As a woman of a certain age — and really ever since I hit puberty and my baby-making parts were suddenly subject to public debate — I’ve been told over and over again that I will “change my mind” about not wanting kids. I have been told this by friends (who also once insisted I would change my mind about being a vegetarian and loving Morrissey — they’ve gotten over that) and by random strangers at comedy clubs after they just paid good money to laugh at my stand-up routine where I say, “I can’t have another person running around the house who is more helpless than me.”
Once, at a friend’s wedding, I was cornered by another guest and forced to answer the question, “Well, what would happen if you accidentally got pregnant?” She was implying that under that circumstance, I would have to change my mind. A passing acquaintance, at a wedding, was basically confronting me about whether I would choose abortion over my silly little lifelong commitment to not raising children, you know, if push came to shove.
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I was livid. More than livid, I was embarrassed. I understand the pressure from parents who want to become grandparents, but from another woman, it’s bullying, plain and simple. Asking questions about why I don’t want kids is really none of your business, but at least it’s a dialogue. Telling me straight up that I will “change my mind” because you are so sure that I will suddenly realize one day that my decision is the wrong one — that’s not only rude, it’s an attack. And think about how painful that kind of statement might be to a woman who can’t have kids, and who has thus far been politely humoring you so she can get another glass of white wine before they shut down the open bar?
You can see this bullying in the media coverage of those who are “childfree by choice” (which sounds like a dull and defensive name for an otherwise fun group of people.) A recent story about the declining birthrate in the U.S. stated that “many of those opting for childlessness have legitimate, if perhaps selfish, reasons for their decision,” and used the headline: “What makes sense for the individual may spell disaster for the country as a whole.” Disaster? Really??? Well then I guess I’ll be all set when we’re forced to colonize the moon — with all that money I saved by selfishly not having kids, I’ll be able to afford a ticket on Richard Branson’s space plane.
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Why is it okay to impose on women sole responsibility for population growth (or decline — I’m looking at you, China), to label a childfree woman “selfish,” and then to insist that she just doesn’t know what she’s talking about and will eventually come around to a more rational line of thinking? I have never once sidled up to a group of moms watching their sweet little toddlers playing on the swing set, nodded knowingly and announced, “Believe me, you’ll change your mind.” I know enough to know that children are not like hair color, or college majors, or other things you can just “change your mind” about. Having a child is a lifetime commitment, the biggest one you can possibly make. It’s great that some women are so sure about wanting children, but I don’t think I’m cut out for raising a kid. If people are so convinced that I’ve made the wrong choice and will change my mind, what’s to prevent me from changing my mind back after I have a child?
I mean, clearly, we childfree types are terrible at making decisions.