According to Associated Press, last year was the first year that women in their early 30s gave birth to more babies than women in their late 20s. Today, I turn 28 — a milestone that formerly held no particular significance, until I learned that it is now the average age that women in this country have their first child.
Like me, many of my peers have yet to become mothers and they often express a hesitance to even begin considering starting a family, for various reasons. I’ve discussed with friends their concerns about what pregnancy and childbirth will do to their bodies. Many of them don’t believe a child would make sense financially, at least not anytime soon. And there are always, of course, worries that a baby will throw off careers plans.
This, for me, is not the case. While I understand these concerns, I don’t share them; what’s standing in between me and having a baby is simply having no desire, at all, to do so. And I’m not alone in this. For many of my friends, the idea of being a mother has very little appeal.
It goes without saying that children are incredibly important; a lot of the work that I do, and look forward to doing in the future, is centered around encouraging and empowering children. There are also a handful of children in my life who mean the world to me. But I’m not particularly nurturing and it’d be fair to say that I lack the temperament to be a “kid-person.” Once, when I was watching my sister’s children, my 6-year-old nephew looked at me inquisitively and said, “you don’t like kids, do you?” To which I responded that I loved him and that he was very smart. I remember thinking that if I ever did have a child, I hoped they were as astute as him.
In all honesty, the closest I get to wanting children is knowing that I don’t want to be an old woman without adult kids. Unfortunately, raising them from infancy (or at least adopting them young) seems to be the only way to avoid this. I’m aware that wanting there to be people who feel morally obligated to care for you and keep you company, in your old age, isn’t a great reason to have kids but the depictions of childless older women that I’ve been exposed to, my whole life, are always bleak.
Even today, as women become more independent and continue to break gender stereotypes, a woman deciding not to have children still feels somewhat taboo. Society has very condescendingly decided that women who never have kids have failed at achieving true fulfillment, regardless of what they’ve accomplished. This is generally applied to unmarried women, as well.
Though I often find myself, in true young feminist fashion, railing against this perspective and pointing out that we rarely view men under the same lens, it is a thought that taunts me more and more as I get older. So much so that, even though I don’t want kids, I like the idea of being a woman who does want and love children. I wish that I was someone who couldn’t wait to have a baby and there are times when I am very critical of myself for not being that kind of person. I wonder, is there something biologically wrong with me? Does this say something about my ability to love? Or my inability to be selfless?
Children, we’re told, are life’s greatest gifts. To give birth to a child is to reach the pinnacle of transformative human experiences, through which you unlock a love that cannot be achieved any other way. Choosing to opt out of procreating undoubtedly means signing up for a lifetime of being told that I don’t understand certain things because I’m not a parent.
Having not yet reached my 30s, I’m aware that my window to evolve on this issue is still quite large, but I don’t believe that will happen. And the confidence, with which people assure me that they’re certain I will change my mind, is agitating. Their insistence that I will warm up to the idea feels very much like, “it’s okay, eventually you’ll be a normal woman and stop rejecting nature.”
Even more frustrating than this, is the suggestion that I’ll feel differently about children when I find the right man. As if these very valid feelings are merely temporary symptoms that will go away if I’m lucky enough to find a man to cure them.
I’m fortunate enough, at least, not to be a woman whose family is constantly hounding them about when they’re going to settle down and have children. A handful of my friends have mothers who are constantly and aggressively reminding their daughters that they’ve yet to make them grandmothers.
And yet, the trend of young adult women delaying motherhood or abstaining completely persists. Knowing this, it’d be an absurdity to hold onto anything even resembling the idea that, for women, bringing life into the world is the only way to have lived fully—that, somehow, having children gives a person’s life more meaning than someone’s who didn’t. My generational comrades are producing babies at nearly half the rate that women were at the peak of the baby boom, in the 1950s, and as things drift briskly in this direction, it’s especially imperative, I feel, that we emphasize the value of aspirations that have nothing to do marriage or motherhood.