“Do you have kids?”
“You’ll be next!”
“So when are you having kids?”
As a thirty-year-old married female, I find that people say variations of the above to me all the time. After all, I have all the trappings one would expect of a woman who has, or will soon have, children. I have a good job, a wonderful partner, and a lovely little house in a charming New England town with good schools.
But I don’t have children, and I’m honestly not sure that I ever will.
If you asked me about my plans for children ten years ago, my answer would have been very different. Growing up, I assumed one day I would get married and have children. In high school my best friend and I daydreamed about our various crushes and what our kids might look like.
When my husband and I started dating the year after I graduated college, we shared a “not now, but maybe someday” attitude. I had a vague assumption that around the time I turned thirty, our respective parental urges would kick in and then we’d make two beautiful little babies. However, in the past few years, my husband has come down on the no side of the fence. He’s admitted that he doesn’t really like children and doesn’t feel a strong urge to reproduce. He’s willing to have children if that’s what I want. He’s willing to do anything to make me happy.
Did I mention that this is a ton of pressure?
My husband’s reluctance to have children has made me seriously examine my previous assumptions and desires. I have made lists, meditated, journaled, and read basically everything I can find about how others make this decision. As I’ve been contemplating all this, I discovered an uncomfortable truth: I don’t know if my prior assumption that I would have children was based on an actual desire to raise a family, or the result of living in a society where motherhood is so closely entwined with womanhood that I simply hadn’t ever imagined not being a mother until now.
I’m starting to suspect it’s the latter.
When I think of my younger self and my reaction to motherhood, one particular memory often comes up. I was in college watching Sex and the City with my friends. In the episode, Miranda remarks that she doesn’t really like other kids besides her own, and I joked, “That’s the sort of mom I’m going to be!” At the time I was trying to be funny, but now I wonder if that was one sign that I’ve never really been a kid person.
I will admit I’ve had a few brushes with baby fever, but they have all been very brief. If I hold the cute baby of a friend or coworker, I’ll fantasize about having my own. I can picture them, blue eyes and freckles, maybe with my husband’s red hair. They are adorable, I long for them, and then the feeling dissipates within a few days.
As I contemplate this huge, life-altering decision, I keep wondering: Is the assumption that I would always have kids a good enough reason to do it? Is that really what I want or simply what I think I’m supposed to do? To be honest, that is what alarms me the most. I have always done what I’m supposed to do, but many of those things haven’t made me happy. In fact, some of them made me incredibly unhappy, and I’m suspicious of the popular narrative that motherhood will bring me fulfillment and joy. Life doesn’t actually seem to work that way.
Sometimes people tell me I’ll regret it if I don’t have kids. They may be right, and I do worry about that. But I also can’t help but think that fear of missing out isn’t a good enough reason to bring life into the world.