Thoughts after reading Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids by Meghan Daum.
The idea of motherhood struck me at sixteen. Maybe my hormones were more screwed up than normal. Or maybe I was just another foolish teenager looking for someone to love. Until then, I’d never thought about being a mother.
Every time I’d played house as a kid, all of my friends wanted me to be the mom. Something about me when I was younger made them feel safe and secure under my play “parenting.” But it was never really my choice to play that part. If allowed to choose at all, I wanted to be a kid, or maybe Mommy’s helper.
So, at sixteen, when I started thinking about mothering, I imagined how it might be. Even then, I imagined myself older — later in my twenties, possibly thirty, having a child or children. I considered that I wanted time to enjoy whatever man I ended up marrying. But I never considered being childless.
When I was seventeen, I did the responsible thing and had my first pap smear and vaginal exam. It felt awkward and wrong, just me and this man probably fifty years my elder with his hand in my crotch telling me that I hadn’t needed to come in if I was a virgin. Yes, a random man that I had never met before tried to discourage me from seeking personal healthcare because of my sexual status. I’m positive he would never have told a teenage boy not to go to his checkups.
The “good” doctor also told me that if I wasn’t feeling cramps that I probably couldn’t have kids. I was still naive enough to believe that all doctors were good at their jobs. I took his dispassionately medical advice and went home and sobbed. (Too bad that Google didn’t exist yet. I could have saved myself a lot of sorrow.)
I shared it with the man I was dating, SS, and he reassured me that adoption was something we could do if it came to that.
Despite the “odds” that I couldn’t have children, I went on birth control anyway. It harmed me terribly. My moods swung wildly, and for the first time in my life, I had depression. My mind’s wild imaginings and accusations told me that people we knew didn’t want me around. I ran the full gamut of hamster wheel runnings that weren’t true and weren’t helpful.
Six months of that, and my newly-wed husband and I discussed what it would mean to go off of birth control. I can’t put myself in his shoes and know how awful it must have been to watch his wife suffer. Because we’d talked about children long before marriage, he was okay with us having a baby.
And because I was feeling a lot of f@*# you toward that first doctor, I wanted to try. I wanted to prove him wrong. Which is a really shitty reason to have kids. Besides, the decision had been made at sixteen, and anything I said or did concerning the “whys” was justification after the fact.
There wasn’t anything noble, wise, or deserving in my choice. I didn’t need to put two humans into this world to serve as placeholders for when SS and I were gone. I couldn’t have predicted what their health, emotional, or mental outcomes would be. And because SS and I came from less than ideal home backgrounds, it was very selfish of us to have brought two innocents in the world without having a firm grasp on our own damage — which is nearly impossible when you are barely twenty. I didn’t know myself, so how could I have planned to be a good mother to my children? Nothing other than sheer hubris brought me to the point of creating life.
I’m wiser now, but after reading essays of writers who have chosen to be childless, I have to ask myself who is really selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed in the choices we make about having children, really?