Words by: Tess Kent Art by: Jessica La
As if it were the most casual of conversations, my gynaecologist handed me my prescription and let slip, “when you start thinking about wanting kids, come see me 12 months earlier to begin fertility treatments”.
I’d just come in for a check-up as my period erred on the side of few and far between. Instead, I found out that I had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and potentially endometriosis, and had just been slapped with the fact that I don’t ovulate properly. Suddenly, I was very aware that having children would need to be an incredibly conscious decision for me. I would have to try very hard to conceive, and even then, it would most likely be a rigorous process of testing and heartbreak.
I was 21 when I had that conversation with my gynaecologist. Twenty-one, and suddenly thinking about my body’s inability to do what I’ve always been told is its main function: to reproduce.
The kicker was that I’ve never wanted to have children, anyway. So why did I feel as though I’d been wronged and stripped of a choice, when the outcome was going to be the same regardless?
When I was five, I was given a Baby Born doll that I had desperately wanted. It was a high-tech one; it would laugh, cry and burp as all real babies do. However, whenever she would cry I remember feeling so incredibly anxious that I would simply drop her on the floor and cry too. I’d hold her by her little plastic hand, arm’s length away from me, begging my mother to come and take this scary toy away. The incessant wailing implied I was doing something wrong, as if parenting should have been imbued within me from age five.
I ended up spending most of my time playing with the Baby Born with her batteries left out. I’ve lacked maternal instincts since I was young, and even now, when I hear babies crying I flinch with the same crippling helplessness as I did when I was five.
Truth be told, the idea of having a family has never enticed me. I have many career ambitions and goals, and I don’t feel particularly drawn to having to give birth to a child. It might be a naive take, but no one’s selling me the dream all that well. Having grown up in a less-than-perfect family and a complicated relationship with my mother, I don’t see these rewards that everyone gloats about.
But in a way, I think maybe I am jealous of those who have such strong maternal instincts, those who just know that they want to be a parent. As a young person, when I say the bold statement of ‘no babies for me’, it’s always met with the same huffed response, as if I don’t know any better: ‘oh, you’ll change your mind one day”. And yes, I’m sure I’ll change my mind on many things one day. I’ll move to suburbs I’ve not considered before and I’ll travel to countries that didn’t interest me five years ago. Life ebbs and flows all the time. In fact, you’re meant to have six to eight careers in a lifetime. So maybe they’re right when they say I’ll change my mind, but I struggle to understand how I can so easily change my mind on such a life-changing decision. Being a parent is a career — a permanent one at that. Changing your mind on these decisions is okay, but please don’t make me feel as though not changing my mind is not an option either.
I used to romanticise the concept of parenting. I believed that if I met the right person for me, something would click and that all I’d want to do is break my hips open into a prime birthing position and give them all the babies they desired. However, I can safely say that even when I’ve been deeply in love with someone, it has never awoken my maternal instincts like I had hoped.
What really eats away at me is not that I don’t want children, it’s that I don’t think I want children. It’s as though I still cannot properly explain why I don’t want to do the one thing which would just be easier to want.
It’s curious that telling others my thoughts on children always feels like I’m making a final declaration. There are two choices, and one of those choices is met with more questions than the other. It seems as though society crafts our identity around our preference on having children. We had a Prime Minister who chose not to have children, and she was labelled as ‘barren’. As if the ambition of leading a country wasn’t a good enough excuse to evade the discourse of judgement.
It’s the finality of the binary choice and the judgement of deciding against it later. If you say you want them, no one flutters an eye; but if it never comes to fruition, everyone wonders what’s wrong with you. If you don’t want them, it’s as if it’s a grand statement against society. One day I may change my mind, but I also may not. I just want to stop explaining myself. Let’s accept that while having kids is an option, not having them is valid, too. Being able to change your mind either way is your choice.
Whether I do or do not have children, I know the decision will be a conscious and thoughtful one.