Childfree: is it really a “choice”?

(Dedicated to the wonderful ladies I met in Cleveland — you are The Best Ever!)

If there’s one question I dread more than why I didn’t complete my thesis, it’s being asked why I chose to be childfree. Chose. You know, like I had some say in it. Given my druthers, I would have chosen to be born like most people, with the innate instinct to be a parent. Deep down, I know that having society’s nod of approval would have made life a helluva lot easier.

Some NotMoms and NotDads don’t have kids, unhappily or resignedly, due to life circumstances. They never had a choice. Funny, but I never considered being childfree a “choice” either. I was born a NotMom, as sure as I was born a vertically challenged, heterosexual female with brown eyes and hair. The world has no shortage of tiny, brown-eyed women who get melty when the right guy comes around. But that “won’t have kids” thing … oh, gosh. Try explaining that you’re absent the mommy drive and no, it wasn’t because you have some unbecoming personality disorder or your parents messed you up, and you have a lot more ‘splainin’ to do.

When I was a child, my mom and dad read me a lot of Dr. Suess books. One of the good doc’s quotes is, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” My parents always encouraged me to be genuine, and if I did this, I would make and keep friends. I naively took it to heart, which is why I made the mistake of absently confessing to being a NotMom to a trio of middle school besties.

There we were, four 12-year-olds walking around the phys ed area after lunch. The conversation gravitated to our burgeoning hormones future aspirations. Unsurprisingly, marriage and kids came up. All of the other girls wanted at least three or four children.

“I’m not having kids,” I said absently when it came my turn, stopping everyone dead in their tracks.

“Never?” Sandy, my best bestie asked incredulously. “Why not?”

(Here’s me, shrugging.)

“Are you going to get married?” another gal pal chimed in, looking alarmed.

“Sure, I want to get married.” That was true. I wanted to get married to the cute, popular guy in homeroom, not nerdy Gary Snell, who was always creeping around jingling his I.D. bracelet in my direction. “I’m just not having kids.”

Sandy glared at me like I’d grabbed her 7-Up-flavored Lipsmacker and ground it into the hardtop while the rest of my posse stared at the pavement in a study my memory has captioned: Bewildered Awkwardness. “Well, then … you—you’re just weird,” Sandy sputtered indignantly. “If you get married, you have to have kids.”

Can we pretend I never said that?
Can we pretend I never said that?

I felt like Insta-Crap. I also started to form an unhealthy view of marriage, which was that it was a privilege for those destined to procreate, and not girls like me. If I gamed the system and someone found out, would I be forced to get divorced? Was I forbidden to date, too? That was a bummer. I had my heart set on prom.

It was unwise to allude to being different while growing up in a churchy small town. Really unwise. Until I could flee that environment, I learned that the socially correct thing to say was, “Oh, I want to have at least ten kids—five girls, and five boys!” and squee! like a Duggar I really meant it. Look, I didn’t want my house TP’ed.

I also learned that my friends weren’t really friends.

I was an innocent. Nefarious thoughts like “I need to come up with clearly convincing reasons for not wanting children lest I be labeled ‘weird’ by peers” weren’t integrated into my brain’s wiring. I knew that I knew—just like I knew when I looked in the mirror, I would see a girl with brown hair and brown eyes who was far too concerned with getting pimples and who would like Gary Snell if he were taller, cuter, and didn’t have a lisp.

Now it’s freakin’ 2015—make that 2016. It’s close enough, right? When I was that innocent tween, I thought I would be working in a space station somewhere by the year 2016. We’d live in egalitarian society like you see in Star Trek, where the squandering of skills and talents mattered far more than a person’s inability or unwillingness to conceive. Women could even have blue skin and silver hair!

The Enterprise never became a reality, so I relocated to a true-blue progressive city where it was par for the course to have drinks with a homeless guy named Leslie, who wore a tiara and tutu. It is a community where we “born this ways” can flourish. But in 2016, we must still have a cache of “reasons” on hand when that inevitable question comes: “Why don’t/didn’t you want kids?” Um … children cost too much money. That I don’t have. The planet. I don’t want to maim it by leaving behind a Godzilla-sized carbon footprint. My career, it’s the bombdiggity. I’m too selfish. Too lazy, too crazy, too genetically flawed. I don’t like kids.

None of these things are genuinely true in my case, but I plead guilty to trotting out the “reasons”. Reasons seem to make people less hostile confused. Because I have a warm, smooshy, nurturing personality, inevitably, a well-intentioned childed friend will insist that I never met the “right guy”, triggering that old Insta-Crap feeling. I have to wonder: would that person say I just hadn’t met the “right guy” if I were gay? Why not ask why I wasn’t a runway model while they’re at it?

There’s a lot about ourselves that we can hide, change, and enhance, thanks to the miracle of Alcon, Sephora, and the shoe industry. I can make (and have made) my brown eyes blue with state-of-the-art contact lenses. I can (and have) streaked my hair blond. My Max Studio heels might murder my instep, but they give me temporary leverage. I could have flipped the bird at my nature, had those ten kids, and … I thankfully will never know what would have happened.

I never needed reasons, and those of you who “chose” to be childfree don’t need them either. What thankfully isn’t artificial, and what will never be, is that I am who I am—a NotMom since I was nascent. Childfree by a choice I never actually made.

I was born this way.