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Why Can't a Woman Decide to Be Childless Without Being Called Selfish?

I'm not sure if I want kids or not, but I know I'm tired of everyone telling me what I should want.

Alison Stevenson

Photo by Flickr user Nana B Agyei

This March, I turned the same age my mother was when she had me. Since that birthday, I've been contemplating motherhood on a deeper level than ever before. My mom has made it clear that she expects to have grandchildren. When she brings it up, I nod my head and change the subject. I don't know how to tell her that there's a possibility I will never have kids. I don't know how to tell her that, because admitting to having even a slight disdain for motherhood feels wrong.

Women who don't want to have children are often told that they are making a selfish decision. Selfish for not wanting the responsibility parenthood entails, for not wanting to invest their time and money into another life. One such "selfish" woman, Holly Brockwell, recently wrote in the Guardian about her failed attempts to get sterilized in her 20s. Doctor after doctor refused to do this for her because they were convinced she would change her mind. They also called her selfish. "I've explained that I'm a blood donor, an organ donor, a bone marrow donor, and even tried to give my unwanted eggs to childless couples—only to be told they're not suitable because I'm a carrier for cystic fibrosis," she wrote. "Even this didn't sway them."

We live on a dying planet slowly being ravaged by the sheer weight of humanity, yet the pressure to keep creating new life still somehow exists. Childless women shouldn't be criticized—they should be cheered. Thank you for not making any more humans! We have more than enough! In fact, we have millions who've been abandoned and could use a home. Oh, but they wouldn't have your eyes, or your chin, or your family's genetic predisposition for heart disease? Never mind, forget I said anything.

Here's what I can't figure out: Do I feel obligated to have children more than I feel a true desire to have them? This feeling of obligation comes pouring into me from literally everywhere. When it's not my family, it's some television show or movie. It's that consistent plot line of someone somehow getting forced into parenthood and becoming a supposedly better person because of it. Seth Rogen isn't a lazy stoner anymore! Kate Hudson is no longer so obsessed with furthering her successful career! What everyone seems to want me to know about parenting is that it will only make my life better, no matter how much of myself I have to give up. That's why, when I admit hesitation, I am made to feel like that is a statement I will regret.

I don't understand why becoming a mother is still seen as a woman's top priority in life.

People, like my mom, insist that it's because of my age, or because I am just not yet in the right mindset. I am then reminded of that biological clock. It's going to start ticking before I know it, and when it does, I'm going to transform into a baby-making machine. I don't get why I'm told this so often. I don't understand why becoming a mother is still seen as a woman's top priority in life.

During this year's Passover dinner, my mother's best friend did her dirty work for her and spoke to me about a friend of theirs who is in her mid 40s and childless. She spoke of this woman in a pitying tone, angering me enough to suggest that perhaps this woman is happy to not have children. Those words could not compute in her head. Her response was, "She just waited too long, and now she can't. If you wait too long, you'll regret not having one."

When I see puppies, I know I want one. When I see babies, my reaction is different. Some babies here and there might get a "how cute" out of me if they're wearing sunglasses or have a little mohawk, but never do I think to myself that I want one. I've seen firsthand what it entails to be a parent. When I was 16, my mother remarried and gave birth to my sister, my first sibling. When I was 22, my father had a daughter with the woman he remarried, my second sibling. As much as I love them both, their presence in my life at such a late age has done nothing but make me more aware of how exhausting and unfulfilling I think of motherhood as being.

I don't particularly enjoy spending a lot of time with children. I just can't muster up the patience to watch repeated episodes of Dora the Explorer. Neither can I feign enthusiasm for playing stupid games like hide-and-seek. I get deeply irritated hearing them cry every single time they hear the word "no" (actually, maybe I'm just jealous that they're socially allowed to do that). The feelings I have about children should signal that motherhood is not for me. But the response I get when I tell people this is never, "OK, then don't be a mom." Instead, it's a creepy-sounding sentiment along the lines of: You won't know how much you'll love having a child until you have one.

Wait, what? If this were a some sort of internet thread, I'd post that meme of the Star Wars fish-alien thing saying, "It's a trap!"

Why do people say this? Is it true, or is it more feeding into the culture of women being considered worthless if they never procreate? What the hell kind of advice is that anyways? You would never tell a sociopath to just murder someone if they're unsure of their ability to be a serial killer. This feels a lot like that. What if I go through with giving birth, banking on suddenly having all of my feelings changed as soon as that child is in my hands, but the feelings don't change? Now I'm stuck being a mother, when that's really not what I want to be. I'd rather not be a mother at all than be one who deeply regrets it. Not only would I be miserable, but my child would be too.

When I fantasize about my ideal future, children are an afterthought.

That's another thing never really talk about: How many of us are actually fit to be parents? My generation seems more financially unprepared than the ones that have come immediately before. We are branded as the generation that will never grow up because we rely on our parents to financially support us well into our 30s. According to a Canadian survey from 2014, 43 percent of those polled aged 30 to 33 admitted to not yet being financially independent. How can someone who can't support themselves support a kid?

When I fantasize about my ideal future, children are an afterthought. I see a successful career, a husband, multiple dogs in the backyard, and then think to myself: "Oh, I guess I'll have a kid or two." Right now, I don't know what exactly this means. It could very well be what everyone says. I'm still young. I'm not yet in the right mindset. My biological clock is still being wound up. However, is it possible that my fantasy is telling me now that parenthood is really not something I want, but rather feel obligated to take part in? You know, like going to Coachella, but even more expensive. I guess the only real answer right now is that I'll have to just wait and see.

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