When we told our wedding guests that twenty-five children would be attending our wedding, most of them were incredulous (to put it politely). That’s right: A quarter of our guests were under the age of five. Considering our wedding was already a little out of the ordinary (we hosted a four-day celebration at a mountain hotel in the Swiss Alps), we knew our single and child-free friends sighed and our parent friends gulped, all at the same time. Funnily enough, our friends who are parents rejected our kid-friendly wedding most robustly: did we know what we were getting ourselves into?
The truth is, I really wanted those kids to be there. This was a family affair, after all. But more importantly, I wanted to make a statement of sorts. My husband and I will never have children. He chose to have a vasectomy at the age of twenty-five, and told me straight away when we met four years later. We hadn’t started dating yet, but I had already fallen for him. I was twenty-three, and at the time, kids weren’t on my mind.
whose feelings matter here, anyway?
Over the last few years, I’ve had a number of reactions after sharing that he and I would not have kids. Ever. One of the most enthusiastic responses came from my gynecologist, who exclaimed: “Fantastic! You don’t have to worry yourself with contraception or the chemical consequences thereof—enjoy it!”
Most times, however, I find myself dealing with more negative reactions. My mother was stunned, and cried when I finally told her. He and I were dating seriously at that point, but we were still finding ourselves as a couple and nowhere near marriage. A slew of questions and reprimands ensued, from her and the rest of my family. Friends questioned me as well. The most common misconception was that since my boyfriend didn’t want to become a father, he didn’t like children. He does—and he’s actually great with kids. He is a favorite with his nieces and nephews.
The second most common misconception I encountered was that people somehow expected me to be completely on board with this decision. And here is where the tricky part begins. It goes something like this joke:
Q: How do you embrace a porcupine? A: Very carefully.
you don’t always make every decision together
I love kids. They are generally kind, unpretentious, and hilarious people to be around. Growing up, I played house with dolls, bathing and clothing them. Later, I was often the designated babysitter for family friends, and at conferences to which my parents had been invited as speakers. I spent my teenage summers as a camp counselor. I grew up thinking I’d have a family of my own one day.
That said, I fully respect my husband’s choice. If I didn’t, I shouldn’t be here, eight years later, married to him. However, it doesn’t change the fact that this decision to remain childless is his choice, and it was a selfish decision. I believe two people should decide together if they want to have children. He took that choice away from me, and that was a dick move on his part. And yet.
There are all kind of scenarios in which this perfect-world scenario of “a couple decides these things together” just doesn’t happen. Be it because the couple can’t conceive, or it’s a same-sex couple and adoption isn’t an option, or because one person in the relationship feels more strongly about this issue than the other person. (As friends have moved from the “having a baby” phase to “having a second baby” phase, I’ve learned that this issue not only comes up in regards to having kids generally, but also in regards to the question of how many.)
i choose my choice
For a while, I did not know how we would be able to handle this down the road—especially when I hit my early forties, and know my last chance at a biological child is slipping away. Where will that leave us, as a couple, together? How can I build a life together with this man, when I expect I’ll be throwing plates at his head in desperation in in a few years’ time? To be clear, I could have backed out at any point. I could have chosen any time to say: “Listen, I respect your decision. I do. But having kids is too important to me to set aside for a life together with you.” I could have said that and walked away. I didn’t do that—I chose not to walk away. Instead, I grew more excited about the life we are shaping together.
My father handed me the key to ending this construed dilemma when he pointed out that quite likely, this will not be the only rough patch we will encounter in our relationship. Rather than focusing on that bump ahead of us, I should be asking myself if I feel comfortable facing those difficulties together with this guy, and if I believe we can support each other through rough times.
Amazingly, that shift in perspective helped me. A lot.
We’ve chosen to live in community with friends, and are currently sharing a home with eight grownups and three children. There are babies to cuddle and snooty noses to be avoided. I love coming home to a room full of people of various ages sharing dinner together. Last year, very good friends asked me to be the godmother to their son, and I can’t wait to develop a relationship with him and do cool godparent stuff. And yet I feel strangely relieved that it is our friends having the babies and not us. It is unburdening to know I can go about my life without having to calculate the perfect time to start a family.
I have not only come to accept my husband’s decision, but have felt—at times—strangely grateful for it, as well. I can point to his vasectomy without having to answer to critical voices demanding to know why a perfectly healthy young woman would not want to start a family.
While it was maddening at times, I see now how important it was to have friends and family asking me difficult questions about his decision. If anything, we should be able to speak honestly about these things with the people we feel close to, even if we can’t really explain our feelings. Through the years, those conversations have helped me better understand the choices I’ve made.
lavender instead of rice
As we had planned, we celebrated our wedding surrounded by one hundred people. Family and friends came to spend time with us and each other. There were twenty-five children at the wedding. All the kids threw dried lavender on us when we were leaving the ceremony. The dried florets, crushed underfoot, instantly gave off an intoxicating fragrance.
Traditionally, rice is thrown at the end of a wedding, to signify wishes of fertility for the couple. I’m not sure if lavender has any such symbolic meaning, but whatever our version of fertility may be, I know we’ll do just fine.