On being child-free

While unwinding after work today (and it was such a gorgeous evening to do so on the back porch, cocktail in hand), B brought my attention to a segment he heard today on our local public radio station, WBEZ. The segment was called “Why Have Children?” and included an interview with the author of a book examining the ethical issues involved in deciding to procreate.

The summary included in the link above is very good, but listen to the segment if you have time as the calls were particularly interesting. There is a call from a man about how he and his wife have been considering this issue for some time and are still not sure, and the last call is from a woman who says she hears people tell her how selfish she is for not having children. While the author is surprised, I’m not. Although logically, really, if a person chooses not to procreate aren’t they really being selfless? Isn’t choosing to not produce another person to consume finite resources a decision that frees up those same resources for the offspring of others? Can’t that be called selfless or even altruistic?

I can’t say that I put a lot of heavy thinking into my decision to be child-free. Although the fact that I choose to call my state of not having children to be one of freedom says something about my mindset, I think. I have several child-free friends, and I think some of them do wish they could have/would have made children at some point in their lives. But not me.

For many people, there seems to be some thoughtlessness that goes along with procreating. Even the author comments on this in her interview. “It’s natural,” or “it’s the next step after marriage,” seems to be the cultural norm most of us face. I actually did face this assumption in my twenties. I hadn’t gotten married yet, but I thought that I would do so and just have kids since that’s what we’re biologically optimized to do.

But at 30, when I finally did make plans to be married I talked to my soon-to-be husband about the fact that I didn’t really think I wanted to have kids ever, and he was OK with that. I can’t really put my finger on one single reason why I didn’t want to reproduce because there seemed to be many reasons: I doubted my ability as a parent; I was concerned about the costs of raising a child or children; I had reservations about adding to the population of an already over-populated planet; I felt like I had a lot of personal development ahead of me that would be interrupted by the addition of a child or children.

For six years of marriage I continued my hormonal birth control and then I finally decided I should stop the drugs. I still didn’t want kids, though, and husband concurred. So I asked him to get a vasectomy. He balked. I said I’d get a tubal ligation, and he urged against it. He said it was not because he wanted children, but because he didn’t want me to have unnecessary surgery.

Turns out he was probably right about that, as I could have gotten an IUD instead if I had just seen another OB/GYN. The one I had at the time was very discouraging of it and said she couldn’t guarantee the insertion would work since I was “nulliparous.” She was also highly doubtful when I said I wanted to have a tubal ligation.

I should have been insulted when she insisted that she meet and talk with my husband first before she would perform the procedure. I was certainly incredulous that in 21st century Chicago I had to jump through so many hoops to get surgically sterilized when I was “only 36 years old.” I was counseled that if I ever did want to have children I’d have to use IVF, and I thought, “Yeah, me and pretty much every other 36+ year old female will need to use a lab to get pregnant these days; no surprise there.” But the fact that as an adult woman I had to get my husband’s approval first…damn, that amazes me now, nearly 10 years later.

I’ve never regretted my decision to have the tubal ligation, by the way. (Not even when an accident during surgery — oops, we perforated your uterus, sorry! — turned an out-patient procedure into an overnight hospital stay.) I’m glad I took the surgery route back before women’s access to birth control was being challenged, like it is now.

For the most part I don’t judge others that have children. I can’t say I’m completely judgement-free because I think people who have more than two children are being selfish or misguided. I’m a big proponent of zero or negative population growth because I think there are more than enough Homo sapiens on Earth. (Let’s give the rest of the life forms a better chance, OK?)

I’ve never wanted IVF or to adopt or foster children. I’m perfectly happy being an aunt to one niece and one nephew, and having lots of friends (including an awesome guy like B!) who are child-free like me. And I’m not selfish, just practical and realistic. Or at least that’s what I think.

4 thoughts on “On being child-free

  1. I am 40 and didn’t meet the man I wanted to be with until I was 38. So having children naturally doesn’t seem to be a wise choice for us at this point. I agree with you that having children is selfish, especially if it is over 2. I do have maternal urges though. We have thought about the adoption route. Not adding anymore children to the world and yet still being able to raise one or two.

    Interesting post 🙂


  2. Pingback: Marriage sanctity and other myths « a windycitygal's Weblog

  3. Whoa. That’s really disturbing that your doctor insisted on meeting with your husband before performing the procedure. Given, I don’t think being sterilized would be a wise choice without talking to your spouse first, but that’s for the health of your relationship. A woman should not need her husband’s permission to make a decision for HER body. I’m shocked!


    • Thanks for your comment, Katie C. My husband was completely aware that I was having the procedure. I guess the doctor didn’t think she could take my word for it, though. 😦


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