Childfree—Whose Choice?: Accepting Life Outside the Club of Motherhood

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by Stephanie J. Gates of Stephanie's Epiphanies

Sitting at the table making small talk with the manicurist as she meticulously paints my nails a soft, slightly iridescent shade of pink; I am caught off-guard when she asks The Question: “So, how many children do you have?” This forty year-old mother of three and grandmother of two is inquiring about my mothering status.

“None,” I reply as I watch her apply three strokes of color to my nail: first down the center, and then one stroke of polish on each side. She stops and looks up at me. “It’s not something I wanted to do by myself,” I try to explain. “When the husband didn’t come, I decided against it and now I’m too old,” is how I justify not being One of Them. I was having this conversation at 46--six years past my time limit for having a baby.

“It’s not too late,” she says pausing the brush in the air before going on to tell me about her clients who have opted to have babies alone. One woman had a baby through invitro, and her mother helps her care for the baby. “My mother is eighty-one,” I say. Still convinced that I need to have a baby because I seem like a “good person,” she shares the story of the “worthless” husband she left because he was unemployed and didn’t help her with the children, and she’s doing it by herself with three, so surely I can do it with one. I listen and nod at the appropriate times because I’ve learned over time that opposition to these you-need-to-have-a-baby conversations are futile.

“You seem like a good person, and you can do it,” she repeats trying to make her wad of words stick to my psyche. Even though I’ve been here before, I’m still amazed at how intrusive people can be in a matter that is as personal and private as pregnancy. There was this guy I barely knew who asked me if I had any children, and when I said no, he said, “I bet I can get you pregnant.” Then there was a guy who said his father said that people who don’t have children are selfish, and the comments of well meaning colleagues who remind me that Kelly Preston had a baby at 47 and is thinking about having another baby even though she’s almost 50.

As an able-bodied woman with the right credentials and characteristics (degreed professional with middle class values and no history of mental illness), I should have children. But because of my medical history I don’t even know if I can have children, but I also know that I’ve never tried either. At 28 I was diagnosed with fibroids and the doctor told me to have a baby so I’d have someone in the world who looked like me because I’d needed to have a hysterectomy, a procedure that would eliminate the possibility of having children. Thinking I wanted children, I sought a 2nd, 3rd and 4th opinion before deciding on a myomectomy—a riskier surgical procedure that allowed the removal of the fibroids while leaving the uterus intact. My doctor warned me that if I ever got pregnant, I would not be able to carry the baby full term; my labor would have to be induced at 37 weeks and I would have to have a cesarean section. At 36, I had a second myomectomy because the fibroids grew back.

At 43 I discovered that I had fibroids for the third time. Not wanting another surgery, I waited as long as I could before my doctor told me I had to make a decision because the ultra sound report revealed “too many fibroids to count” and still growing So, in December 2008 I had Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) in which pellets are inserted into the femoral artery to cut off blood flow to the fibroids so that they shrink. So, far the procedure seems to be working, but my uterine problems are not over because I have a “funny fibroid” that does not conform to the normal fibroid.

Before I had fibroids and even after the surgeries, I still thought I might have children. As a child I loved dolls, and thought that I’d grow up and replace them with real babies of my own, but something happened along the way, and I don’t know if it was of my own doing or by God’s design. I have never been pregnant—no abortions, miscarriages or still births. Because I have never been told that I can’t get pregnant, I use birth control faithfully, but I have had a couple of mishaps.

I never thought about planning a pregnancy either because that’s not what I remember growing up. Pregnancy happened because it was supposed to happen. If a woman found herself pregnant, and was married; fine. If she wasn’t, she had two options: get married, or remain single. I thought I would follow the first pattern and be married, but unfortunately I didn’t choose potential husbands well because the men I dated were more interested in me being their baby mama than their wife. And so I opted out of motherhood because I wasn’t married.

At one point, my medical issues and their affect on my fertility along with my advancing age made me rethink my position on single parenting, and for a moment I considered adopting, using a sperm donor, and even asking an ex-boyfriend to impregnate me, but I decided single parenting wasn’t for me. Even though I knew that I could end up a single parent, I didn’t want to start out that way.

Around 2004 and thereafter, I was surrounded by a baby brigade as one of my nieces and four of my friends had five children among them. Conversations about baby stories ran amok, and I listened in without longing for a little one of my own. Some of my friends are grandparents. I’ve been around kids all my life as an aunt, great aunt, “play” aunt, godmother and educator. I have been auntie since I was two years old, and from as long as I can remember I have dragged my nieces and nephews from place to place. I now have two great nephews and twin goddaughters and I love and enjoy them all, but I also like returning them to their parents.

Though I thought I would join the club of motherhood, I did not. I am neither sad nor envious of those that have children. I have adjusted to a life without children of my own. But I am able to touch the future in my work as a teacher. A friend of mine who is also childless says that some of us are here to help others parent, and I’m just fine in the role of partner or part-time parent. I may not have the starring role of Mama in this movie called Life, but I’m a pretty good supporting actress.


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