Maternal Instincts: An honest look at why some of us don't want to be mothers — and why that's OK


As a child, I didn’t want to have much to do with dolls. The only baby I chose to play with was a Cabbage Patch Kid name Jack Cornelius. Back then, my mother endured the lines and the mad rush to procure dolls for my sister and me, only to see me put Jack through the ringer once I brought him home. I rarely changed his diaper or rocked him to sleep.
Instead, I would grip one of his soft arms with my teeth while climbing trees in the yard. Once Jack and I went on such excursions, one of two things would happen: I would send him diving headfirst to the grass below so I could reach a higher branch, or — as was more often the case — forget him up there altogether. He spent many a lonely night in those mesquite trees. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him, it’s just that he didn’t hold my interest for long.
I was more of a Barbie girl. My favorite, a carefree redhead I named Niki, led the fabulous life of a jet-setting single lady. She was a model — the most fitting profession I could imagine for a girl with her talents — who traveled the world. She loved clubbing, donning glamorous party dresses and flirting with my various Ken dolls. She didn’t want to give up her career and all of the spur-of-the-moment African safaris she took in my backyard to settle down. In all of the scenarios I imagined for her, motherhood was never one.
My 10-year-old self didn’t see the appeal of Barbie giving up the thrill of her career to raise children. Back then, that kind of fierce independence was cute. Now that I’m 30, it’s cause for alarm and widespread ire.
As a married woman with a stable income, a loving husband and the ability to care for a child, you shouldn’t say you don’t want to have kids. It’s something for which you’re condemned. Complete strangers and friends alike think you’re one to be pitied or hated, or at the very least questioned. “Are you sure you don’t want kids?” they ask, rarely listening for answer before making one universal assertion. “You’ll change you mind someday.”
The truth is, I’m not burning inside for a child now any more than I was when Jack Cornelius first came into my life. Instead, I’m yearning to launch a new business, find our dream home, get more stamps on my passport and see my husband through grad school and on to his first teaching job.
Apparently, I’m not alone. According to a 2010 Pew study, nearly one in five American women now ends her childbearing years without having borne a child, compared with one in 10 in the 1970s. Attitudes about such numbers are becoming more accepting as well. Most adults don’t think that people without children “lead empty lives,” according to a recent General Social Survey.
Though it doesn’t often feel that way. Plenty of friends (and new mothers) see me as defective. I’m a decidedly barren anomaly refusing to join in on the magic every other 30-something new mother is experiencing. Like the only sober sad sack at the party, I’m not in on the fun. I’ve come to realize — though I don’t completely understand why — many mothers see such unwillingness to join in as a personal affront. If your womb doesn’t ache for a child, you’re often seen as selfish and immature, an abomination who is unable to grasp the miracle of motherhood.
Yes, I’m sure it is extraordinary to see an individual who you’ve created grow and change and do amazing things, to have this person with your nose and your husband’s smile teaching you all of these eye-opening things about patience, love and life. But it doesn’t drive me to toss out my birth control pills, and it certainly doesn’t get my biological clock ticking. It never has.
I always thought when everything aligned — a loving marriage, a stable job, a happy home — I would be ready. I thought eventually that when the time was right, the craving to be with child would wash over me. Well, here it is, and it hasn’t.
If ever there were evidence that I’m not ready — and may never be — to become a mother, it’s this: I see pregnancy as a hostile takeover. Like the invasion of my body by an alien form, I’d have something moving around inside of me and wreaking havoc. I’m just not OK with my body being ransacked in that way.
The thought of having an episiotomy, pooping on the delivery table and becoming someone who pees when she sneezes horrifies me. Yes, these bodily sacrifices may be worth joining the ranks of joyful motherhood, but I don’t want any part of it. I know my mom went through as much or more to bring me into this world, and I’m grateful. I’m just not ready to pass on the favor.
Does that make me selfish? I’m sure it does, and I’m all right with that. I don’t have strong views about overpopulation or about bringing children into an uncertain world. I’m happy that other people have kids. (I’m so incredibly grateful for my nieces and nephews, all of whom never cease to amaze me with the depth of their love and compassion and crack me up with their killer dance moves.) But I do have plenty of superficial reasons for why I’m not ready to add any little ones to my happy brood, which now includes my husband, dog and me.
These are things I rarely talk about. After all, admitting to yourself that you don’t want to deal with a kid’s sticky jam hands is easy. It’s sharing that truth with others — people who don’t know that you really aren’t a monster — that is difficult.
You see, I really love a beautiful, orderly home that showcases my vintage finds. Eames pieces do not matter more to me than those I love, mind you, but working to keep my dog from rubbing his food-stained beard on the many white upholstered surfaces in my house is difficult enough without adding kids to the mix.
Then there are the bigger reasons, the ones that don’t change with a steam cleaner and stain remover. I feel complete. When I look around at the life my husband and I have constructed, I’m content.
Will I always feel that way? I’m not sure. I do know my husband would be an amazing father. I’ve known that ever since my nephew’s birthday party a few years ago, when after an invite from the wee ones, my husband jumped into one of those crazy kid gym contraptions — the kind with the monkey bars, climbing ropes and smelly ball pits — and romped with glee. Even though the kids of complete strangers were jumping on his back and trying to inexplicably take him down, he hung on with a smile.
Simply put, I know he’s a good man. And father or not, I know he has so much love in him. For now, that comforts me, but it doesn’t kick-start my uterus.
But who will take care of us when we’re old? And what if I change my mind 10 years down the road and I’ve simply missed the fertility train? I’m willing to hedge my bets on the love I have now. In all sincerity, my life with my husband is enough. When I’m cuddling next to him on the couch with our dog snoring between us, I have all the love I’ve ever wanted. I’m certain this relationship will always sustain me.
When anyone questions this, I just think of Jack Cornelius. Years ago, my mother gave him back to me after storing him for decades among the many poetry books I wrote and illustrated as a child. I had nearly forgotten he even existed.
When she placed him back in my arms, I couldn’t help but laugh. There he was, his plastic head covered in dents and scratches, wearing nothing but a gold lamé top and no pants. I have no idea what happened to his original corduroy overalls. For all I know, they may still be hanging from a branch somewhere.
Looking back on my childhood, when I wasn’t dropping my baby doll from trees, I was modeling the kind of life I wanted to live. Aside from her clubbing and inability to settle down with just one Ken doll, Barbie lived how I hoped to someday. She was independent and free. I created a world where she was driven by her goals, where she could jump on a plane on a whim and where she never had to apologize to Ken or Skipper or anyone else for not wanting to play house. Obvious superficiality aside, she was a badass lady.
As for poor Jack Cornelius? He now lives in my attic, serving as a reminder of a fact I knew from an early age, even if it’s become more difficult to admit with time: Motherhood may not be my destiny, and I’m fine with that.


denny's picture

Of course it's ok if some of us don't want to have babies although at some point we may want them, it's nature's call. I don't have kids yet but I do want kids, my will goes beyond dreaming about shopping baby bow headbands for my little girl. I just think that having kids completes us and makes us better in so many ways.

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