As far back as I could remember I didn’t want children. To be honest with you, I was never a girl who played with dolls. I remember playing with my dolls once and pretending to be a mommy. Naturally, the dolls needed a daddy, so I gave each of my dolls a dad, but they didn’t all have the same dad. I believe it was about five dads total. My mother was appalled and disgusted when I proudly told her about each one of my dolls’ imaginary fathers. She scolded me and told me never to play in such a way. I’m not sure if it was the multiple baby daddies that scared her, but I just remember being both confused and angry that she wanted my children to be illegitimate. We obviously didn’t understand each other very well.
I exchanged baby dolls for adult dolls. I begin to live vicariously through Barbie. Barbie had a great life. She danced around my bedroom at swanky parties and got dressed for her date with Ken. Barbie rode in a pink convertible to posh restaurants where children were not allowed and returned late in the evening to her pristine, childless home.
Years later, in my early twenties I met with an acquaintance for Bible study. We happened on the conversation of childbearing. She knew that I was a newlywed, and when I told her I didn’t want children, she asked me why. I didn’t have a valid response. I simply told her that I had never wanted children. My answer didn’t satisfy her, so she advised me to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to me why I didn’t want children. I ignored her. I assumed that she was a conformist who thinks it’s unnatural for a woman to not want to use her uterus to propagate children.
Years later, there was still no baby in sight. When you’ve been married five years, and you’re nearly thirty, people start to ask questions. In-laws and relatives start to ask when they should expect a child. And you can’t tell them that you don’t want kids without offending them. As questions came, I started to question myself. I finally decided to take the advice that I had been given years earlier during Bible study and I asked the Holy Spirit to reveal why I didn’t want kids.
The answer came quickly.
I saw myself at 15 taking care of my niece. It was then that I had decided while taking care of my niece that I didn’t want children. It wasn’t just my sister that contributed to my lack of desire to have children – my mother was another component. My mother frequently told us to not have babies until we finished a formal education and had a successful career. This message was drilled into my subconscious, and I equated children with failure and poverty. When my sister had her first child, she simply reinforced the idea that having a child was a terrible idea. I thought that babies ruin your life, and I associated kids with a list of negative outcomes that were solidified as I served as a caretaker for my niece.
The Pope drew some ire when he stated that deciding not to have children is selfish. The decision by women to not have children has been called indulgent, decadent, cold-hearted and dare I say hedonistic. Although it’s culturally taboo, women still don’t seem particularly anxious to have children. Nearly half of women between 15 and 44 are childless. A record percentage of women don’t want children and instead of people asking deep questions about our lack of maternal ambition – it’s much easier to assume that women who don’t want kids are simply selfish.
The reasons that women choose to go childless are far more nuanced and complex than most care to admit or acknowledge. But there are a few culprits blamed for women not wanting to have children outside of the coarse, hideous monster of selfishness. These culprits include but are not limited to feminism, time-consuming careers, health reasons, lack of maternal instincts, to the obvious moral decay of the world around them. But what if the culprit runs much deeper? What if the culprit is one singular childhood experience that shaped a woman’s view of motherhood and helped reaffirm societal messages that make childbearing seem like a bad choice?
Unlike the Pope, I don’t think that women who don’t want children are selfish. I think women who don’t want children are multifaceted, deep complex people who simply have their reasons – and only God knows why they don’t want children.