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It’s all right not to have kids

June 17th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  8 Comments

Who wouldn't want one?

Who wouldn't want one?

By coincidence I happen to have several women friends all of whom are in their mid-forties, are recently (within the last couple of years) married, and are all either having children or attempting to have them. As you might expect, the ones having babies have had some assistance from modern medicine (twins, anyone?), at times with measures that could be described as extreme, expensive, and even painful. The ones who are still trying are also going through these same things, just without success yet.

I got married when I was 27, which isn’t young but isn’t old. We had JP when I was 33, which again isn’t young (my mother was 21 when she had my older brother) but isn’t particularly old, either. Getting my ex pregnant didn’t prove difficult, the pregnancy was normal, and the delivery was routine (if any birth can be described that way). So, bear in mind that I am aware that I have no room to express the opinion that I am about to express.

Here’s the thing: these women are all extremely successful career women; some of them have husbands who already have children, or who didn’t really want children. They have lives. They traveled and worked through their twenties and their thirties and even their forties. Yet now, somehow, when some women are plotting their retirement and harassing their children about grandchildren, now, a baby has become a pressing life priority. They would be “devastated” if the thousands of dollars they are spending on invasive, risky procedures don’t succeed in bringing them a child for whom they will need to attend his or her college graduation with the assistance of a walker.

Again, I have a child, so who am I to judge, right? And, of course, society says women simply must procreate. Freely stipulated, members of the jury (not judging). But how can they be devastated? They were of child bearing age for decades and now they’re devastated? Someone please help me relate.

When my ex and I were trying to have a baby, I don’t think either of us had a particularly strong drive to have a child. The time seemed right, our careers were reasonably underway, we didn’t have tremendous debts, we owned a house–it just seemed like what you do. I always told myself that if it didn’t work, well no big deal. More money for us.

A typical reaction to this sentiment is that I’m a man and I don’t know what it feels like to want or need a child. This is an odd kind of bunkum in this modern era. Again, we’re talking about confident, busy, career-oriented women who made no effort to have children–and dating in the hopes of meeting “the one” doesn’t count in my book–for years and years. Does that make them men? Isn’t the notion of a furiously ticking “biological clock” sexist and condescending?

Finally, I hope that all of these women are able to conceive. They strike me as capable parents and should have what they want. But, ladies, it’s okay if it doesn’t happen. Really.


  1. eeo says:

    June 18th, 2010at 3:11 pm(#)

    Oh man, this seems like the sort of opinion that women would have your head over. I’m surprised no one has commented yet. But I’m going to tell you a little secret: I agree.

    I think one of the worst things the feminist movement gave us was the LIE that we, women, can have everything and do everything all at once. And, that its a right. Well, I’m the daughter of a woman who had a successful career (read: work her ass off at the sacrifice of her health), a daughter (me) when she was in her late 30’s and a miserable marriage (but who has the time for a divorce?). So many moms of my friends had it the same way. You can’t work on your career, have a family, create a successful partnership with a spouse and have hobbies all at once. At least, not in any sort of way where one could actually enjoy each part and excel at it. So then, one must prioritize. And, like you said, its okay to not have kids. But, if you DO want them, save yourself $50,000 by having them before you’re 40.

    Americans don’t like the idea of sacrifice, but wanting everything at once just means we do a shitty job of everything. And no one ever talk about what its like to be 20 with a 60-something year old set of parents. Or what’s its like to have a baby, and want your mom there to help but she can’t because she’s too old. Or what its like to take care of kids and elderly parents at the same time. Its just not fair.

  2. JessieVT says:

    June 18th, 2010at 4:05 pm(#)

    I found your article inflammatory. Here is my inflammatory response: a woman, not having a baby, and never being able to have a baby, is like a man with impotence.

    But perhaps, as women approach their half century birthday, fear of mortality looms. Bearing children is the cure for that fear, to leave a bit of one’s self behind.

  3. dadwagon says:

    June 18th, 2010at 4:39 pm(#)

    Jessie–I’m not sure I get that analogy. It assumes that a woman without a baby is somehow a lesser being. It further denies all male interest in procreation. If a woman who can’t conceive is the same as a male impotent, then what is a man who can’t conceive? He isn’t impotent, too, is he? BTw–I said nothing about their ABILITY to conceive or not conceive. I was discussing their thought-process, timing, and reaction to being able to conceive. Not quite the same thing. As for mortality, again, wouldn’t that argument extend to men as well? Or are you saying that for men, fear of mortality translates into an expensive car, and for women it’s a baby? I’m not sure who that reflects on more negatively–Theodore.

  4. dadwagon says:

    June 18th, 2010at 4:40 pm(#)

    Thank you for more articulately stating what I was trying to say. –Theodore.

  5. JessieVT says:

    June 18th, 2010at 5:26 pm(#)

    To Theodore,
    I have the impression from some childless girlfriends that they do indeed feel like lesser beings. That they have missed out now that menopause is here. Men have an extended option on procreation that women miss out on, so I think fear of mortality isn’t triggered in the same way.

    Are inflammatory responses supposed to be well reasoned? Whoops! Maybe menopause=impotence=inability to perform=that sucks?

  6. JasonS says:

    June 18th, 2010at 7:24 pm(#)

    I apologize in advance for the length of my response.

    My wife and I were married young. I was only 22 at the time, my wife was 21. At that point having kids was the farthest thing from our minds. We were both in college and both working (this was in the good old days when you could finance higher education with a part time job). We never really thought that much about having children, none of our friends were even married, and kids just weren’t around.

    As we got a little older our peers started to marry and have kids. We started to think about whether that was something we wanted and eventually decided that it was. So we started trying. I was about 28 and it seemed like a good time. I had graduated from law school and we were settling into adulthood. We had been married for 7 years at that point.

    So we tried for a while, with no success. After a year or two it seemed like it wasn’t going to be as easy as we had thought. Now we were in the stage of life where lots of our friends and family were having their kids and being around all these babies started to kick those paternal and maternal instincts into high gear. At some point it went from just being something that we thought we probably wanted to something we really truly hoped would happen. But it wasn’t happening.

    So we started really trying. We were keeping track of cycles and using thermometers and even seeing doctors. Still nothing. Another year went by, and then another. We were busy with our jobs and we paying off our student loans and saving money to buy a house. But in quiet moments I could feel my young adulthood starting to slip towards middle age. Now our friends were having second kids and talking about schools and sports and swimming lessons. As time went by I felt like I had less and less in common with my friends who were parents, as their conversations all seemed to relate to shared experiences around parenting. Our fridge was covered with pictures of other peoples kids. We had been married 10 years.

    Then things started to get desperate. Now every time we had sex it was under a cloud of anxiety and disappointment and fading hopes. Every time was another chance for failure, subtle but persistent. We used medications and got diagnoses and my wife endured hormone induced moods swings while I, prone to depression since high school, found a perfect excuse to nurse my nascent existential crisis.

    Our marriage became so filled with anxiety and stress it wasn’t clear if it would pull through. Eventually we decided to quit trying to have children, or rather, she decided she had had enough and I said I was okay with it. And although I thought that I was, deep down I wasn’t. We almost got divorced, but didn’t get divorced. Instead we got counseling, and after a lot of tears and reflection, eventually decided to try again. One more time, just to feel like we had really given it our best shot. We spent all of the money we saved to buy a house on fertility treatments (not covered by our insurance, sadly). At that point, we had been married 12 years. I was 34 and had been trying to have kids for 7 years.

    The thing about wanting kids is that it doesn’t come from the cerebral cortex. It comes from a place in the brain far, far deeper than that. Its not subject to rationalization and argument. It doesn’t care about anything as petty as material success or conspicuous consumption or creature comforts. It doesn’t matter that there is an upside to it, because that upside exists in the realm of the frontal lobes, in the domain of the social self, whereas the desire to have children is primal. Its not just in your head but in your heart and in your cells. Parenthood connects you to every prior generation that somehow managed to live and thrive long enough to procreate and pass some part of their DNA forward to you from a billions years ago right up to this very minute.

    Every consolation was cold comfort, like trying to rationalize your way out of depression. I felt like I had failed in the most important task I had as a human being, the reason I was here in a body. I felt I missed the chance to participate in the ongoing life of the universe, and to transcend mortality. I was prepared to accept living without children, but it wasn’t something that I was going to shrug off or ever really get past. It made the joy of watching kids grow up, seeing nieces and nephews and kids of friends, sting a little, deep down. It was heartbreaking.

    These were my thoughts as I was staring down the prospect of living my life child free. Whether or not any of it was true, that’s how I felt. Those were dark days. So I would say “devastating” is probably not hyperbole. At least not when you are in the teeth of it.

  7. eeo says:

    June 18th, 2010at 11:54 pm(#)

    That is totally different, though. You knew you wanted to be a parent from the get go and began trying to conceive when you were still young (very young in some some crowds). This discussion is more focused on people who have focused so intently on their careers or their extra-curriculars and then wake up at the dawn of menopause (or the male equivalent…) and decide, “now. Now, I need a baby to be complete.” Since I live in the East Bay, CA I am surrounded by these parents. Many of them are mom-friends of mine. It is a very different person than the couple who begins trying at 28.

  8. scottstev says:

    June 21st, 2010at 10:47 am(#)


    I found your first comment very interesting regarding “the LIE that we, women, can have everything and do everything all at once.” Having missed out on the 2nd-Wave feminist movement, I can’t comment whether it was Feminism that drove this attitude or something else. But it’s an interesting contrast to how men are raised in that boys are taught (in general) that life will deal you cruel blows and you will suffer losses; but how you handle those losses and how you fight for your victories will determine your worth as a man (think “Rudy” and every other male weeper).

    I can definitely see the folks you talk about in your second post. Those who have achieved all their goals but somehow mother nature hasn’t quite bent to their indomitable will, and they rage against it like Knute at the tide.

    The most difficult thing for me as a husband when my wife were trying to conceive after our miscarriage, was the feeling of helplessness and fear that should we not conceive (we eventually did), then everything prior to that (professional success, a happy marriage) would be worthless. I can’t imagine how we would handle infertility. But it is a death: of hopes, dreams, and an imagined future; and the mourning of which can’t be an easy thing to go through.

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