Having children and caring for others is relentlessly marketed at women. It’s made clear to women in every aspect of life, from birth till middle age, that their function is to be attractive, gain a mate, have children and look after them all. But I’m here to tell you a secret: you don’t have to agree to that.
Not long ago women hadn’t yet won their right to vote, couldn’t get a loan approved without a man as a guarantor, couldn’t seek legal help if raped by their husbands as rape in marriage wasn’t recognized. Not long ago, getting pregnant out of wedlock meant society would make a woman’s life such a misery she might actually prefer death.
Not long ago, women were bullied into giving up babies that they’d had no choice in carrying. Not long ago, most women couldn’t find a job that would adequately support them. Living on their own without a male “protector” subjected women to all sorts of assumptions and dangers.
"The advent of birth control has been a game-changer, opening up an entirely new way of exerting power in our own lives."
Though we make progress very slowly, we have made some. One of the most extraordinary scientific advances for women was birth control. It changed everything for us. Though certainly flawed, it allowed women choices undreamed of prior to its conception (pun intended). Those who live so far into the post contraception era can’t really conceive of the genuine dangers for women who made any attempt to have the same sexual freedoms as men in the pre-pill era.
Still, it is important to recognize that birth control is not accessible to all women, even in countries where it is legal and widely available. Due to the overlapping systems of inadequate healthcare and poverty, many women still can not afford or get access to birth control. Women who work for religious employers in the United States, for example, can be refused health coverage for birth control. For these women, as well as the about 12 percent of uninsured ones , birth control may simply just be unaffordable. For women in religious communities or households, birth control may be stigmatized or outright banned, presenting a cultural barrier to access. But for many women, the advent of birth control has been a game-changer, opening up an entirely new way of exerting power in our own lives.
The Love Trap
I love my children. In fact, there’s not a word for how I feel about my children, it’s much larger than the simple word “love.” There was a large chunk of their lives where my sun rose and set on them. Today, they are fantastic young adults and my heart’s delight. I’m very proud of them and wouldn’t wish them out of existence. That’s what love does to you, you see.
And if I hadn’t had them I wouldn’t have missed any of it as I wouldn’t have known what I was missing.
Somewhere in an alternate time-line, Alison 2.0 is sipping Pina Coladas on a boat in her skinnier, wealthier, and less mentally-drained existence aimlessly wondering if having kids would have been nice before closing her eyes for a nap.
"If you’re on the fence, wondering if motherhood is for you, these are the facts you need to know. From a mother who has been through it all."
Many women don’t love their children, or love them with caveats. Just like men. Until recently, that fact was heavily suppressed in the media. Many women would have chosen not to have children if their entire environment wasn’t structured towards making them doubt their own worth for even thinking that.
What’s accepted as normal in many men, not wanting children, has been marketed as a horrible and fatal character flaw in a woman until recently. Possibly worse, the desire not to have children has been disbelieved. Oh, sweetheart, you’ll change your mind. Scoff, scoff.
Lately, though, a new trend of being “childfree by choice” is growing. There is increasing recognition that it may be perfectly natural for some women not to want children, or, perhaps, even that intentionally foregoing children could be a liberating choice for women.
If you’re on the fence, wondering if motherhood is for you, these are the facts you need to know. From a mother who has been through it all.
Imagine, for a minute, that you’re a man.
You can make a realistic choice about whether you actually want kids, and your mum won’t burst into tears at the thought of you choosing bodily autonomy. Your friends won’t keep telling you how much you’ll miss out on.
Nobody will lecture you about biological clocks. (Though male sperm degrades, too, and if you’re planning to have kids later in life, men should freeze their sperm before the age of 40. But that’s another story).
Everyone just assumes you’ll manage to find meaning and purpose in life despite being childfree.
Now, imagine this is you. You can choose.
Assuming you’re not a psychopath, having children alters absolutely everything. Forever. Though this is touched on, it’s rarely properly discussed. So let’s look at the realities, and take off the love tinted spectacles.
You will, if you’re lucky, feel intense and boundless love for your children. Indescribable Love. Sometimes exhilarating, exhausting, joyful, painful and never ending utterly unconditional love. Consider what that really means. At no time do you ever get to be free of worry for this other human. At no time are you ever free of the possibility that they will need you. Until you die you must, and will without hesitation, fulfill the caregiver role at the drop of a hat. That’s your life now. Assuming you’re lucky enough to have healthy children, even when they move out and move on the thread is there. And it always will be until you are no longer able to function in that role. You’re a mother until the day you die.
If you’re unlucky, you will be tethered by responsibility and duty to the caregiver role, but without the joys inherent in truly loving them.
If you’re really unlucky, you’ll hate the role, and them. And oh, there’s nothing more distressing and desperate than an unloved child.
If you’re fortunate enough to be the mentally and physically drained recipient of a healthy human life whom you do love and to whom you are forever bound, you still run all sorts of physical and mental health risks.
"At no time do you ever get to be free of worry for this other human. At no time are you ever free of the possibility that they will need you. Until you die you must, and will without hesitation, fulfill the caregiver role at the drop of a hat. That’s your life now."
No matter what the Instagram Influencers would have you believe, having a baby changes your body in a number of ways, forever. Giving birth also increases your risk of stroke. And there’s even a possibility of heart failure related to giving birth.
Let’s also not forget that you can still die in pregnancy. About 700 women in the United States die every year giving birth, giving the country the worst maternal mortality rate of all developed nations. Depending on who you are, the risk can be more or less. Black women in the US are more than twice as likely to die during childbirth than white women.
These very real dangers are regularly brushed aside in the relentless propaganda aimed at encouraging procreation.
But what about general happiness? Having children fulfills you, completes you. It’s worth the small risk of death, at least you know you’ll be happier with a family.
Well, not quite.
If you have pre-existing mental health conditions, you’ll be well aware of them when dealing with the myriad stressors of parenthood. Any existing weaknesses in your overall mental health will be exacerbated. Hairline cracks can widen into chasms. According to one 2014 study:
“One in three women report depressive symptoms between pregnancy and four years after the birth. And that the proportion of women experiencing depressive symptoms is higher among mothers of four-year-olds, than among mothers with a newborn baby.”
So, even if you were mentally stable prior to birth, you might not remain so. You may have to face postpartum anxiety, depression or psychosis. Or worse. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Let’s assume you didn’t become mentally ill after birth and are in a stable relationship. Phew. At least you’ve got each other.
Well, maybe. You’d be amazed at the numbers of sorrowful people jammed together in miserable matrimony, who just don’t want to split their families apart and deal with the inevitable fallout for their children. As The Washington Post reported:
“This decrease in marital satisfaction probably leads to a change in general happiness, because the biggest predictor of overall life satisfaction is one’s satisfaction with their spouse.”
One study by Healbee.com concluded one in ten couples were living in misery for “the sake of their children.” Whether dolefully eyeballing one another over breakfast and dreaming of never listening to one another chew again, or trapped in an actually abusive and dangerous relationship where the children make the possibility of safety and freedom incredibly complex, kids do have a knack for making it truly difficult to do only what’s best for you, personally. By their existence and nature, they complicate every decision you make in regard to where you live and who you live with.
Of course, you might be wealthy and surrounded by a fabulous support network to assist should heinous circumstances arise. If so, congrats, half your luck, as we say in Australia.
Childfree and happy
“Research findings, however, tend to show that people are better off not having children, particularly women, singles, lower socioeconomic strata, and people residing in less pronatalist societies — especially when these characteristics act in combination.”
I’m not saying categorically, don’t have children. I love my children. I could never, ever wish them out of existence. But I know I would have been healthier and wealthier if I hadn’t given birth.
For women with enough privilege to make the choice, I urge you to really dig down deep and critically analyze your choice. Be sure that having children is what you want to do. Not what society has conditioned you to believe is your choice, not what your parents want, not what your friends are all doing, not what your partner is pushing for. I am asking you to consider the realities when considering childbirth.
Women must be sure the life-altering, and potentially life-threatening, decision to have children is genuinely their own choice. Not society’s.
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