In the Blog

Childless by choice: The Expectation of Parenting

August 1st, 2007     by Stacey May Fowles     Comments

(meet my baby Shelby, and yes, shamelessly finding a random excuse to post a picture of my puppy on the blog.)


So we’ve talked a little bit about feminism’s relationship to marriage, but what about the baby question? Choosing childlessness is becoming a little more mainstream and less of an expectation than you might think. 2:The Magazine for Couples (oh no, there’s that tyrany of coupledom again) has an interesting interview with “child-free lifestyle advocate” Jerry Steinberg that explores the issue in some detail. Steinberg is the “non-father” of No Kidding!, an international social club for childless (those who can’t have kids) and child-free (those who don’t want kids) couples and singles who advocate what they call “childfreedom.” Although not feminist-focused (and I find myself wishing that they could have interviewed a female member of the club to explore the gender implications,) Steinberg has some interesting and pretty sane things to say on the issue:

Q: Some people think that children are the glue that keeps partnerships together, that the point of two people coming together is to procreate. Agree? That’s absolutely ridiculous! If anything, children add stress to a relationship. Such antiquated thinking would prevent infertile people, elderly people and gays from marrying. And what should a married couple do if their child dies—divorce? People come together for friendship, romance, intimacy. Having children is an option, but it’s certainly not mandatory or necessary.

Let’s face it: babies are a pretty intense societal expectation for women, and the fact that almost every girl I went to high school with is about 8 months pregnant right now does occasionally make me wonder why I’m not ready (and doubt whether or not I’ll ever be ready) to jump on the baby boat. For me, it used to be “I’m focusing on my career right now,” or “I’m not in the right financial or relationship situation,” but lately it’s been “I just don’t want kids.” It’s like we’re trained to want motherhood from the minute we’re old enough to play with dolls, and there is this underlying message that we’re not able to define ourselves completely until we make a life.

Some women know from the start that kids are simply not for them and make the choice to prevent them completely early in their twenties, but trying to get a tubal ligation when you’re in your “childbearing years” proves to be a difficult task:

Though no actual laws have ever been put into place, most OBGYNs refuse to provide women under thirty with permanent forms of contraception. Dr. Daniel Wiener, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at McGill University in Montreal, is one such doctor. With thirty plus years of medical practice, Dr. Wiener finds no good reason for putting otherwise healthy patients in surgery: for one, there are anesthetic risks involved. Plus, tubal ligations are considered elective surgeries (assuming the patient can use other, less invasive forms of birth control). More pressing, still, is the fear that a patient may one day change her mind. “Twenty-one to thirty, that’s a big decade. A huge decade,” says Dr. Wiener. “A woman who is twenty-five and says, ‘That’s it, I’ve made my choice,’ I would probably just have to say, ‘You’re making a twenty-five year old choice. You sure that’s going to be a thirty-eight or thirty-nine year old choice?’”

Sounds like another case of co-opting choice to me. Women who choose to be childless and take logical steps to live that lifestyle (avoiding the risks of long-term hormonal birth control for a more permanent solution, for instance) are often told that they’ll “grow out of it.” Hell, a friend of mine told me recently that my lack of desire to have little ones was simply because “I hadn’t met the right person yet.” So I should ditch my current partner of three years and go find a boy who makes my ovaries jump around?

People simply don’t trust women to make their own decisions and then pressure them to make choices they don’t want. I personally have a family (or more specifically, a mother) who has no expectation that I’ll ever have kids or marry, and my immediate social sphere doesn’t include a lot of parents. Perhaps we’re the “irresponsible set” or “not ready to grow up,” but since when does having a baby mean you’re grown up? I beg to differ. And Steinberg does too and has an interesting take:

It’s truly a personal decision, and I would never tell anyone that they should or should not have children. You have to make the choice that’s right for you. But let’s not forget humans consume resources and create pollution. Do we really need more consuming polluters?

…We are extremely lucky to be able to determine how many children we will have.

I’ve never been a big fan of children (quite frankly they scare me a little bit) but admittedly as I noticed I was approaching thirty I did (gulp) find myself swooning a little bit more over babies in the grocery store…

Biological clock? Maternal need to be fufilled? Growing out of an interest in being childless? Maybe. But two months ago me and my partner gave into my “mom need” and adopted a troubled dog from the local shelter and let me tell ya, that ended any biological imperative that might have been kicking around. Quite frankly, any vague baby urge I may have previously had has been completely usurped by her. Call me irresponsible and selfish, but my take is this: if we’d had a baby instead, we couldn’t exactly have been able to throw it a rawhide bone and lock it in the bedroom for a couple of hours while we went out for dinner…

Tags: body politics, in my opinion...

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