I kid you not: the right to remain childless
I love kids. I’m first onto the floor for games at their birthday parties. I’m near the head of the line for cuddles when a colleague brings theirs to the office. Babysitting on Saturday night? Bring it on. I am the proud godfather to a cherub named Bebe, and have signed papers declaring myself legal guardian of my friends’ girls should anything ever happen to their parents.
These are not mere honorifics but responsibilities viewed with all the gravity and importance they entail. As I write these words, the laughter from my neighbours’ daughters burbling over the back fence is testing my resolve not to ditch the laptop and dash over for an afternoon of dress-ups.
Like I said, I love kids. Do I want my own? No. My partner and I got together in our early 30s. We dated for a few years, got married and decided to have a couple of years of “we time” before THE BABY TALK. When we eventually decided to do away with contraception, we weren’t necessarily “trying”. If it happened, it happened. Both of us would have been thrilled.
But in the end – and you can blame our ages, her bits, my bits, a combination of all three or something completely different – nothing happened. At which point we faced the question: how badly did we want to become a mum and dad, anyway?
This was a tough question to answer – and a tougher conversation to broach. We chose our words carefully, using open-ended phrases to indicate we were aware that changes of heart are common when the stakes are this high. We were also aware that forgoing children came at a certain price – a deficit, really, of moments and emotions. I would never look into the eyes of someone I had helped create, or feel that immense surge of pride I see in my friends’ eyes when they gaze at their children. That look that will always elicit some pangs of fleeting envy in me. We knew the consequences: in opting for one life, we would be missing out on another.
What I was unprepared for was the reaction our choice would elicit in others. As the years went by, family members avoided outright prying, but still fished for information. One night at a dinner, my mum turned to my partner and said, “You know the only thing that would make my life complete at this stage [Mum is 73] would be a new baby.” To which my beloved replied, “Wow, do you think your body could handle it?”
As for my mates? They had recommended fatherhood and I’d seen how it had bettered them. But they seemed to just accept the fact they were dads and I wasn’t. Maybe they just didn’t feel like initiating the potentially difficult discussion of the reasons for the situation.
Sometimes, I sensed a few envied the freedom my childless life would bestow, though they would never dare vocalise such feelings.
I wish I could say my partner made off so easily. For a period of several years, she was asked at least once a week when we were going to start having babies. The enquiries were so relentless that she developed a flippant throwaway response: “When David’s sperm count increases.” At this point, they invariably backed off. Truth be told, I took no small pleasure in watching them squirm at this response. This line never embarrassed me. Maybe my sperm count did play a role in our childless state. So what? None of their business. Maybe it didn’t. Again: so what? Still none of their business.
I was often at a loss for comforting words when she came home from a work function where, say, she had opted for mineral water instead of merlot and assumptions were made. Ditto the bouts of nausea that came with several winter viruses. One of the toughest things was trying to console her when other women made her feel like she was somehow excluding herself from a club whose benefits she would never know. As if she hadn’t quite thought all this through already?! At times, I became so angry – how could people make my beloved feel that her – and our – decisions were at best flawed and at worst selfish? On many nights, I had to remind her why neither of those assumptions were true.
We know that by not having children, we are cutting ourselves off from some of the most wonderful moments life has to offer. But you know what? We like what we have, right here and now. Ten years on, our relationship has become richer, stronger and more rewarding. It’s a different kind of wonderful, but it’s our wonderful. And it feels just right.
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