I AM NOT SORRY FOR MAKING THE RIGHT DECISIONS FOR MYSELF.
I’m not sorry for making the right decisions for myself.
“You’ll change your mind.” Is there any statement more patronizing?
The not-so-subtle subtext being that the speaker knows your mind better than you do. That they know your wants and your needs even before you know them. It’s usually meant in a harmless just-making-conversation sort of way, borne out of someone’s life experience and their model for what the world is and how it turns.
Nevertheless, it’s fucking rude. And as a woman who does not want—nor has since puberty ever wanted—children, I have had this said to me a million times by a million people. Or at least that’s how it feels. It’s almost always by a stranger who is just trying to make polite conversation. I get that. Really. But why is it that a woman’s choices on reproduction is a topic strangers feel they can pry into in the first place? There are so many reasons this can be a touchy or categorically painful topic for a lady to discuss, but people—women and men alike—feel like it’s a reasonable thing to talk about right after the weather and this season’s Game of Thrones.
I have found myself in this conversation more times than I can count since about the time that people could reasonably expect I’d be capable of reproducing—so, more than twenty years. Even still, I have no go-to way for dealing with it. I always get nervous and dodgy, like I’m in airport security, and even though I have nothing to hide, I feel guilty of something.
Occasionally someone will ask if I want kids, and when I say no, I’ll get an “Oh, thank god, me neither,” and we’ll high five or hail Satan. Usually the people who ask are the ones who have kids. Kids who might be within earshot and of the age to understand the question. And to those people, I often find myself making apologies.
When someone is bouncing a kid on their knee, a little human whom they adore more than anything in creation, a human they would undoubtedly tear your throat out to protect, and they ask you, “So, are you planning on having kids?” It’s an awkward thing to have to answer in the negative. I usually sputter, “Sorry, no,” because I feel like my choice will be construed as a judgement on their choice and by extension a judgment on the existence of their precious, precious child. It’s obviously not, but in that moment, depending on who you’re talking to, you can feel tension thicken the air between you. And that makes me want to spew apologies like a magician pulling an infinite string of handkerchiefs from her mouth.
I don’t like to be contrary, and I certainly don’t like to make judgments on other people’s lives, but whenever I get asked about wanting kids by people with kids, I feel cornered into disagreeing with someone’s, often a stranger’s, major life choices. And that is how some people take it. Some people are cool and couldn’t care less how you choose to live your life, maybe they even envy you a little, but other people are visibly perturbed by my choice. (A choice hard won by generations of feminists, I might add.) And those are the people who usually tell me I’ll change my mind. Now that I’m married, they are really sure I will. More sure than I could ever be, clearly. I won’t change my mind though. Even as I wrote that, my first instinct was to say, “I’m sorry, but I won’t.” Of course I know I shouldn’t be sorry. Of course everyone should make this very important choice for themselves. It’s so obvious! So why, when alone, when not confronted by someone asking me about this, bouncing baby on display, do I feel compulsively apologetic?
The maybe not so obvious thing going on here is that historically one of the few respectable things a woman could do was be a mother. It was on the top of a very short list of roles that, in the dark days of the past, women could be proud of playing (wife being the other half required to make this identity permissible). It remains the one function we perform that is indispensable to human survival and that men can’t do without us. And here I am, with all my twenty-first century audacity, saying no, I will not perform this sacred rite. I will not, in many ways, fully realize my womanhood. I will not play the role that nature and society and history intend for me to play. And since women are trained to apologize for everything and anything, I feel the need to apologize for refusing to do this one thing that women have always been told they don’t need to apologize for. It is supposed to be the one thing I am good for, and I am not even going to do it!
I joked earlier about hailing Satan with other women who don’t want children, and it’s a silly, exaggerated thing to say, but deciding against having children can at times make you feel like the proverbial other. And the other is, practically by definition, misunderstood and at least a little bit scary. I believe most people make the choice to have children from deep in their guts, in a primordial place of love and instinct. Telling them you don’t have that place is revealing that your core is, in at least one big way, a very different place than theirs. While I don’t think that most people with children are actively trying to make me feel like an outsider, I am in fact outside this arena of life. Maybe the people who think I’ll change my mind just want to imagine I will find my missing core and in turn find the joy they have found, and I can appreciate that. (Or they at least want to make light conversation, which I can also appreciate, albeit less so.)
I, again, have the reflexive urge to say I’m sorry. I feel a tugging, illogical obligation to apologize to anyone who would be made uncomfortable or even just confused by my choices about my body and my life. I can feel the words “I’m sorry” fighting their way up my throat when I think of someone who is so kind as to want me to find the same deep happiness they have. That’s really sweet of you! But I’m not actually sorry, or more accurately, I know I shouldn’t be sorry, and I don’t want to be sorry. I want to stop apologizing for making the right decision for myself, and I want to let go of this strange guilt I feel when I tell parents I won’t be following their example. I am happy for everyone who has made the right decisions for themselves, and that should include me. I am happy with my choices—really happy—and now I’m going to be proud of them, too.
About the photo:
As an editor, I'm a behind-the-scenes type, so I am grateful to UnApologetic Women for challenging me to relate an experience that is deeply personal. Writing about myself on this level, on this topic was hard. I chose to be photographed as well because I wanted to keep pushing through the feeling that my own stories might not be worth reading to the adjacent self-doubt that in the vast world, I'm not really someone worth looking at. Instead of giving in to the mind killer that is fear, I donned my power dress and did my best to remember what I usually do with my arms when there's no camera around.