I miscarried my first child less than a month ago, so I see babies or lack of babies everywhere. When the latest issue of TIME arrived at my home (it was free, okay, shut up) with the words “THE CHILDFREE LIFE” emblazoned across the cover, I just sort of rolled my eyes. “When having it all means not having children,” read the sub-head. I looked at the cover photo of a young, relaxed couple lounging on the beach. The woman wore giant sunglasses and a little Mona Lisa smile that I guess is supposed to communicate her disdain for her uterus and her utter satisfaction with her size-4, cellulite-free, vacation-filled life.
Cover Photo Lady has lots of company: the American birth rate has literally never been lower in our recorded history. That includes the Great Depression, when people were too busy being Greatly Depressed to have babies. TIME tells us that the birth rate declined 9% between 2007 and 2011, which apparently is like whoa.
In other words, more and more American women are looking at the motherhood and saying, “You know what? No.” And after exploring the many reasons why women might decide not to procreate (and it’s usually looked at as a woman’s decision, not so much a man’s), TIME‘s Lauren Sandler decides that this is a pretty cool decision.
So what are the reasons? Unfortunately, they are painfully obvious and, in my openly biased opinion, tiresome. “Our lives are so great already.” “My mom had 16 kids and she was always tired and her life sucked.” “I wanna do what I wanna do.” “I’m afraid I would be such a devoted and awesome parent that everything else would suffer.” Et cetera.
But in some of the women interviewed for the article, there are – surprise, surprise! – hints of regret. Take Leah Clouse, a 27-year-old Knoxille, Tenn. woman who keeps a “baby box” in the closet “with a pink tutu she once bought for an imaginary infant girl.” Her explanation is that the box is “indulgent of a life I have to grieve. If we decided to have children, we’d have to grieve the life we currently have.”
And what life do they currently have? Leah “commits her time to working on her own creative projects and starting up a bakery.” Her husband writes a blog and works in customer service at a credit card-processing company. Ahem. Ahem hem.
Does anyone else feel like one day Leah and Paul might find the grief for the family they never had far outweighs their grief over blogging and baking?
Hey, it may sound nuts to me to give up the most creative project of all – baby-making – to write blogs and bake, but then that’s me. Who am I to judge? I am one of those rare pro-lifers who doesn’t believe in forcibly impregnating women with the seed of country music singers and Republican senators and replacing all their highfalutin’ books with Bibles and recipes. I know most of you are totally into that, but hey, not me.
Look: if you don’t want to have a kid, no one is forcing you to. But even when I try extremely hard to be objective, I can’t help but think some of the reasons couples give for avoiding parenthood are deeply, deeply lame.
And guess what! This means I’m dumb. At least that’s what Satoshi Kanazawa at the London School of Economics says. He has “begun to present scholarship asserting that the more intelligent women are, the less likely they are to become mothers.” But don’t hang your heads yet, Mom: many of his peers have found fault with those findings. (And may I add, again: surprise, surprise.)
Lest you start thinking the childfree life is all fun and games, it’s not. It gets lonely, especially in your 30s and 40s. I can attest to that, although I am not childfree by choice but because I was kind of a late bloomer when it comes to settling down and having kids. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a wife and mother ’til I was in my late 20s. I spent most of that decade in creative pursuits and having both a lot of fun and a lot of decidedly not-fun. I’m sure my conversion, at age 28, to Catholicism from Semi-Pagan Agnostic Pantheist Hotmess-ism was instrumental in my recognition of my own desire for children.
In any case, at nearly 34 and no children yet, I can tell you it is lonely. It’s hard to find friends who can hang out, and when they can hang out, it’s usually at their place with their kids. Even if you love kids, maybe especially if you love kids, that can be hard after a while.
But the childfree-by-choice have chosen their fate. They don’t want kids. So it’s hard for me to shed a tear for their loneliness. After all, that annoying idea that children are a blessing is as old as time. It’s biblical, in fact. So, when you deny something that’s pretty natural, you may have to – and I say this with gentleness and love – get an app that blocks your friends’ babies from showing up on your Facebook and replaces them with fast cars or kittens or whatever you like. Because apparently that is a thing. And that thing kind of says it all.
See, some women claim they don’t have a maternal instinct. And maybe some truly don’t. But is that always an inborn characteristic – or lack thereof – or is it a result of living in a culture that is increasingly self-obsessed? This is a selfie society. Young people are being taught to share the highlight reel of their lives via Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, and kind of marvel at their own brand. In another time, all that oohing and aaahing would be directed at our children, not at ourselves.
Although Sandler’s article is dismissive of branding childfree-by-choice women “selfish,” I think she may be lacking objectivity. Whether it’s bad or wrong or what, it is most definitely selfish. “It takes all of you, and I don’t know that I want to give it all,” said Leah Clouse of motherhood. Simple as that.
Furthermore, in my experience, there is far more of an anti-religion, anti-family, counter-cultural attitude to many of these women’s choices than TIME feels the need to explore. “Babies scare me more than anything,” says radical fauxminist Margaret Cho, in a delicious display of the pot calling the kettle scary.
I have known many young women who are self-described feminists, radicals, or liberals who delighted in disdaining babies and children and the desire to have them. In fact, in my 20s, I was one of those. Very deep down, I wanted children even back then. But in the circles I ran with, of actors and artists and filmmakers and punk rockers, wanting a baby was a weakness. It was for mainstreamers and sell-outs and church people. If you did have a baby, it was after getting pregnant by accident and considering abortion.
The article does not touch on how many of the couples interviewed use hormonal birth control to maintain their childfree existence, but I’d guess it’s a lot. I’d imagine there have been tubal ligations and vasectomies, too, and to be honest, the thought of human beings sterilizing themselves like animals irks me, and I don’t care if that makes me a lame church person. And of course, many people who insist on remaining childless have “oopsy-daisy” moments that lead to abortion. In other words, they’re not willing to sacrifice their comfort or convenience for a child, but they have no problem sacrificing a child for their comfort and convenience.
Still, if all these people were remaining childfree using a technique such as Natural Family Planning that didn’t end even the teensiest-weensiest human life, I’d probably still be bothered by it. (And, yes, it is okay to feel bothered by something other people do, even while accepting their right to do it.)
I’m all about people finding their own way and choosing their own happiness, but I find it difficult to believe that none of these people are going to wish they’d made a different decision. And that bothers me for them. I read between the lines of Leah Clouse’s interview, I picture her hiding her “baby box” in her closet, and I anticipate pain, regret, and loss. She already describes her feelings as “grief.”
It boils down to this: I’ve met lots of people who regretted not having children, but I have never met a single one who regretted her child.