Yes, Actually, Childfree IS Normal, Thanks

5 years ago

Why is it so hard to talk about women who don’t want kids, decide not to have them, and live happily ever after? Even feminist writer Jessica Valenti can’t seem to do it—even in a piece titled Not Wanting Kids Is Entirely Normal

Her story in the Atlantic today opens with horrific tales of child abandonment. It’s full of grim confessions by unhappy moms. It closes with a plea for better infrastructure for parents, and more realistic images of motherhood.

I agree with Valenti's point. One of the best things about working at BlogHer is advocating for parents, and helping people talk about motherhood in all its forms. It's truth-telling as game-changer; it's important, and it thrills me to be a part of it.

But reading her story, I felt erased. Not wanting kids is normal, she was saying, because society makes it tough for people to be parents. Not because some people, like me, simply don't want children.

I hit menopause at 25 years old. It's called premature ovarian failure (and listen, nothing makes a woman feel complete like being called an "ovarian failure.")

When I was diagnosed, I did my research, and came to the endocrinologist with medical concerns that ranged from the long-term effects of hormone replacement therapy to whether I was going to break a hip at Burning Man. My doctor came with a box of tissues. He was not prepared to answer my questions about my body. He was prepared to hold my hand while he broke the news that I couldn't bear children, refer me to a grief counselor, and tell me, "You never know: Miracles can happen with modern medicine."

But aside from spitting fury at my misogynist endocrinologist, I felt pretty lucky. This biological thing had happened to me, and not to someone who expected to have kids. Tragedy averted. And aside from a few less-than-fabulous side effects of my condition (I likely spend on lube what I save on feminine hygiene), I rarely think about it.

I've never wanted children. I've known it forever. I don't hate kids; I'm an awesome aunt and a kick-ass babysitter. I would step up to raise the kids of my brother or best friend if something happened. I love them dearly and care about their well-being. And I'm sure I'd be decent at it. But that's not the life I choose for myself.

A woman's mid-20s is when people start getting nosy about when and how often and with whom she's planning to breed. "Do you have children?" and "How old are your kids?" become the icebreakers. And it’s incredible what power the flat statement "I don't want children" can have to push buttons. I've seen it trigger everything from dismissiveness ("You'll change your mind when you're older") to defensiveness ("Don't you want the joys of motherhood?") to derisiveness ("I could never be so selfish!"). I've heard all of those, verbatim, from well-meaning friends and loved ones.

I hate justifying my decision, and I shouldn't have to. I hate that just speaking my truth freights casual chitchat with tension. I really hate yelling at the Thanksgiving table.

And so my minor medical condition ended up giving me a chickenshit gift: the ability to pass as a "normal" woman. In the years since, I've learned that "I can't have kids" comes with its own set of questions ("What happened?" "Have you considered adopting?"), but they're gentle. I'm not immature and selfish when I say "I can't." Sometimes I’m tragic. But tragedy, conveniently, is a subject-changer.

Most women want kids. I do not, and I feel totally normal—so much so that I've never thought of the way I use "I can't," except as a shortcut around a crap conversation.

But today I read a story that promised me I am normal, then told me a different story. So today, I'm taking the one sentence from Valenti's piece that rang true to me—"American culture can't accept the reality of a woman who does not want to be a mother"—and I'm using it as a reminder to tell my own truth, always:

I'm never saying "I can't have children" again.

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