Friday, July 12, 2013

“Childless” or “Childfree”

Lately, I've been feeling disconnected from my desire to have children. I don't know what happened. Maybe it's my psyche's way of dealing with the new knowledge that my ovaries have probably passed their expiration date. Maybe it's just habit – not to think about it. I've lived so much of my life without children, not thinking about children, filling my life with other pursuits and worries, that maybe this mindset is just status quo for me. This is normal for me. And it feels fine.

But how long will it feel fine? That's the big question all women like me ponder. Could I be OK with it my entire life? Or will I crumble into a ball of regret and childless bitterness at 49?

Hard to say. Just like anything in life, it's a fool's game to predict what we'll feel years from now about decisions we make today.

Recently, I've stumbled across (OK, maybe I've sought them out) an increasingly vocal group of people who prefer to (and proudly) call themselves “childfree” instead of “childless.”

I'm always slightly amused when movements attempt to co-op concepts by changing the words used to describe themselves, as if changing the word changes their circumstance. But I get that it's about altering other people's perceptions, removing the stigma and other preconceived ideas, so I suppose I'll rock n roll with it.

We are a minority – the childless/childfree people. And sometimes that means we feel the pinch of living under an oppressive Tyranny of the Majority, a.k.a. The World of Cooing Parents. Wanna know what they print on their dollar bill? “My children are the best thing that ever happened to me!!!!!!!” Yes, they print the exclamation marks on their legal tender.

It's enough to make anyone feel as if life will always be incomplete without children. We, pitiful non-parent brethren, are missing out on “the best thing” life on this planet has to offer. Or so the motto goes.
The “childfree” rebels beg to differ. The most vocal are radicalized and aggressive. They coo and brag about their childfree lives with equal passion as a parent rattling on about their children.

Their blogs and tweets and webpages are insistent, impassioned, sometimes even angry and anti-children in their rallying cries: Baby strollers circled with a line through it. Rants about the screaming brats next door. Snickering at parents who carry sippy cups and spare diapers in their purses.

My favorite, @SoHappyNoKids, posts almost daily about how happy he is living childfree, just to disprove any suspicions that some days he misses the children he never had. For example: “Another day without kids. Another day happier!”

Clearly, many of the childfree people feel the need to flip off the Tyranny. They want everyone to know there IS happiness without children.

I read a recent study that found people without children do find satisfaction in life in equal amounts as people with kids. The childless people say they occasionally feel a twang of sadness and wonder if they'd be happier if they had had children. But on most days, (as long as the childless aspect was not due to infertility), they feel content with their lives on the same levels as parents.

While we're comparing happiness levels, who can argue that parents don't suffer their own forms of sadness or disappointment that stem from their lives with children? Sadness, frustration, disappointment and wondering how our lives would be different if we took a different road are feelings doled out to all human, not just the childless. Happiness is also not exclusive to any group. Finding happiness with our lives is more often defined by our internal mechanisms rather than the external confines of our circumstances.

Personally, I don't feel oppressed by the majority, but maybe I am partly a victim of it. Yes, I have what I assume is an innate, biological hard-wired urge to procreate and care for a next generation of my genetic line, but perhaps some of my drive to have a child is propelled by the constant drumbeat of the majority's marching motto.

So my question is, what if a childfree life was a more well-trodden and recognizable path to a satisfying life? What if more people shared their satisfaction and joys of a life with children (of their own).  What if the choice was contemplated, respected and equated to other paths in life, like choosing to live in rural Idaho instead of smoggy L.A.? Many great women never had children. Helen Mirren. Coco Chanel. Diane Sawyer. 

Modern life is about choices. We have so many different options for how to live our lives, where, and with whom. Maybe it is time for the childfree to stand up and seat at the table. It's not like they have to find a babysitter before committing to the dinner party.

For those of you out there who are still trying to sort through the baby to be or not to be decision, check out a few of these childfree warriors: @nothavingababy, @whynokids, and @sohappynokids.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Perpetual Waiting, Man vs. Baby

I've been taking DHEA now for almost two months. Everything I've read suggests that its effects don't peak until four months. Those effects, which I'm hoping will miraculously turn back the clock on my ovaries, are not only supposed to increase my follicle count, but also improve the quality of the resulting eggs. That means, fewer chances of genetic defects and other egg deficiencies that would lower my chances of a successful pregnancy.

So I'm waiting. Again. As always. Waiting for something to “get better.” It's apparently the story of my life when it comes to babies. And I can't help but wonder, does it mean something? Should I take these next two months to brutally self-reflect and consider that all my waiting for things to “get better” was because I don't really want a child? Were my repeated decisions to “wait a little longer” not just a timing thing, but rather a life choice? After so many years of deciding against a baby, does that by definition mean I chose a childfree life?

This is the philosophy of the taxi driver Wizard, played by Peter Boyle, in one of my favorite films, Taxi Driver. In the scene when Wizard tries to give De Niro's character some life advice, he says, “You do a thing and that's what you are. Like I've been a cabbie for thirteen years. Ten years at night. I still don't own my own cab. You know why? Because I don't want to. That must be what I want. To be on the night shift drivin' somebody else's cab.”

Like De Niro's character, I always look screwed-eyed at that reasoning and think it's “about the dumbest thing I ever heard,” but my boyfriend thinks it holds some truth about how we live our lives. Or at least how our lives turn out because of the way we live them. We make little choices all along the way and over time they add up to become the contours of our life – it becomes who we are.

So yes, I've chosen other things over children my whole adult life and I am now a woman without children. For most of my life, I've been happy with those choices and my life. But looking back now, I can recall a few forks in the road that didn't feel right. At those moments in time, I went against my gut and reluctantly took a path that meant delaying my route to children. Now I know the choices I made at these forks in the road deeply altered the course of my life and led me to where I am now.

Conducting an intensive “what if's and coulda shoulda's” on a life is fraught with pitfalls – faulty memories, revisionist intentions, 20/20 vision earned from subsequent events, etc. The road not taken is always a beckoning fantasy, but in truth, it is a dark mystery that holds no promise of anything. For all I know, going a different way could have lead to my tragic death in a buffalo trampling accident. But in this time of brutal self-reflection, I want to consider my motivations for walking further away from children instead of aiming directly at them. Maybe there's a lesson in it for all of us.

The first major fork in the road came when my ex-husband and I were dating and discussing marriage. I had just turned 30 and wanted to start a family soon. He was four year younger, and said he wanted to wait several years before having kids. This upset me. It would throw my life planning off track. But I loved him so intensely, I decided to let go of my “planning” and trust the love I felt for him. I believed in following my heart, and I thought that was a life with him. I calmed my inner worry about delaying children with the mantra that I had some spare years to wait. I didn't realize then that those spare years would turn into eight years of instability and a disastrous divorce.

My other reluctant step away from a life with children was again at the early stages of my relationship with D. He told me he wasn't sure about having more children. I knew then if I wanted to have kids I needed to find someone soon, but here was this man who was so much of what I wanted in a partner that I couldn't bring myself to simply walk away from him just because he wasn't sure about having more kids just yet. Besides, I told myself, I wasn't ready to have a child right away anyway. I had just moved across the country to embark on a new career. I needed all of my time and energy for that. I needed to get settled in my new life before bringing a child into my world. At the time, I was even on the fence then about whether I wanted a child or not. Now, three years later, I'm anchored into the relationship and he's no closer, and perhaps further away, from wanting to have more children.

Looking back now at these two choices, I wonder how my life would be different now if I had taken the other roads. What if I had walked away from the men I loved early on? I know there must be women who do this. They know they want children in a few short years. They realize the men they are with are not ready, and they high tail it outta there to find men who are.

I applaud these women. That decision takes courage. It's a difficult, painful step away from the love they have for their man. But ultimately, a woman who takes this step is planning for her life big picture. She chooses her own needs and desire to start a family over waiting for a man who is not ready, and might never be. Her choice is about her taking care of her life, taking charge of it, pursuing her goals for a family, not waiting for someone who is standing in the way of it.

I realize it might sound cold, turning away from love and a good relationship because we want a baby, but if women want to protect their ability to create a family, it's a choice we should feel empowered to make. We should not feel guilty or calculating. And men should recognize and respect our need to make this choice. Women have a limited time for fertility, men do not. They can afford to wait longer than we can. Women must feel justified and applauded when choosing to be proactive about planning for children – even if that means dumping a great guy in the process. And guys should not lead their women on if they know in their hearts they do not want children.

Of course, the other option some women chose is an “accidental” pregnancy. That's not my style, nor do I even have the ability anymore, but lots of women do it to solve their dilemma. I think it's a violation of trust that can cause deep and poisoning resentment in the family unit. But sometimes it works out great and dad is pleasantly thrilled with the child he didn't realize he wanted. It makes me wonder. And it reminds me, that so much of life, especially who we end up with and when we have children, is accidental anyway. 

I suppose that means that my plans, as vague as they were, to have a family "later," met with their own accidental circumstances that perpetually kept me from pulling the trigger on doing it. I can blame my choices for some of it, but I know in my heart that it was never my intended choice to be childless.