our lives—nieces, nephews, friends’ kids—but for us, for now, and I think probably for the future, the decision is no.
Photo from Liz’s personal collection