Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Rebecca F., Age 25

Is the idea of having children something that you are open to, or were open to at some point in the past? Is the fact that you don’t have children the result of a deliberate decision or just the way your life happened to work out? If it was a deliberate decision, can you tell me something about how you made this choice, the circumstances, your reasons, whether it was easy, hard, etc.?

Growing up I always assumed I would have children, but when I got older, I found the idea extremely ofputting. I am terrified of the idea of pregnancy and childbirth, and this more than anything makes me certain that I don't want children. If adoption was easy and I was with a partner who desperately wanted kids that way, I might go through with it, but I cannot fathom ever ever ever giving birth. The idea utterly terrifies and disgusts me. I also don't deal well with the way babies smell and act, so I've just never felt drawn to them. My only long-term partner wants children even less than I do, so that makes it easy.

What are the three most important factors that influenced your decision to be childfree? Do you enjoy being childfree? If so, why? If not, why not? Are there any bad things about being childfree? If so, what are they?

Terror of childbirth/pregnancy, the way society treats mothers (simultaneously worshipping them and treating them as common property whom anyone can tell what to do) bothers me, and the fact that I am just not that into children. I don't like or dislike being childfree. It's just who I am. The whole world views me as pre-pregnant anyway, no matter how I feel about it, so it amounts to the same thing. The bad things are that culture is not very accepting, and sometimes I worry that I will be alone in my old age and regret not having children.

Please describe the kinds of reactions you have received from others in response to your not having children. How supportive and accepting have your friends and family been? How accepting do you feel society as whole is of the voluntarily childless ("childfree") lifestyle? Do you feel childfree individuals suffer from unfairness, prejudice or discrimination in society? Do you feel there are common misconceptions about childfree individuals or the childfree lifestyle?

I almost never tell people I am childfree. I know it is very likely that they will tell me I'll change my mind (which is condescending and offensive) or that I'll regret it (same) or that I'm crazy (which doesn't bother me that much). I think most people think that childfree people hate children, which is not true. I always smile at babies on buses, and I'm happy to play with kids, which makes people even less likely to believe that I am childfree for real. Many peolpe seem to think a childfree life is empty and meaningless. Maybe they're right, I don't know. It just so happens that most of my closer friends are CF too, even though I didn't meet them for that reason. I guess I got lucky, or maybe it's more common in my generation and race/class (white, middle class, suburban).

In retrospect, how do you feel about your decision to be childfree? Do you still feel the same way as always on this issue? To date have you had any regrets? Do you think you may have regrets later in life? Is there any possibility you may change your mind about having children at some point?

I worry that I will regret it later. I still think I *might* change my mind about adoption, but I doubt I will ever be willing to give birth. Much of it depends on my partner. I would be a great mother, because I'm a great communicator and extremely empathic and perceptive, so sometimes I am sad that these abilities won't be used to raise a great kid. But that just doesn't make it worth it. I also regret that my siblings are also CF, so I am unlikely even to be the crazy aunt that I would like to be.

Have you had any childfree role models during your life? Please explain.

My sister, mostly. She has a great and fun life and is one of the most fulfilled and happy people I have ever known, and all she has are dogs and a boyfriend.

When you compare your life to the lives of women you know who have children (family, friends, co-workers), how would you evaluate the advantages, disadvantages, and overall life satisfaction associated with each kind of lifestyle?

Most of the women I know with children seem just unbearably busy and confined. I also squirm at the way they are attached to their children, terrified to leave them overnight even with grandparents. And when they are away from them for a short time, they get upset about leaving them. That freaks me out a little bit. I just feel like I have more free time and options than they do, and I feel like I'm WAY less stressed, but they probably look just as pityingly at me.

Do you perceive that there are any dominant messages expressed in our culture about having children? If so, what are they?

I feel like there are a lot of mixed messages out there, all equally loud, and often coming from the same sources. We talk about how noble and great mothers are, but we use their motherhood or potential motherhood as a way to limit their freedoms as a society (condemning them for drinking a glass of wine, for example). Their personal freedoms seem to disappear the moment they become pregnant, or as it's going, pre-pregnant. All of a sudden they have to treat their bodies in a certain way because science says so, and anyone on the street feels like they have the right to come up and ask personal questions and feel a pregnant woman's belly or tell her what she should or shouldn't be consuming. I also feel like our culture treats children as gods whose rights and desires trump those of their parents, which leads to crazy ideas about everything from reproductive rights to how to discipline a kid (in current times: don't.). I think the child worship is one of the things that turns me off from having children. I think children are wonderful, but they are not more wonderful than adults. We are all amazing and miraculous, but we like to ignore that about adults.

Do you feel these messages are for the most part accurate, inaccurate, misleading or something else? Please explain.

I think I covered that in the previous answer. Mostly they are misleading, shortsighted, and scary. As soon as children come into the picture we completely abandon the rights of the woman bearing them, or with the potential to bear them. It seems to me like another expression of misogyny; that women only matter as incubators, not as human beings. I think that my interpretation of it is of course a bit extreme; very few people feel that strongly about it or abandon the woman's rights that much, but there is definitely a certain amount of it.

Have any parents ever spoken to you about the "downside" of having children or told you if they had to go back and do it all over again, they wouldn't have kids? Have any parents expressed that they are jealous of you for being childfree? If so, please describe the conversation(s).

No. Sometimes my friends with children talk about how their child wears them out or they wish they still had time to do x, y, and z, but mostly they are satisfied with their choice, and that makes me happy.

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