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15th November 2019

Having children: the question of if, not when

Plenty of women choose not to have children and it is not always about choosing between a career or a family, argues Kate Jackson
Having children: the question of if, not when
Photo: Johannes Jander @Flickr

When it comes to having children, most cis women are deemed to follow one of two paths: women who choose to have children, and those who ‘deny’ their biological destiny. Of course that is an over-simplification of an issue that has already been simplified in popular discourse. And when I say ‘simplify’, I really mean an ongoing reaffirmation of what is expected from women, all of which is based on outdated notions about a woman’s ‘purpose’.

Being able to choose to have children is, undeniably, a privilege for a lot of women living in the West compared to others across the world who aren’t given a choice. And in the eyes of those who cannot naturally have children, it is a gift to even be able to have a child.

There is still an overwhelming societal expectation for women who are physically capable to have children. For women who do not want to have children or don’t make it a priority, it can be difficult to navigate their families, friends, and peers. 

If a woman aged forty, or even thirty, is not married and on her way to having children then something must be wrong. Maybe she can’t have children, they whisper; maybe she’s a lesbian, maybe she’s one of those darn radical feminists, or – the big one – maybe she’s too focused on her career.

The ‘career-focused women’ is a popular stereotype that has emerged since women have been released from the shackles of the private sphere into the public one. There is certainly plenty of data to suggest that our generation, on the whole, are having fewer children and those that do are waiting until they are older.

It’s easy to give women who say they never want to give birth, or don’t want to have children a simple label regardless of their autonomy over this decision.

Since I was sixteen I have been against naturally giving birth to a child; the thought of pregnancy and childbirth just seems horrific to me. Many have told me that all the pain and anguish will be worth it once you finally have that baby, that all the pain will seem inconsequential because you have done the best thing you’ll ever do. Because, as a woman, you haven’t quite completed this ‘game of life’ until you have had children.

Don’t get me wrong, mothers are badass and I have every ounce of respect for them in the world. Both for growing a human inside of them and for everything they deal with once they have a child to care for.

The fact of the matter is I shouldn’t have to put myself through pain, stress and potentially life-threatening injuries and mental health issues just so I can reach some arbitrary womanly milestone.

I have been told that I will change my mind, that I’ll get over my fear of childbirth and gain a new perspective once I’m older. Well, it’s six years later and I still never want to be pregnant. 

Even if I didn’t have a fear of pregnancy, having children falls down on the list of priorities I have for my life. Believe it or not, having a good career, being financially stable, and feeling generally happy is much more important to me than making sure I complete the checklist for a fulfilling life. 

Strangely enough I would like to have children in the future, I just don’t want to give birth to one. Adoption, like the expectation to have children, has a lot of baggage and expectation attached to it. Adoption is seen as the best ‘option’ for LGBTQ+ couples or those who cannot naturally get pregnant.

Why would someone want to adopt when they can give birth naturally and safely? 

This question relies on the same presumption that a naturally conceived child is the ultimate goal we should aim for, with everything else being seen as the second-best, the option we end up with should the main one go wrong. Of course, I understand why people feel it is important to be biologically connected with their child, but it just doesn’t mean that much to me. Even if it did, it still wouldn’t compete with my complete lack of interest in pregnancy and childbirth.

It is easy to stigmatize women who do not conform to expectations around having children, who are forgoing the chance to do something that their body was ‘made to do’. In reality, it’s often more complicated for women than just choosing between having a career or a family because there is certainly more to life than a job and children.

Even if most women do want the white picket fence and the 2.5 kids, we shouldn’t look at those without children as a debilitated figure who is ‘missing out’ – maybe they’ve just got other priorities.

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