Image via gatewaywomen.com
The advertising that arrived in my letterbox today announced that it is ‘Baby Week’ at my local supermarket. Actually it’s enough to make me seriously consider going to another supermarket this week, but then the other one that I frequent had a ‘Mother and Baby Week’ last week, so I really can’t win. What are they doing? Selling babies?
Well I won’t be going to buy one. I don’t have one (or six) of my own, and I hate to think what price they would put on them but it is one more reminder that I am not one of the normal people. I don’t have children. And usually it’s just best to leave the subject untouched.
According to Statistics New Zealand 13 per cent of NZ women aged 45-49 years (I’m 46) were childless in 2006, up from 9 percent in 1981. So if 13 percent of us are childless, I think it’s a pretty safe bet to suggest that I’m not normal. Especially when we throw around the one in four people with mental illness. Yes, that’s a whopping 25 percent of us in that camp that are not normal.
Let me be clear that I’m not unhappy about being childless, although I prefer the term child-free. Childless suggests to me that I had one and lost it somehow, and I definitely haven’t ever had one and I haven’t even been pregnant. Unfortunately I had difficulty finding stats on that particular issue so I just won’t go there. The stats available only seemed to be about women unable to get pregnant. I wouldn’t know if I was one of those. I have no reason to suspect it to be the case though.
The thing is that I still think 13 percent of women childless is quite a substantial amount but I always get the impression people think I have three heads or something when I say I don’t have children. Actually I think I’m normal, just different and I think that it’s a shame that we almost have to hide away. People don’t know how to handle childless people. What do they say? The question about how many kids we have is followed shortly after by stony silence, and after that it’s just damn uncomfortable to all concerned.
It’s been on my mind for a while to write about why I have no children. It’s a question that people don’t ask. So I am going to tell you. There are a number of reasons, which don’t necessarily relate. I’m going to work backwards and tie each into the age at which each became relevant. Hopefully I don’t lose you, and let me say that I’m not looking for sympathy or anything like that. I just think it is something that is part of my life and so I want to tell you about it.
Reason 1 – 46 years
I’m too old now. Technically I could possibly have a child but do I want a 13 year old when I’m 60? No. Not a chance.
Reason 2 – 37 years
My mother was nearly 38 when she had me (I was her fourth pregnancy). In the mid-1960’s that was pretty old to be having a baby. It didn’t worry her that much but by the time I got to school and knew how young my friends mothers were, I was appalled to have such an old mother. I vowed and declared (as that eight year old) that I was not going to be an old mother. So when I reached 37 years I knew that I had to stick with my declaration. And yes, I know that women are having babies later in life now, but I was adamant that nearly 38 years was too old. Sometimes I can be really stubborn.
Reason 3 – 35 years
I was 35 when I discovered I had the genetic blood disorder Alpha-thalassemia. As an unrelated aside, it’s really weird that I have this because it is very rare in white-skinned people from my part of the world. Apparently it is generally found in Asian and Mediterranean countries, so unless my father wasn’t really my father (but I looked like him) I have no idea how it happened to pop up in my bloodstream.
The effect that this has on my child-free status is that if I had a child with someone who also carried this disorder, that child would be likely to die within a year of birth, as a result of the disorder. I only found out by chance that I had this issue and while it is rare, I simply added it to my list of reasons for just not going there.
Reason 4 – 33 years
By the time I was 33, I had six years of mental illness behind me. I was labelled as treatment-resistant and had been told that I would be on medication for the rest of my life. This was the point where I decided the risk of passing on a mental illness (which at that stage still hadn’t been correctly diagnosed) was too great. I wouldn’t inflict mental illness on anyone, let alone for the reason of having a child to love. I also accepted that I was not in a state to be a good mother because of my mental illness. I was fighting for my life, in between attempting to take my life, and how could I bring a child into that? I could hardly look after myself outside of a hospital without trying to look after a child. It simply wouldn’t be fair and my worst fear (keep reading) of being a bad mother would be realised. That said, please don’t take this to mean I think that people with mental illnesses shouldn’t be mothers. I don’t. It’s simply that I decided that I wasn’t prepared to do it.
Reason 5 – 28 years
I had just got married, and was also very badly depressed and on a heap of medication. My (now ex) husband was keen to have a family and we talked even about him looking after those children, and me heading back to work. I had better earning potential (a nice way of saying more skills) than he did and it just seemed to make sense. Somehow though I could just never picture it (children) happening. I knew it was what D wanted, and I had gone along with it. It’s not that I didn’t want children myself, but I just had so many fears.
Another concern was coming off the medication I was on for the duration of the pregnancy. That didn’t seem a good prospect and I seriously wondered whether I would be dead before the baby came. I think my staying unwell (particularly anorexic so having no periods) for the duration of our marriage was perhaps convenient to my fear. For D’s sake I regret that children didn’t come but only because it is something he longed for. I am pleased for him that he has now remarried and had children.
Around this time that I guess children were most likely I had this fear that I couldn’t bear the thought of another being growing inside me. It completely freaked me out, although I have never been exactly sure why. Just the thought was too much. Actually I have to say that thought of a baby inside me still disturbs me. Okay, so I’m weird.
Reason 6 – @14 years
Yes, I’ve jumped a long way back to a conversation with my mother. It was, I suppose, a defining moment for me. Actually I can’t remember the rest of the conversation, but I suspect it was something to do with puberty, ‘birds and bees’, although I would say that actually I never got that much useful information from Mum on that score. At 16 I was trying to convince friends that my parents had only had sex four times when I came along, based on four pregnancies (with one miscarriage). That’s how little I knew and I am mortified as to what my friends made of me when I said that. They never said. And I never asked.
But back to 14 and the conversation sitting on the side of my parents bed one afternoon (that’s not that relevant but it is something I remember). Mum told me that she wasn’t a maternal person and neither was my grandmother (Mum’s mother)maternal. She went on to tell me that this meant that I wouldn’t be either. What she didn’t do was tell me what she meant by maternal, so I guess I came to my own conclusions based on what I knew of those two women. I concluded that I would never be a good mother.
For the rest of my life I alternated between feeling condemned as a potential mother so I just should never go there, to occasionally thinking I would prove her wrong. Unfortunately I veered toward the ‘glass half empty’ mentality and so spent more time telling myself that my mother was right and I would never make a good mother. Heavy stuff at the age of 14. Maybe it was her way of preventing teenage pregnancy? I don’t know. I probably won’t ever know, but I would like to think she didn’t mean it to have the impact it did.
So there’s six reasons why I never went there. Interestingly I think the younger I get in the list, the bigger the impact of that reason was. By far the biggest fear was reason number 6, fear of being a bad mother. I went on to accumulate a list of my own reasons why I would definitely be a bad mother, and it all made perfect sense to me. Unfortunately that fear snowballed across the years. If only it could have been dealt with at age 14, it would have been much easier, but now I can mostly say that therapy saved the day, yet again.
When I was doing some reading on this topic I found that childless women are divided into two camps: childless by choice and childless by circumstance. For me? I think it comes down to both. I still had the choice (mostly) but circumstances suggested it wasn’t such a great idea. And of course, fear told me it wasn’t a good idea too.
I’m guessing by now you’re wondering how I feel about all this. You’re going to have to wait for another post, because otherwise I will have you here all day. So stay tuned, I will address how I feel about being child-free soon.
One thing I wonder though, and had I done gender papers at university perhaps I’d know the answer, but I wonder why this is only an issue for women? I don’t see much written about childless men. Maybe I just haven’t read far enough yet.
“But that was life: Nobody got a guided tour to their own theme park. You had to hop on the rides as they presented themselves, never knowing whether you would like the one you were in line for…or if the bastard was going to make you throw up your corn dog and your cotton candy all over the place.”
― J.R. Ward, Crave