I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but there’s a war going on out there, and it seems to be getting uglier by the day. It’s a battle between parents and the childfree, a group which has been gradually gaining prominence over the last 30 or so years, thrust into the spotlight after Time magazine published an explosive August cover story titled, “The Childfree Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children.”
But in this age of increased awareness about women’s rights, should the right to choose what to do with one’s own reproductive organs really be such a controversial issue?
Personally, I’ve been lucky. Despite all the horror stories of discrimination I’ve read about online, I’ve only very rarely experienced it myself, and only in its mildest forms. It has to do with a simple misunderstanding, and I have no problem answering all the questions a person has for me as long as they’re willing to keep an open mind.
From the age of 10 I knew that I would never give birth. This was dismissed as a phase, and yet my stance has only intensified over the years. I did for a time think that I would one day adopt; when my friends started having children, I decided to do some research, because I wanted to have an understanding of what they were experiencing. The more I learned, however, the more I came to realize that this was not for me. It simply wasn’t something that I could see for myself; doing so would be to see myself become a completely different person, to assume an entirely new identity.
The more I read up on the related environmental issues resulting from overpopulation, the stronger I felt about that as well, and I’ve been hyperaware of my carbon footprint ever since. This and the resultant discussions on the subject with my partner took place over the course of years. This was a journey, and still is.
You could say that making this decision has been a major force in shaping and reinforcing the person that I am today. For the most part, my parents have been supportive. Even though they don’t always understand it, they do respect it. My friends have been largely accepting, and being totally open about this decision has led me to discover how many more childfree people there are around me – and that number is astounding. The childfree community is incredible, as these are hands down some of the most intelligent, kind, and supportive people I have ever met.
Unfortunately, some of the only people to take issue with the decision have been doctors. As a result of a complete stranger thinking they know our minds more than we know our own, it has taken four years for my partner and me to get the sterilization we want and need to feel secure in our lives.
I understand that most people have grown up with the assumption that having kids is “just what you do” and part of the life script, so being confronted with a person who rejects that notion might be a bit confusing. But is doing something just because it’s expected of you really a good idea, especially when it involves the creation of an innocent life? Make all the mistakes you want if they affect no one but yourself ‑ but if you ask me, having kids when you didn’t really want them, when you were ill-prepared for what it would actually involve, isn’t just stupid, it’s cruel.
The childfree are often accused of being selfish. It’s the most common reaction to get, and I’ve experienced this one myself. But let’s try to end this hurtful assumption right now. Selfishness isn’t about getting what you want; it’s about getting what you want at the expense of others. There’s nothing wrong with living your life on your own terms and being happy. If it were, going to college would be considered selfish as well, and how ridiculous an assertion that would be. Yet no one stops to consider that calling a childfree person selfish is much the same.
The fact is, having kids is the biggest decision you can make in your life. When it comes to making the decision against it, going against the grain isn’t easy. It’s not a decision anyone enters into lightly. This is why that second most common argument ‑ that of, “you’ll change your mind,” is so incredibly infuriating. This is a decision that often takes years, even decades, of thought. It has to do with a person’s very sense of self.
Some people are born to be parents, and know it almost from the beginning. Others were not, and knew it equally early in life. It’s not just something you do or don’t do ‑ it’s something you are, to the very core of your being. Saying someone will change their mind on whether or not to have kids is almost like saying they’ll change their mind about their sexuality.
But maybe this isn’t always the case. The fact is that unlike sexuality, being childfree remains a choice after all, though arguably parallels may be drawn between the childfree and LGBTTQ* communities with bigoted arguments such as that they’re “unnatural,” “against God’s plan,” and that there’s no purpose to marriage without children (natural or otherwise), an argument I encountered upon my own engagement.
For those committed to a childfree life but still have the biological urge to reproduce, this becomes an issue of mind over matter, and it can be an incredibly difficult battle to wage within yourself. Your hormones may be raging, and babies may make you swoon, but maybe you’re just too concerned about the environment, overpopulation, or even your own ability to be a good parent. Maybe it’s just that despite your body wanting kids, you simply don’t.
These arguments in particular are the opposite of selfish, a desire not to see a child suffer. People such as these may help the children in their communities in other ways, such as through volunteer work or financial donations.
They may also cope with biology by learning everything they can about pregnancy and motherhood, and therefore coming to a greater understanding of the experiences of those who made a different choice. Not only does their own choice become a highly educated one ‑ it allows them, to some degree, to enter the same conversations.
This is exactly what we need in times like these. We need to understand each other. We need to be united and supportive of each other’s right to choose how to live our own lives, because as women we’re also still fighting for an equal place in society. It’s the only way we’re going to win.