I’ve been surrounded by talk of babies lately. A couple readies themselves for the arrival of triplets. Another couple is in disagreement about whether to have a child. I am seated at a baby shower with two other women who talk of nothing but what their fully grown babies are doing. I listen attentively to all of these conversations, but I cannot join in. I simply have nothing to add.
When I was admitted to the hospital recently, the nurse went over my medical history. Number of births: 0. Number of pregnancies: 0. I have gone over these same questions innumerable times during the past 10 years of my chronic pain odyssey, and although the medical person asking the questions always strives to maintain a professional demeanor, there is still a slight raise in an eyebrow or a sideways glance, as if I am hiding children in an account in the Caymans or have had multiple miscarriages or abortions that I don’t want to talk about. I have a strong suspicion that these unthinkable scenarios would be more acceptable to the person asking me these questions than the real truth, a truth the majority of the population simply cannot comprehend. I don’t want children. I never wanted children.
“Across the broad continent of a woman’s life falls the shadow of a sword. On one side all is correct, definite, orderly; the paths are straight…she has only to walk demurely from cradle to grave and no one will touch a hair of her head,” wrote Virginia Woolf. “But on the other side all is confusion. Nothing follows a regular course.” I know this sword well. I spent years tip-toeing across to its highly sharpened edge, leaning this way and that, feet bloodied by indecision, not knowing on which side I would land.
I thought I would land on the straight path, getting married after college, having two children, settling into a nice house. I thought this was the only way; what women were supposed to do. I didn’t know there was another way because I grew up seeing only this life path. But maturity and a deep inward dive revealed to me a truth I never imagined: there was simply no desire, no yearning, no need, no reason at all for me to bear children.
But falling as I did on this side of Virginia Woolf’s sword has meant that I am questioned by others quite often. “Why didn’t you have children?” I am asked. For years I attempted to explain myself, to convince the questioning individual that this was best for all of my unrealized progeny, best for me, best for humanity in general. Now I am tempted to respond with this simple question: “Why did you have children?” I have yet to actually ask, but isn’t it really the same? This is 2018 and choices are everywhere. From what shirt I wear to work or what my next Netflix binge will be to what I will choose for a college major or which job I accept, we are overwhelmed with choices, both innocuous and life-altering. All answers, save for wearing a bikini top to a law office job or choosing serial killer as a career option, are acceptable. All are allowed. All are welcome here. My choosing not to have children doesn’t mean I am a selfish child-hater or someone who has lost a sad battle with infertility. It simply means I made a different choice.
So here I am on my side of the sword. On the other side, people have children. They love and nurture them and are happy with this choice. On this side I have made another choice. The correct choice for me.