The first time I publicly uttered my opinion on having children was also the first time I was introduced to my ex’s close friends. I was just 22 years old, my ex was 26, his friend was around 26-27 and the friend’s wife was around 30. The friend’s wife had met her husband while in grad school, and had subsequently quit her job and married the guy. She was heavily pregnant with their first child, and when she asked me my views on children I blurted out forcefully, “I don’t want kids.”
It was maybe tactless of me to say that in front of an expecting mom, but also I was 22 and dating someone for all of a few months! I also couldn’t help but associate pregnancy with dependency on men. In theory, I know every woman has a right to live her life as she sees fit; in reality, I just couldn’t fathom why someone who has gotten an advanced degree at a great cost to herself and her parents would just roll out of the workforce and get supported by a man–let alone a man younger than herself. Later, when I talked to my ex, he explained that her dad was very rich, she had never been that thrilled about her career or just working in general, etc–none of which helped alleviate my judge-y sentiments.
Since then, I’ve met many other women who go through marriage, pregnancy, and childbirth–enough to know that childbearing does not equal dependency. My friends are such beautiful examples of modern motherhood, and never have they made me think their identities were lost–only evolved. Of all examples of fiercely independent, cerebral mothers who never stop reaching for self-fulfillment and greater purpose, my own mother is my absolute favorite. She has shown me it’s possible to be unconditionally devoted to children and still have a separate identity aside from being a mom, such as an award-winning poet, a lifelong educator, and a holder of two Master’s degrees.
My mother is not someone who will chirp, “I’m first and foremost, a mother” on her social media bio, as some tremendously accomplished women are wont to do these days. It always irks me when I see those “mother first, author/politician/CEO later” proclamations, because I see ZERO men doing the same with “father first” shout-outs. That sounds like a minor gender inequality issue, until you think about the deeper, sinister implication of “mother first.” It’s a shorthand for saying, “the greatest job a woman can have is being a mother and a caretaker, and the rest is just icing.” Didn’t our mothers go through women’s liberation to overthrow this oppression? Why do women self-perpetuate this idea in this day and age?
Our baby-obsessed culture makes it seem like the only valid reasons to not have children is infertility or inability to find a suitable mate. But choosing one’s career, personhood, or anything one truly wants to have over motherhood is a totally legitimate reason for not having children. It doesn’t make you somehow less fulfilled and stunted to not be a mother, ever. For example, does the leader of the free world, Angela Merkel, think: “Although I have been the Chancellor of Germany for 18 years, fighting for climate change action, refugees, religious tolerance, etc, all those accomplishments mean nothing because I never experienced motherhood”? I doubt it.
There is yet another reason to choose being child-free, and that’s climate change. According to a 2008 study by Oregon State University, every new child will contribute 9,441 metric tons of CO2 over a lifetime. If an American woman has a single child, that means her legacy CO2 output is equivalent to her living until the age of 470 years. Given the fact that we are currently well above the goals set by the Paris Accord and on track to raise global average temperature by a catastrophic 3.4°C, we must include the role of reproductive choice in the discussion for the future of the Earth.
In fact, far from “being selfish,” being childless is an altruistic choice for both mankind and all other living beings. According to Sir David King, a Chief Scientific Advisor to the U.K. government and a prominent leader in the climate change movement, “The massive growth in the human population through the 20th century has had more impact on biodiversity than any other single factor.” The current rate of extinctions are estimated to be up to 1,000 times the normal rate due to human population growth. The more number of humans there are, the less of other inhabitants of the Earth remain. Childlessness is an ethical choice for people who want to preserve this Blue Planet.
This doesn’t mean that there should be a rift between those who have children and those who don’t. I adore getting pictures of babies on my phone, hearing about their progress, and cuddling them. Their intelligence, innocence, and beauty truly amaze and move me. I love picking out gifts for friends’ children, and when my ex’s friend’s wife finally had her baby, it was *I* who giddily bought a handcrafted dinosaur doll made of upcycled sweater–not my ex. But motherhood shouldn’t be a given–it should be a choice made after consideration of all factors, personal and global. And there are lots of things a woman might choose to be besides a mother.
As for myself, I am 90% sure I will never have children–10% being the margin of error, since life happens. But even if I have kids, you’ll never see me write that “I’m a mother first.”
What are your thoughts on having children?
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