Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Opting Out

Today my maid asked me why I don’t have children, and I told her we are saving money and have only been married for a short amount of time. Then she asked how old I am. 29. At that, she proudly informed me that she had her first child at 18 years of age and was in labor for two days. “What kind of endorsement of motherhood is that?” I wondered as she continued to tell me that I should hurry up and have children before it’s too late. My answer that we’re saving money is like a white lie. We are saving money, but frankly I am not in any hurry to become a mother, and the Baby Momma hype about women who wait to long and suddenly yearn for motherhood is feeding a mythology that erases women like me. Would the world have embraced Tina Fey's "gynocrentric" movie if instead of craving motherhood she went to great lengths to avoid it?

Strangers seem to think my unproductive womb is a reasonable avenue of discourse, though. Last week at the gym I was talking to a Nigerian-American woman on the treadmill beside me, and she asked “Why don’t you have any kids?” as if my lack of procreation was a personal affront. She’s a proud mother of two, and let’s underscore “proud,” but even women I know who don’t define themselves by motherhood have been making unwarranted comments to me. Yesterday at a game of mahjong I mentioned I was making angel hair pasta with artichokes and olives for dinner and the Australian art history professor-turned-expat-housewife quipped “you’re going to make a fabulous mother!” Or perhaps I’d be a crappy mother who happens to occasionally make pasta dinners.

And when I do talk about having children, it makes people uncomfortable. After a certain amount of wine, I will tell you the results of the Punnett Squares I made for myself and my husband. The odds are that our hypothetical offspring will have green or blue eyes, strawberry blond hair, and be average-to-short in height. If it’s a boy, he will go bald, and if it’s a girl she’ll have polycystic ovarian syndrome. What kind of parent knowingly creates a child under those circumstances? I will also tell you I will never breast feed and want a C-section at 8 months so I don’t get fully fat, and if that doesn’t make you start crossing my legs for me, I’ll keep blathering until you’re ready to call social services in a pre-emptive strike.

I am maternal toward my cats, but I shrink from other people’s babies. They say your own are different, but who wants to bet a human life against those odds? Even if I am just selfish and superficial, aren’t those also great reasons not to procreate? If I change, then I might also change my mind. I can’t predict what I’ll feel at 33 or 35, but right now what I want to give to the world I give through teaching and writing. I think the biggest thing I can do to minimize my carbon footprint is not to make another one. And although my reasons and my thoughts aren’t really anyone else’s business, I also think perhaps I should find a way to talk about choosing not to become a parent.


Julie said...

Great post, Cindy. One of my friends is struggling with this same issue. Though she does want kids, she doesn't want them right this minute. But because she's 30 and has been married for almost six years, people won't stop pestering her about it. Seriously, why is it any of their business? What if, god forbid, she couldn't have kids and it was a really touchy issue? It's maddening to me that despite how far we've come with regard to gender issues, societal norms are still so overwhelmingly entrenched: Date. Get married. Buy a house. Make babies.

Sam said...

Wow, I'm surprised people make such a big thing about it. Maybe it's because you're married.

There seems to be more of an anti-baby vibe growing in these parts - not necessarily due to career-obsession, just because some of us just don't have that 'pull' and are becoming less ashamed about voicing our indifference.

Babies are boring. Lets make t shirts.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this--I'm in the same boat!

The book Beyond Motherhood is a worthy read on the subject...

Cindy said...

I bought Beyond Motherhood before I left the States, but I haven't read it yet. I had seen a review on Alternet I think. For sure the pressure to have kids is bigger in the expat community because wives can't really have careers except in rare cases because of work visas, etc.

But where I grew up in TN and where I spent the last five years in LA motherhood is an assumed goal for women. Even amongst my grad school peers, only one other female friend of mine also didn't want to be a mother. I am glad the motherhood imperative doesn't exist everywhere!