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Carol Hartsell Headshot

It's Not 'Childless', It's A 'Choice'

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At the risk of seeming insensitive as we approach Mother's Day, I have a bone to pick with everyone out there who has chosen -- or tacitly accepted -- the role of motherhood. Could you please, for the love of God, stop referring to those of us who have chosen to not have kids as "childless"?

As a way of explaining, let me also let you know that in addition to being 100% childless, I am also monsterless, RV-less, ferretless, wingless, third-nippleless, portmanteauless, Ryan-Seacrestless, crippling-sense-of-self-loathingless and teaching-certificateless.

Do I feel a sense of loss for not having any of those things? No, because I never wanted them to begin with. It's much the same with children. I do not want one, and I'm lucky enough to live in a country where if one manifest by accident in my womb I could send it packing.

Let me be even more plain. I am 37, married and I have a good job. I've taken Plan B twice, both times in the last year. I don't want kids.

So it aggravates me to no end that I'm referred to as childless by those who still insist that giving birth and raising a family is something to which we should all aspire.

I have the utmost respect for the job of motherhood, even though in this economy it's one of the easier jobs to acquire and you can be pretty bad at it and not be fired.

More importantly, I love my mom and consider her one of the best in the business. She raised four kids, worked, did PTA, was the nurse for all of my sports teams and made damn sure I never became a cheerleader. She also pioneered AIDS awareness education at schools in Alabama in 1987, encouraging kids to not be prejudiced and to use condoms if they simply must have sex. In short, Mom kicks ass, and I'm still reaping the benefits of all that ass she kicked over the years.

But she also raised me to not accept things that were spoonfed to me, and to this day, the biggest spoon anyone has ever tried to shove down my mouth is motherhood.

There are multiple reasons I don't want children, and believe it or not, they don't all begin with, "Look, I'm just way too selfish..." Here they are, in no particular order:

  • I've never been a kid person. Never babysat, never really enjoyed dolls, just never got into the culture. It's the same reason I don't own a boxset of the "X-Files". Why start being someone you're not in your 30s?
  • The world is overpopulated. Why should someone who doesn't even want kids feel pressured to have one? Frankly, you should be thanking me.
  • I've never been deluded enough to think that my genes need to be passed on. I have scoliosis and have been wearing glasses since I was 12. When the robot aliens attack in a few generations, you're going to want my DNA out of the equation.
  • I still remember the first time I learned that everyone I loved would die, including me. I can't take bringing someone into this world and then breaking that news to them. It's a joke so bad you'd hear it at an open mic.
  • Most importantly, I have other things I want to do in this life.

Before this starts to sound too whiny I should also explain that it's not that I feel marginalized by being referred to as childless; it doesn't injure me or take away any of my rights. However, it doesn't just piss me off either. I think the rhetoric is counter-productive.

I'm not a fan of successful women paying lip-service to the notion that being a mother is still the best, hardest and most rewarding job you can do, and that by choosing not to be one, the rest of us are somehow betraying a lack of conviction to "have it all." Remember Ellen Degeneres' old standup bit about how we shouldn't be eating ALL we can eat; well, we shouldn't be attempting to have ALL we can have either. Just because a lot of us can have babies, doesn't mean we should; it also doesn't mean we should feel like we should. To suggest otherwise is to teach young girls a pernicious lesson: yes, you can have a career, but it's even more rewarding to have a baby. Which often translates to, you can have a career or a baby.

When we lament the uneven ratio of women to men in business, government, and even comedy, the argument is often that it's because more men attempt to do those things. What we're afraid to point out is that our culture portrays motherhood as a reasonable alternative career path. Men are never taught to think that they can either have a career or be a dad, that both are equally important. But women are.

So, by being a woman who resolutely does not want kids, is actively pursuing the advancement of a career that is fulfilling and seeking to get as much out of this life as possible, I feel like I'm setting a good example for my nieces.

Having children should become an afterthought for more women, like it is for so many men. "Ok, let's see, I graduated high school, then college, got a master's degree, got a good job, met someone great and fell in love, left my job and started my own company, went to Iceland, learned to fly a plane, what else... Oh, you know what I think I'll do now, have a baby. What? I'm in my late 30s and having trouble getting pregnant? No biggie, I'll adopt a kid who is currently starving and on track to die of malaria; she'll have an amazing future where she can decide, just like me, if and when she wants to have kids."

I know that many women have wanted to be mothers as long as they can remember, and that for them it is a calling. I don't want to diminish that. But let's not kid ourselves; almost every woman you know has been socialized from the time she was in diapers to believe that she is supposed to have a child of her own. And she grew up knowing that not working was an option, if she had a husband who could support a family. Conversely, stay-at-home dads are still the platypuses of modern life.

Of course, there are plenty of women who want to have kids who can't, who do, in fact, feel childless. Let's stop pretending that my situation is like theirs; it minimizes their personal sorrow.

But if I may be so bold, I would say to those women, please adopt. Then you won't be childless, and more importantly, your eventual child will no longer be futureless.

The point is, let's take our emotions and rhetoric down a peg or two with regards to having children. Not being able to have "a child of your own" is not the end of the world, and to look at it that way is, in my opinion, inhumane. And women who choose not to have children should be respected, even admired, not looked upon as defective. They are in the position to move the ball furthest in defining success, simply by being an important example to young girls.

Make no mistake, the glorification of baby-making is holding women back in terms of power. We certainly don't have only ourselves to blame, but we're not blameless.