This photo has re-energized me to write about the topic that makes me the most nervous: motherhood. I shared it on Facebook this week in a jocular context, knowing full well the truth it holds for me and a fair number of my peers, who struggle with the question of kids now or later… or… never?
I’ve started writing about the kids issue a million times by now. But I never finish, because I don’t know quite how to say what I want to say. I’m not sure I even know what to say in the first place, as I learn and evolve. Most of the material out there is either overly defensive, or too funny, or too angry. Nothing has authentically spoken to my own feelings on the matter. The conversation about women choosing not to have children is relatively new still, and it’s a tough balance to strike.
I have not made any solid decisions one way or the other. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. But, as a married woman in her 30s, the pressure to decide weighs upon me all the time. Will I… or won’t I? And why? Of course, as a married woman in her 30s, I have to explain myself. I shouldn’t have to, of course… but we aren’t quite there yet, societally. And I know full well that people wonder.
I am a fortunate woman, though. For the most part, no one is specifically pressuring me to have children. I have a lovable aunt, or cousin, or family friend here and there who has vocally expressed a desire to see some adorable mini ChuckleNiks, and honestly, who can blame them? We’d have darling babies! Then they would be awkward, pale, gangly teenagers, and then they would blossom into vivacious young adults… we all know that 😉 But there’s more to it. And we all know that, too.
My biggest insecurity is not that people won’t understand. It’s that people will think I am a selfish human. An unnatural woman. They will feel sorry for me, because I am missing out on the greatest love a woman – a human – can possibly know. That I won’t have fulfilled my destiny as a female, who has been fortunate enough to find a wonderful mate. That is the point of Life after all, right? To find a mate, and make more… mates? For future… mates? Right? Circle of Life, and all that.
But I just can’t embrace this destiny. And there are many, complicated reasons for that. The most straightforward reason (which most non-military individuals will understand) is that Chuck is away so often. I really don’t want to parent by myself, in random parts of the country/world, while he is absent. It’s not the family life I pictured, nor is it the family life I still want. Especially since other members of my family and social circle are so very far away…
But those familiar with the military lifestyle – and those who have lived it themselves – will wonder, why not? “It can be done! I’m doing it/have done it! Go for it, babe!”
Sure. Good for you. I admire you SO much. I am not being cheeky or facetious when I say that. I really mean it.
I know I COULD do it. But do I want to? For better or for worse, these a few realities about me:
- I’m not comfortable with children. I’ll stop short of saying I dislike them 🙂 I’ve rarely been around them. I don’t babysit, and never really have. My friends have only recently started to reproduce, and they live on the other side of the country. I have no nieces or nephews, and my little sister was only two years younger than me growing up. Babies? I know it’s a joke for some, but they really are aliens to me. I don’t know how to handle them and they do not inspire affection. I am constantly worried I am hurting them.
- I am not confident in my own genetic material. I know this sounds silly, but a very basic, primal reason people reproduce is to pass on their own genetics. I’m not trying to be self-deprecating. I (and my family) have some amazing physical and psychological and spiritual traits that I would love to pass on. Obviously, Chuck does too! But I’ve also been fairly open about some very serious issues that run in my family, primarily in the realm of mental health. Those who know me understand the profound impact this has had on my life, and the uncertainty it continues to hurl my way. So, not only do I concern myself with the burdens I may shoulder with existing family down the road, but I speculate about the potential for inherited conditions throughout the generations (and even the triggering of my own, potentially latent, mental health conditions.) If my child and my mother are both ill… then what? Mental health is far more difficult to confront than physical ailments, and far less understood. Well, maybe not more difficult, but a different kind of challenging that few comprehend. And there are far fewer resources and tons less funding.
- I am happy. Right now. Aside from culturally-induced anxiety centered on what I should or should not be doing, I am honestly very content without kids. I grew up with values centered on independence and self-worth separate from family, and I have more to say on my career confusion at another time. But aside from the career thing, I honestly can’t complain. I get self-conscious thinking about some of my peers, especially Chuck’s friends back home. Most of his friends have beautiful, poised spouses with careers AND babies. I won’t lie that sometimes that fact makes me feel inadequate. I don’t have a consistent career nor am I a mother… so what the heck am I doing with my life? I know one thing for sure though – I’m not going to thrust more people into the world just to feel good about myself. Especially when I know the stress and anxiety and resentment I will feel doing it mostly by myself, just to appeal to a social norm. But seriously… what am I doing? Well… I don’t honestly know. What are any of us doing? I know moms deal with that question all the time. We are all just doing the best we can with what we’ve got. And what I’ve got is a guy named Chuck who I knew was too good to pass up for “social norms” – whatever that even means these days. Time will tell if I made the right call, but for now, I’m living the adventure of a lifetime. Could I so easily rappel waterfalls in Bali, if I had babies to worry about? Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef? Watch burlesque in Paris? Catch the sunrise at the most holy and ancient of temples in Cambodia? Wander tipsy, enlightened, and in love through many exotic foreign cities, where philosophers, scientists, historians, rebels, warriors, and lovers past have tread? Even if I’m just chilling on a beach with a margarita in my hand, I know I arouse the envy of many mothers worldwide. Is that bad? Is that selfish? And does the feminist in me sometimes wish I had brought these opportunities upon myself? Sure. But Life doesn’t always work out picture-perfect like we want, in that regard.
- But there’s still that “selfish” thing. It’s increasingly okay to embrace being “selfish” (kinda.) Well-intentioned people have told me “Yes! Be selfish! For as long as you can. That’s okay! You give EVERYTHING up when baby comes along!” But why does it have to be selfish? That’s a horrible thing to be! I do want to share my love! My life! My energy! But is a baby the only way to do that? I recognize that people don’t value animals quite the way I do. I love them. I mean, I don’t even eat them. They capture my attention in various ways, possibly as a way to fulfill my need for nurturing and purpose. But I also try to be a good friend. A good wife. A good daughter. A good sister. I am not perfect, and I have things to work on, but are those inferior things to pursue, as opposed to being a great mother? Why is being a mother the only selfless, noble thing for a woman to do? I know that our modern society continues to struggle with that. How does an individual retain value, especially if you are female? (It is also worth nothing that many of the reasons a couple may choose to have children could be determined “selfish” as well…)
If Chuck had expressed an explicit desire to have kids, things might be different. But surprisingly, we seem to be on the same page. He is so good at what he does, and he is a great leader to very young Marines who need him. And he loves it. While I think Chuck would be an amazing dad, I think it would split his focus between two very strong passions. Between his split-personality, and my anxiety with doing a lot of it without him, it’s just not right for us. I keep getting him tipsy to see if he will indicate alternate inclinations, but to no avail 🙂 We are solidly happy where we are at!
I know people will think we are weird. Or sad. Or missing out. But what can you do? Forcing it could make things worse. We are our own unique coupling in this vast Universe. If we had a traditional life – same home, same jobs, same neighbors, family nearby – maybe things would have been different. If our lives were like his best friends’ lives, maybe we would be a family of four by now. But instead, we lived in Japan. And traveled all of Asia. And rescued like 80+ cats. And pursued higher education. And we prepared a lot of young, less-educated people for a future in a new world. We are making the world a better place as best we can, geopolitically and locally.
And honestly. Who has sat in traffic this past week? Navigated a grocery store? Do we honestly need more people? More humans? More plastic? Y’all know I’m a conservationist! Our species is plenty dominant and will be for a while to come… for better or for worse 🙂
I really don’t know what else to say, but I welcome dialogue on the matter. It’s increasingly common to find peers who have already decided not to have children. Surprisingly, I have met the majority of these individuals in the military community. It certainly makes me more comfortable considering the possibility. I sill struggle with inadequacy. But, we will get there. I take motherhood VERY seriously and don’t want to screw it up beyond what we all tend to screw up just because we are human. I feel a little less ready than your average married woman, but I want to feel value regardless. Well, not value. I don’t need props and praise. But I don’t want people to resent me. Or feel sorry for me. Or wrap up my entire existence in my uterus (because honestly – aside from fertility issues – we can all do this. Seriously. You just gotta have sex).
If I’m gonna have a baby, I am privileged enough to know I need to do it right. And what does “right” even mean? Well, that’s another whole other blog post, for a whole other human…
There are lots of ways to live your life. Go. Be you!