Vicki Notaro on why it's time people stopped judging those who don't want to be parents.
I have never wanted to be a mother. Some little girls grow up dreaming of the day they’ll have babies of their own, but I can say, hand on heart, that was never me. In fact, I wrote about it nine years ago in these very pages when I was about 23. I remember lots of people told me I’d regret it, that I’d change my mind eventually and feel foolish about making such a public declaration of intent. But neither naive nor impetuous, I knew that wouldn’t be the case.
I’ve always been adamant that I’ll never have children, but of course few people believe me. They’ve always told me I’ll change my mind, that everything from hormones to “holy Jesus” (I kid you not) would intervene and alter my consciousness to the point where I’d suddenly discover my dormant maternal instinct. For years, I was terrified of this biological clock suddenly swinging into action
and upending my self-belief, but thankfully I’ve cottoned on to that being a myth designed to frighten women. If you want kids, you want kids, and at some point you’ll realise time is ticking. If you’re on the fence, it may or may not occur to you. But if you don’t, and you’re sure about that, no bodily instinct is going to tell you otherwise. To think that I don’t know my own mind at this point, well, it’s rather frightening – and a load of crap.
I’m aware that I’m something of an anomaly, although I suspect there are other women out there in a similar boat and afraid to speak their truth on the matter. I KNOW it’s unusual to not want children, believe me. But I don’t get why it really annoys other people.
Some mums think I’m judging their lives (I’m not), others think I hate their children (nope!), while there are some just queueing up to tell me how empty my life will be without a ‘family’. To them, I say that we are a family – aren’t my husband Joe and I enough, along with our parents and extended family? I’ve spent my life as an only child being referred to as “just” the one and pitied for being sibling-less, so I know that some people are never satisfied with family units different to their own – and my own is just wonderful, thank you.
Perhaps I shouldn’t care what other people think, but it’s a topic that’s preoccupied me purely because of other people’s reactions. I just think commenting on someone else’s life choices is So. Damn. Rude. Why do they care so much about what I do or don’t do with my womb and my life? Why isn’t Joe asked about it as much as I am? The idea that every woman or couple was put on this planet to procreate really rankles. We all know by now that we’re not here to fulfil an evolutionary mandate, so it shouldn’t even be an issue. But it is, and it appears people take issue most with the fact that not being a parent is a conscious decision my husband and I have (separately) made, especially because we’re straight and married.
I know this, because it kicked up a notch after our engagement. When Joe proposed and I accepted, many saw it as a concession to “normality” – ring, house, 2.4 children. But we didn’t get married to have kids, we got married because we adore each other, want to share our lives and be each other’s legal next of kin. Now we’ve bought a house, and people still ask my mother all the time when I’m going to “settle down”, as if I’m not settled enough. Others insinuate that I’m too into my job, too much of a career woman, too fond of nights out and holidays. Mam kindly defends me by saying I’m just not into kids, or I love my footloose and fancy free lifestyle. But when other people hear that, it plays into the stereotype that child-free by choice people are selfish, work-obsessed and shallow. It’s exhausting.
And it’s not just frighteningly ignorant people that pass comment. I’ve had doctors wholly unprofessionally remark on my choice after pushing me into telling them in the first place (I’ve learned that sometimes it’s better to say nothing, but I’m often questioned so much about WHEN I’m going to have kids that I snap.) Respected peers have told me I’m mad, that I’ll never know
a love like it. Most people ask what my husband thinks, as if we hadn’t discussed it extensively before deciding to share our future. And others comment that isn’t it sad my parents won’t get to be grandparents. That one does sting and the good ol’ Irish guilt creeps in, but there’s little I can do about it, and they understand.
The question I get asked the most though is, “who’s going to look after you when you’re old?”, and it’s the one that baffles me the most. Having a child is no guarantee of a carer or support system for your dotage, and I’ve never been one to do something monumental “just in case”. I won’t go against every instinct I have on the off-chance that I stick around long enough to need minding. And do these people ask men the same questions? Somehow, I don’t think so.
I’m not a monster. In fact, I have an awful lot of love to give and a lot of people in my life to receive it. I do often wonder what my husband and I are going to do with our lives, sometimes excitedly and sometimes worriedly. I see the joy that babies bring to my friends and feel like an absolute weirdo, no doubt about it. Sometimes I wonder what the hell is wrong with me before I catch myself on and remember that everyone is different and there’s no set path for any of us. I’m not a
baby hater, nor a selfish witch. I just don’t want to be a mother. Katie is 26 and is often told that she’s too young to make such a rash decision about not having kids. “This hasn’t been a decision I’ve taken lightly. Children are wonderful! They bring such joy but for me, as much as I love my gorgeous little cousins and my beautiful godson, it’s nice to be able to give them back.
“I was often told that once I met someone special, my feelings on having children would change but I’m in a very loving and happy long-term relationship, and so happy as just the two of us. The freedom of making spontaneous decisions because we don’t have little people to consider is something I don’t think I’m willing to give up. I have been labelled a ‘baby hater’ and selfish by others who cannot understand my decision which I can’t help but feel is a little unfair.
“I honestly believe it is much less selfish not to have children than to do it because it’s what society thinks is right. I have so much I’d like to do over the course of my life and contrary to the beliefs of many others, I truly believe I can be completely fulfilled without having children of my own. I think the biggest change needs to come from others,” Katie says.
“Acceptance of people’s decisions instead of presumptions and speculation. Who knows, in years to come as I approach my forties, I may have a complete change of mind. But for now, I am completely happy in my decision.”
I used to think I might change my mind too, but now I’m certain motherhood isn’t in my future. Joe is the love of my life and I can see why couples would want to add another layer to that bond by becoming parents, but it’s not for us. Some mams and dads are naturals, some learn along the way, some don’t ever want to. And it’s about time we all realise that all that’s perfectly okay.