I Am Childfree But Mostly, I Am Human
If you follow me on Twitter (which you totally should!), you will know about my new obsession with spoken word poetry. A few evenings ago I was watching and listening to poet after poet perform on the Button Poetry YouTube channel. Many of the poems evoked emotion but none quite like Paper Babies by Rachel Wiley. She put into words something I have felt in the past and have been feeling lately – guilt. So much guilt. And this may just prove that yes, I am childfree. But mostly, I am human.
“The minus sign almost feels like something is lost. They don’t make Hallmark cards for your first pregnancy scare. There are no showers thrown for the moment that you accept that you are much more wind-drift feather than all-mighty motherly root.” In between listing off potential baby names, Wiley goes on, “There is this knowledge that he and I would make beautiful babies…he would make a good father…and I would, despite my protests, make a really good mother…There is sadness in knowing that I will not be that piece of miraculous for him or with him.” She continues,
There is a strange and unexplainable guilt for wanting none of this. There is ache here.
Wiley appears never to have wanted to have children. Even still, her words felt so familiar to me.
Struggling to Belong
In December, I had the privilege of sharing my story on nonparents.com. This would be the first of many times I would write publicly about how I decided to be childfree.
In my article, I wrote, “I was soon overcome with a swell of emotions that ultimately sent me to our bedroom in tears. It was on that night that I mourned for the child I would never have.”
I cannot claim that my decision has always resulted in joy. I cannot claim that being childfree has always been painless for me. What I can claim is that I’ve always been a bit jealous of both women with children and women without. I’ve known some women who didn’t think twice about getting pregnant. And others yet who were living happily and unapologetically childfree. Where did I fit? I was a fence-sitter. I couldn’t relate to either extreme so I just stayed where I was. For probably far too long.
Childfree by Whose Choice?
It felt isolating standing there on that middle ground. I struggled with sadness- maybe even a type of grief- when I initially chose to be childfree. Although I am even surer now that this was the right decision, the pain still sneaks up on me at times.
When thinking of those who are infertile, we often imagine that their choice to be childfree was the runner-up to parenthood. They didn’t get to have their first pick. But we do not apply that same notion to the childfree by choice. Shouldn’t we though? Shouldn’t we at least consider that, for some, it is? Because it is for me.
I am childfree by second choice. Maybe this means I didn’t want kids bad enough or I didn’t not wants kids bad enough. But I don’t think it matters, really. In a different and perfect world, I could picture and probably would have a big family. But isn’t that irrelevant? Because I am not in a perfect world and because I am indeed in this one, I will not have children.
Even as a fence-sitter I knew there would come a day when I would have to choose. I considered the seemingly endless external factors and it became obvious what was best for my husband and me.
I’ve always been more comfortable talking and writing about how, not why, I came to be childfree. I’ve learned along the way that everyone has a different reason for ending up here – whether it was their first, or second or third, destination. And regardless of the ‘why’, we’re all here.
You’ve Made Your Bed, Now Lie in It
When I posted Rachel Wiley’s poem to Twitter, fellow childfree woman @sunnysankalpa tweeted back:
I love the poem but folks will twist it around to “See, she’s sad without babies, babies will make her happy.”
As much as I wish she were, she is not wrong. People who are not childfree often hold us to a standard of actions and consequences – “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.” We have made the choice not to have kids and now we have to just deal. We can’t be anything but happy about it. But only a Sith deals in absolutes (sorry, couldn’t resist a Star Wars reference).
At times, this standard has even boiled over into the childfree community as well. We know that it is acceptable to voice our frustrations when parents and others aren’t happy with our choice to be childfree. But what if someone who is childfree is temporarily less than happy with her choice? This isn’t often discussed but when it is, are others receptive? From what I have seen, sadly the answer is usually no.
But doesn’t every childfree person have the right to feel disappointment, or anger, or boredom, or resentment, in her lifestyle? Doesn’t every childfree person have the right to any emotion we as humans experience? Shouldn’t we talk about it? But we don’t. Why? Maybe we are scared. Maybe we hear this voice in our heads:
See, she’s sad without babies.
Let’s Talk About It
I want few things more than I want to see the childfree choice become normalized. But we can’t fight stigma with a dogma that all people who are childfree never doubt themselves- that we are always happy with our choice and likewise never sad. Not all of us have felt this way – that is true. But it is up to those of us who have to talk about it. And it’s up to those of us who haven’t to listen with respect – without blaming and without labeling.
I want to be able to talk about the things that are hard. I want to talk about them without the fear of being misconstrued. Like, when I held a little girl a couple weeks ago, my first time since my job as a teacher ended in June, and I couldn’t help but look at her and feel burdened by what I’ve sacrificed. And worse than that though is this feeling of guilt I’ve been carrying ever since. Guilt that I am some how less childfree now when really, I am just human. I am just a woman who misses her classroom of kids and a woman who is allowed to wonder “What if.”
For those reading, I hope I did not offend. And I also hope my goal is clear. We need to let ourselves just be human. We need to let ourselves just be childfree -for better, for worse, or for whatever we are that particular day. We need to let ourselves just be.
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