I sat in the exam room, answering the standard questions doctors ask when getting to know new patients. My tone remained flat until we got to the subject of surgeries.
“I see you had a tubal ligation in 2017,” she said. I suppressed a smirk. I knew what was coming next. “And how many times have you been pregnant?”
“None,” I answered, and allowed the smirk to surface.
“Oh! Okay,” she said, and then repeated the word “okay” a little too reassuringly. I’d have taken it as a judgment (no matter how hard she tried not to make it) had I not seen a split second of envy cross her face. Make no mistake, the expression was as fleeting as her initial surprise, that little crack in professionalism that I’d instigated completely, but it was there long enough for me to guess—and it’s only a guess—that she had at least 3 kids, and likely a rough morning with them.
I haven’t written a lot about being child-free by choice (CFBC), mainly because it’s not that remarkable. All the voluntarily childless did differently than anyone else was make the perfectly valid decision not to procreate. We’re not even all that rare anymore. In fact, we’ve become so common that most of the articles that turn up in my search to show how common we’ve become are at least 2 years old. We’re literally old news.
What I haven’t found a lot of is what to expect in your real, day-to-day life when you are not only CFBC, but you’re a woman who decided to cement your decision with sterilization. What happens when the people who insisted you’d change your mind find that you’ve doubled down and had yourself surgically altered to be sure your body can’t betray your made-up mind? *Cracks knuckles* Shall we begin?
Things I Expected
I’ve already written about all it took just to have the procedure, so I won’t rehash it here, but to say there were obstacles—sexist, misogynist obstacles—would be understating the issue. Of course, those obstacles were set under the guise of concern that I’d change my mind because apparently women are flighty and incapable of making life decisions (but not too flighty to birth and raise children). So, when I finally had the procedure, it came with a strong sense of victory.
A lot of people turned out to be pretty cool and congratulated me for finally getting what I wanted (even if it wasn’t what they wanted). I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to have a lot of really supportive people around me. However, as expected, there was a handful of not so cool people.
Some people continued to harp on the idea that I might change my mind. The best of them shrugged and told me there’s always adoption; the worst of them insisted that I’d be sorry and actively tried to upset me. Methods of agitation varied from extensive lines of questioning designed to make me feel regretful (always an entertaining volley), to pure and simple judgment. I once had someone more than imply and all but say, “I had to do it. What makes you think you can get away without doing it?” Just sit with that implication for a second.
A very small number of people were so offended by my decision that they don’t have much to say to me at all anymore. Their silence is an improvement. Your mileage may vary.
Given the timing of my procedure, two years ago today on March 10, 2017, there was speculation as to whether I was undergoing the procedure in response to the election; that I’d bought into some fear mongering propaganda and believed I’d lose all rights as a woman. I admit that as I sat at my yearly exam, talking to my OB/GYN about birth control, the political situation certainly crossed my mind, but that was just the newest reality on a long list of reasons I’d wanted to be sterilized for years. My story shut down speculation for anyone more interested in hearing it than making their own point. That said, looking around, if I had gotten my procedure out of fear of the political situation, I’d have been absolutely justified. And that’s all I’ll say on the topic.
The thing is that all of this was expected, and I made my decision anyway. So…
Things I Somehow Didn’t Expect
Women who have had children often talk about their pre-baby bodies, or getting their bodies back, or how they love their post-baby bodies, or literally anything to be said about the fact that a woman’s body is different after childbirth. Basically, a whole lot of things that go wonky with our bodies can rightfully be blamed on carrying and birthing children. “Damn kid destroyed my body!” a friend exclaimed before smothering her son in kisses.
So, what happens when there’s never been a pregnancy and there’s no child to blame?
You fall apart for no damn reason at all, that’s what!
My mother and I were talking about aging, and though I’m 25 years my mother’s junior, I had a lot to complain about that day. “I just don’t understand!” I exclaimed about my latest little infirmity. My mother laughed and said, completely free of judgment, “I imagine it’s harder for you. I got to blame you and your brother for screwing up my body, but you? You’re just getting old.” She laughed and laughed.
The other thing I didn’t expect was the guilt. Not the obvious guilt like the how-could-we-not-give-our-parents-grandchildren variety (which my husband and I actually never got from our respective parents, though I know I heard it from a family friend or two), but the little voice in my own head that says, “You know you have the time for that. It’s not like you have kids.” Whether it’s a career opportunity, volunteering my time for a cause I support, or sitting at my desk to write for another hour, that little voice is always there reminding me that there are no little me-s I have to deal with. My time is mine and I can spend it as I please. So, maybe I shouldn’t spend it all watching reality TV? (That is not an invitation to recruit me to your cause.)
Things I’d Been Warned About That Didn’t Happen
A coworker and I got engaged around the same time. We were chatting one day, and she told me how the ring wasn’t even warm on her finger yet and she and her fiancé were already being interrogated about having kids. I nodded, rolled my eyes in commiseration, and chewed on a corn chip. I knew what she was going through. I’d already hurt a couple of feelings with my responses to the same questions. Though she was more open to the idea of having children than I was, that didn’t say a whole lot. I swallowed my corn chip and didn’t take another. My coworker’s expression had changed. Her lips still formed a smile, but her eyes had gone a bit dull as she told me, “I said I really wasn’t sure about kids and then they asked, ‘What’s the point of getting married at all if we weren’t having children?’”
Most of that conversation is lost to the deepest archives of my memory, but that last part still resonates. How dare anyone say that to someone still basking in the glow of an engagement? How dare anyone say that to a woman at all? We’re not incubators. Still, her story proved just how tactless friends and family can be and so I expected to spend some time defending the decision to get married. Part of me still does, but so far, no one has tried to invalidate my marriage (at least not over lack of children), and I’m not sure if I’m relieved or if I was so prepared for the fight that I’m a bit disappointed not to have it. (That is NOT an invitation to start some mess.)
But the crown jewel, the most important thing that I was warned would happen that didn’t—and I’m sure you can guess—is regret over my decision.
I realize that someone is thinking, it’s only been two years! They’re not wrong. The thing is, I’m not wrong either, and the only reason someone would set out to prove me wrong is to make me feel wrong. Why would I give someone like that the time of day?
And, should I ever start to wonder longingly about what my life with children would have looked like, all I have to do is hop over to a mom blog or group on social media to remember why I made my decision in the first place.
Look, I get it. Moms are stressed from their cores to their split ends (because no one makes sure Mommies get haircuts), and need a place to vent about their little miracles. Sometimes that place to vent, combined with a fishbowl size glass of wine, is all a mom has to look forward to, or so the memes tell me. But then please, moms, please don’t act all shocked and shaken when some of us decide not to join you in the world of motherhood. Don’t question our decision and then get offended when we answer truthfully. I can only imagine the pressure—the weight of the world—that mothers handle daily…and that’s why I chose not to be one.
For a nice, morbid shift, I’ve been asked very directly about my deathbed. If my husband goes first, do I really want to die alone? Will I regret my choice then? Maybe I’m a jerk, but my response has been to ask how they can guarantee that they won’t die alone just because they’ve had children. Anything can happen. Maybe their kids are assholes (I know some of them to be just that). Maybe they’ll be surrounded by loved ones when they pass, just not their children, or family at all. As it turns out, people don’t like thinking about their own mortality and tend to drop the topic the second it’s turned back on them. However, since I don’t mind it, and while we’re already being morbid, I think there’s something to be said for dying alone, in peace, without worrying that you’re leaving behind someone who still needs you.
The point is that there are no promises in life, so I’m going to live mine on my terms.
Turns out, kids aren’t part of those terms.