About seven years ago I was out to lunch with a group of co-workers. It was my first day in a new role at my company and we seized the opportunity for a team lunch at a local Mexican restaurant. I sat in the middle of the table getting to know everyone and answering a few questions about myself. No, I wasn’t married, no I didn’t have kids, I’m a dog person, cats hate me, I’m pretty much hobby-less but I read for fun. The food was delivered and everyone turned their attention to the tacos and burritos in front of them, forgetting about the new person for the moment.
As I took a bite of my shrimp quesadilla (ok, I don’t actually remember what I ordered but I would bet money that’s what it was,) I heard one of my co-workers say something like, “…we don’t plan to have kids.” I dropped my fork, wiped my mouth with my napkin, and eagerly butted into their conversation.
“Wait, you don’t want kids?” I asked with wide, excited eyes.
“Um, no,” my co-worker replied warily. She scrunched her face up a little and I could tell she was bracing herself for a barrage of comments about why she does in fact want kids and how she will eventually change her mind.
Instead I smiled widely and said, “me either.” We both breathed a sigh of relief. Her because the expected barrage wasn’t coming and me because I wasn’t alone.
The reason I don’t have kids is because I don’t want kids.
I don’t remember a time in my life when I thought I wanted kids. I do remember having two imaginary children, Johnny and Mary, for a year or so when I was about 7. I was their Mom, married to an imaginary husband named James, who conveniently had the same last name as me. After I outgrew my imaginary family I never remember thinking about having kids of my own again.
When I was a teenager and the topic of future children came up with my friends I would say something like, “I don’t want kids but God has a sense of humor so I’ll probably get pregnant with triplets!” Or, “I don’t want kids but I know my husband will be so amazing I’ll just have to have his children.” (Seriously, I think I actually said that exact phrase.) To which one of my guy friends said something akin to, “Interesting that you don’t find yourself worthy enough to duplicate.” On some level I might have thought that about myself at the time but if I did, it wasn’t the reason I didn’t want kids. I just didn’t.
I just don’t.
When I was in my 20s I stumbled into a group of friends who were older than me by 5 or 6 years. Not a lot older but enough that we were in similar but different places in our lives. Fresh out of college, sometimes I still felt like a kid while their desire to have kids was a common topic of conversation. Each year the urgency was dialed up a notch. Sometimes it felt like having a baby was all we talked about. Of course we talked about other things like dating, the disastrous dates we had gone on, or the relationship we were in that probably needed to end. Our careers and other life pursuits were usually secondary conversations but not uncommon. Though, many times our conversations came back to what felt like a, “if I can’t have a baby this all means nothing” theme. It got to a point where finding the right guy didn’t seem to matter anymore. If he can give me a baby, I’ll take him. Despite successful careers, friendships, and lives, a lot of my friends longed for a baby more than anything.
That wasn’t how I felt. In fact, I couldn’t relate to that at all. I was focused on building my career and trying to decide what to do next in life. I never thought about having a kid. Not ever. In fact, I was so positive I didn’t want kids I made sure everyone knew where I stood. When I met a single guy and we talked for more than five minutes I would somehow work into the conversation that I had no plans for children. I wanted it out there. Before I even let my first serious boyfriend kiss me I sat him down, asked him his intentions, and told him I didn’t want kids. (I was much more mature at 24 than I am now.) He smiled and said he understood.
Two years later we broke up in part because he wanted kids and I didn’t. He genuinely thought I would change my mind. I didn’t. I haven’t. I won’t. I got married a few months ago and for the first year of our dating relationship I told my husband every day that I didn’t want kids, I had no plans for children, and hey, are you cool with that? He got annoyed but he got the message.
Telling potential suitors I didn’t want kids wasn’t just for my benefit. They needed to know. Kids are a big deal. If you want kids, it is a big deal, and I get that. I want you to have them too, a lot of them, as many as you want. I will snuggle them, give them a bottle, and return them just in time for a diaper change. I’ll cheer them on in life and like your pictures of them on Instagram. I’ll be secretly proud and in awe of you for creating and nurturing a human being.
I admit I don’t know what longing to be a parent feels like. I don’t have it, the longing. I don’t know how heartbreaking it is to want to be a mother more than anything else in the world. I don’t know what it’s like to sit at dinner with my girlfriends, drinking wine, and eating pizza, silently wishing I was home with a baby instead. I may not know what the longing feels like but I have seen the pain on my friend’s faces when they reach another birthday and are no closer to their dream of being pregnant. I’ve watched friends battle fertility issues and witnessed the heartbreak and joy that accompanied their struggle. I know couples who have desperately wanted children but nature said no and they were forced to re-evaluate their plans. I know women who have frozen their eggs for the future or bought sperm and tried to get pregnant on their own. I can feel their longing. It’s real, it’s hard, and it hurts. Having kids is a big deal.
I’ve heard it my whole life. You know, the thing people say when they find out you don’t want kids. Things like, “You’ll change your mind,” or “Oh, just you wait until you get older and your biological clock starts ticking!” I think I’m finally old enough now for people to believe me because I don’t hear the barrage of comments as much anymore. I do still get the scrunched up faces of confusion sometimes though.
I know I’m not alone. There are a lot of people who have decided not having kids is the right choice for them. (If you’re one of them I would love to hear from you. Contact me or join the discussion in the comments!) It can be difficult to explain why I don’t want kids, other than to say I just never had the longing to be a mother, for whatever reason. What it really comes down to for me is this: I think raising tiny humans is one of the most important and challenging responsibilities you can take on in life. I know to do it right I would have to want it, really want it, and I don’t.