Monday, July 31, 2006

It's my life.

Commander Lock: Not everyone believes what you do Morpheus.
Morpheus: My beliefs do not require them to.
—The Matrix

My husband's annual family reunion brings with it a few guarantees. #1 - We will appreciate how fortunate we are that we get to enjoy the sun, the lake, and the company at his step-aunt's lake house estate. #2 - we will want, by the end of the weekend, to either gouge our own eyes out or perhaps the eyes of others if the children don't stop. Doesn't matter what, we just need them to STOP. #3 - we will experience a lecture of some sort about what we're missing out on by not having children (usually by the grandparents), while the parents tell us how the children are making them crazy and destroying their lives.

Never is it more apparent that I am not Mommy material than at the family reunion. Like last year, I see what is supposed to be a vacation transform into a rodeo, wrangling the kids, keeping them off each other, finding out who hit whom and why, locating lost toys, determining what belongs to whom and who stole whose whatever. It's exhausting to watch, and I can't imagine how it must be for the parents. Well, I sort of can, because all I hear from the moms is complaining.

I will say this. The sister-in-law who has been the main culprit in the "Stasha must have babies" campaign has mellowed, and I think she might even get it. She hasn't said anything about "when" we have kids, I must have kids, etc. in two visits now. This is a good thing.

My father-in-law, on the other hand, just loves talking about how great my husband and I are with the kids when we're playing with them. It's true -- we have a lot of fun when the kids are behaving. I was playing with our three-year-old niece and nephew and a giant frisbee sort of thing, while my 6'5" tall husband played monkey in the middle with the older kids (all between 6 and 9). It was a ton of fun, and we loved it! And when the kids started getting too rough, we said "okay, that's enough, Auntie and Uncle are tired," and sent the kids off to their parents. It was fantastic!

But it was shortlived. We left the kids to play by themselves and then came -- not the thanks for playing with them for over an hour -- the guilt. "Oh, come on, now who's going to watch them? They just beat up on each other when no one's around!" The answer? NOT OUR PROBLEM.

The worst part of the trip was the annual pontoon boat ride, always a haven for drama. At first we considered ourselves lucky that we weren't on the boat with all the children. Then we realized we were on the boat with the drunk aunts. The passive-aggressively preachy ones.

Oh, it was fabulous. We got to hear all about how kids these days think it's just fine to get married in their late 20s and not have kids until well into their 30s, when the best thing to do is just have "the kids" right away (because marriage=children). Oh, and did we ever hear it about families with only one child. It's almost as if having no children would be preferable to having only one child. WOW. Of course, as most things are in this family, everything was indirect. There were no direct questions about when we were having children, just insistence and pressure to have many and start NOW, to stop "wasting our time" with traveling and building my business. Oh, she preached and preached, made sure I knew how devastated her oldest daughter was to be single and childless at 36 (I think she's intentionally both); made sure I knew her one daughter was barren and her other, well, let's not talk about how she's wasting her life (single at 32).

To this woman, success at life equals marrying, having babies, and letting your husband make the money. We talked about our plans to travel -- Australia next year, China with friends in 2008 or 2009 -- and she just kept on about how important it was to start a family while you're young.

I wanted to scream at her "It's my life! This is what I want to do with it! We want to travel, to enjoy our vacations instead of having them feel like babysitting. We want to ride on the waverunners and swim to the deep end and not have our eyes glued to the children. It's our life. Just be happy that we're happy."

I should have screamed that, but I decided long ago that it's my husband's responsibility to decide when he wants to tell his family we're not having children. My family knows. My family is fine. This is his deal.

Monday, July 17, 2006

On Infertility

I have to wonder lately if this truly is as unusual as I think it is, or if it's the gods testing me in some way. Another friend has come to me and told me that she appreciates the childfree filter I put on my LiveJournal (my primary journal) because she is infertile. She has been trying for several years to conceive and she and her husband are beginning to look into options like foster care because they have no money to adopt.

I had no idea.

This is just one more person I am close to who has dealt with fertility and childbearing issues. Two people in my husband's close family, an aunt of mine, and now not two, but three close friends of mine had/have devastating fertility problems. This seems like a lot of people to me; either that or infertility is more common than I'd initially thought. The only common thread among them is that I feel very uncomfortable around them.

When my friend told me this weekend, I was in shock. I suspected she and her husband might be trying to conceive, but some of the issues she brought up, I had never considered. She talked about people wo talk about "just adopting", and she explained how impossible it seems, and it's even been hard for them to commit to foster care because she was a foster kid and understands that the ultimate goal for foster kids is to get them back to their birth parents. It worked for her, and she went back with her mom eventually, so she has an especially deep understanding about this. But I know it's killing her that she can't have a baby of her own.

I started to feel self-conscious that I've been trivializing the desire to have children. It's so hard because it's something I have never felt, and while I know it's not as simple as, say, a fleeting desire for a pair of shoes, it's impossible for me to understand this burning need to have children, the heartbreak of not being able to have them, to feel like you're "settling" for adoption or foster care.

I feel like I need to clarify that when I say "if we decide later that we want kids, we'll adopt", I am saying this with an understanding of what it's about, at least in that I know it's not "easy". It's not cheap, it's not painless, and it's not an easy thing. I do know this, and the adoption thing is also not a decision that my husband and I have just up and "said". When we talk about him getting a vasectomy, this is a very real thing that we discuss, even though we're confident about our decision.

But still, when the talk of babies and children comes up, when it's friends talking about their kids or talking about my childfree life, I feel instantly uncomfortable for them, wondering if they're okay with this. I know it's different for everyone. I have one friend who exuses herself from the room and bursts into tears at any mention of children, especially the children of her friends, another who is okay with it but the tension in the room becomes palpable. This latest friend I haven't quite read, but she's notoriously hard to read about EVERYTHING, and I can't imagine her getting emotional about anything.

I don't know if this is the case, but I feel as if infertile women think I'm insulting them, that my decision makes a mockery of their situation, that I run around thinking "anyone" can have babies and it's no big deal. I'm not a big subscriber to the "no big deal" mindset, although I stand by and own my statements from my Biology 101 post. Of course it's not as simple as that, especially for women who can't conceive. It's so hard to clarify my thoughts on this, because while the friend who cries as the mere thought of baby shoes is in an already bad relationship that will suffer incurably if she gets pregnant, I actually wished on a shooting star the other night my latest infertile friend would be able to conceive.

When people suggest to me that I should just pretend we are infertile, I can't think of anything more insensitive. I can't possibly mock the pain these people in my life are going through, and I certainly don't want to end up in the position of talking about my "infertility". While I suspect that if I desired to get pregnant it would be very, very difficult because I don't get a regular period (only once every few months, even a year after getting off hormonal birth control), I can't pretend that's something I'm living with. It would be disrespectful to anyone who ever truly has gone through it.

The point I intended on making in this post was "just because we can have babies does not mean we must", but I wanted to take it a step further. I believe it is a tragedy when people who desperately want to be parents cannot realize that dream. But I also believe that I have to stop feeling guilty because I don't want children. It's my own fault that I do feel guilty,

Monday, July 10, 2006

Biology 101

A major reason that my husband and I do not want children of our own is that there are far too many children in the world anyway. Schools are horrifically overcrowded, and a good education is nearly impossible to find outside of the high-income neighborhoods that having a child would preclude us from living in. Oh, wait, we could move outside the city, but our desire to be near a cultural and creative center is another aspect of the childfree life that we find appealing.

It's so interesting to me that there are so many people who "accidentally" get pregnant. Of course accidents happen, and I have several friends and acquaintances who are the victims of failed birth control. But I see television shows like Maury "Paternity Test" Povich, where these women are coming out and wondering if one of two, three, ten, twelve men are the father of their children, and I just wonder how on earth God could let them breed. It's one of those issues that truly makes me wonder how there could possibly be a God, to be honest.

All children are a blessing, a miracle, right? I don't think so. Constantly I see women with more children than they can handle, and often they can't even handle one! They have unprotected sex and the punishment for that is what? BABIES! It just seems so wrong, like God would consider a more appropriate punishment to fit the crime.

Raising a child is so difficult -- why is it that it's so easy for humans to breed? The only answer I can think of is that it's just science, biology at its most basic, not some master plan by an unseen higher power. It's unfathomable to me that this God who is supposed to be looking out for His people, would let the world become overrun with children, would take something that is supposed to be special and wonderful and make it no more magical than an accident. In a world where children are so easily produced, so frivolously produced, I just can't see children as anything but that -- as Biology 101. Even my beautiful neice was little more than an accident, and both she and my brother have been paying for that since her birth because her mother is so messed up.

Of course it's more than that, and for many couples it's a conscious choice and these kids are created intentionally and out of love. It just kills me that it's implied that I'm missing out on this miracle, when all I see that I'm missing out on is Biology 101, a reproductive process that I have no desire to be a part of. If I want kids someday, I will take in one of those frivolously created children, someone whose parents didn't think about, couldn't take care of. As long as all those children need homes, need love, need parents, I feel like they would need me more than a child that I biologically created could ever need me.

But that's the beauty of my situation. Those children need a home with people who are willing and ready to raise them. I am not that person, and neither is my husband. If our situation changes, we know there never will be a shortage of kids up for adoption. But until we are 100% ready for that step, and if our life continues to be as full and happy as it is now, we won't ever be, if we get sterilized as we want to, we don't have to worry about accidental pregnancy. It's the best freedom of choice that there could possibly be.

Friday, July 07, 2006


I have an acquaintance who assumed she'd probably have kids one day, but not now. Not when she was unmarried and still building her career. She assumed she would be one of those women who established herself in her field of environmental biology, got the contacts, references, and experience she needed (probably a few more years) and then strategically pick a time to have a baby. There was never a question of whether she would return to this career she'd worked so hard to get, even earning her Master's degree.

She was the last person you'd expect to see get knocked up.

Birth control fails, people. It happens. It happened to her. Sure she had recently finished a round of antibiotics, but she was done now, and it's not like she was ovulating.

She and her boyfriend talked about it, decided to get married and combine their incomes so they could raise the baby and still afford the house she had bought. It would be tight, with childcare so expensive, but they could do this. It was one baby, not that big of a deal.

And then there were two. Gorgeous twin boys. Two gorgeous twin boys. Two mouths to feed. To bottoms to diaper. Two cribs, two sleepers, two carseats, two strollers. Two gorgeous baby boys to pay someone to watch. Two boys were too much.

Her husband had an extra four years of career over hers, therefore more contacts, more experience, and a better salary. 80% of her salary went to childcare. Eighty Percent. With gas prices, the cost of commuting, and too many hours in the lab tugging at her heart strings, she decided, reluctantly to leave her job.

Of course she loves her boys, but after only a month at home with them she's losing her mind. She misses the challenges of working in the lab, working toward something, toward her dream job. This wasn't what she signed up for. She still feels that one baby they could have handled, but being blindsided by two is just too much.

And yet it's overkill to want two forms of highly effective birth control. Her story terrifies me more than anything else. Regardless of whether we want kids, one baby, sure we could manage financially, but what if the child had special needs? What if there were two? Kiss a career goodbye. Kiss all the nice things we can have goodbye, the traveling, the time with friends, with each other. No thank you. Give me a one in a million chance and then I'll stop worrying about getting pregnant.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Cold Feet

One of my dearest friends, Angie, got engaged about 6 months ago, and it was just about the happiest I've ever been for my friends. Although they were a wonderful couple, they used to always say that they didn't believe in getting married. He works for a very progressive company and gets domestic partner benefits, so there wasn't any real incentive as far as that's concerned. I wondered what would happen to them because she still had some desires to live abroad or maybe move to Chicago, and he wasn't always a part of these plans. They were "if things don't work out" plans, but when he proposed she excitedly said yes and was comfortable and happy to give up those plans.

Angie was the first person to introduce me to the word "childfree". She's the first person I was ever able to talk with about childfree issues. It has been no secret that she has no desire for children.

They've been together for over 5 years, and while early in the relationship there was some wondering what the future because of Eric's desire for kids one day, eventually Eric started coming over to the other side. She thought they had come to an understanding -- she did not want kids. There was the possibility that would change with time, but it was nothing he could bank on.

As time has passed since the engagement, however, Eric has gotten the worst case of cold feet I've ever seen. I suspect a big reason for this is that he never really did get comfortable with the idea of a childfree marriage. He wants to be a father one day, and yes, he'd make a great one, but Angie doesn't want to be a mom. She doesn't even like children. She's happy with her kittens and doesn't need or want for more.

With all of this, Angie feels betrayed and lied to because he didn't think it through before getting her hopes up. Saying yes was not an easy thing for her. It shocked us all that they would ever get married, not because we doubted their committment -- they just weren't marryin' folk. But now he's wondering if they are truly compatible for the long term, in large part because of this issue.

This is causing a huge rift that may not only end the engagement, but one of the most lovely relationships I've had the pleasure of knowing, and it's breaking my heart. I want them to be in love, I want them to get married and live happily ever after, but it makes me wonder if this is something that Angie will compromise on. She's not a compromiser, but I know she wants to spend her life with Eric. If this one issue tears them apart... I don't know, it's just making me very, very sad.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Pretty Good Way to Stunt a Soul

…Although most of us think of heroin as a source of human misery, shooting heroin doesn't actually make people feel miserable. It makes them feel really, really good--so good, in fact, that it crowds out every other source of pleasure. Family, friends, work, play, food, sex--none can compete with the narcotic experience; hence all fall by the wayside. The analogy to children is all too clear. Even if their company were an unremitting pleasure, the fact that they require so much company means that other sources of pleasure will all but disappear. Movies, theater, parties, travel--those are just a few of the English nouns that parents of young children quickly forget how to pronounce. We believe our children are our greatest joy, and we're absolutely right. When you have one joy, it's bound to be the greatest.

Now, in David Gilbert's Time magazine essay "Does Fatherhood Make You Happy", he feels that this is part of the human experience and a rewarding one at that, if not one that generates happiness as the children are young and grow older. He suggests that to even ask the question is missing the point. But it is a valid question, and one that I think couples should consider, especially when they think a child will bring more happiness to a marriage, but so few do. (I'm thinking specifically about my friend from work, obsessed now with conceiving after her miscarriage. Even though she's in an unhappy and verbally abusive marriage, she's told me she's convinced a baby will bring them closer together.)

It's been shown in studies time and again that married couples become markedly less happy in their relationship and in general after becoming parents. It's something many folks will deny, and of course it's not 100%, but it begs the question, why do so many people have a hard time imagining that someone might prefer to do something else with their life? Why is it considered a horrific symptom of an "all about me" culture, selfish and a terrible thing to say "no" to children? When childfree folk consider kids, we would rather say no than sentence ourselves to decades of relative unhappiness just so we can say "look, I did something great with my life". Parents *are* doing something great, no doubt, but it's not a life for everyone, but parents must realize it's not the only way to have meaning in one's life.

My step-grandfather (and others) likes to joke that the affection that A and I have with each other won't last, to which I always take offense. Why won't it last? Why must one assume it can't last? For many couples, childed or otherwise, it doesn't, but I know that I want to make the best attempt at increasing my odds of happiness. Because I know that having children isn't for us, we certainly would become one of those couples who says "that won't last" every time A gets the door for me or gives me a big hug in public.

Studies reveal that most married couples start out happy and then become progressively less satisfied over the course of their lives, becoming especially disconsolate when their children are in diapers and in adolescence, and returning to their initial levels of happiness only after their children have had the decency to grow up and go away. When the popular press invented a malady called "empty-nest syndrome," it failed to mention that its primary symptom is a marked increase in smiling.

Writer Betsy Hart had a very intriguing counterpoint to the article, but couldn't seem to get her points out without a snarky -- and completely unnecessary -- comment about the childfree. The comment had nothing to do with the rest of her article, especially since Gilbert's article was not targeted toward childfree folk, and it's primary message was that "it doesn't matter, kids are a rewarding experience." Still, Hart just *had* to get her comment in there.

Web sites and books for people who choose to never have children (versus those many folks who would desperately like to have them but can't) have boomed and a new term was coined for the phenomenon in the 1990s: "childfree." Again and again, these resources celebrate people, especially married couples, who say they just want to live life on their own terms, and do what they want to do when they want to do it.

Yeah. Whoopee.

In the end, that's a pretty good way to stunt a soul.

And I ask, WTF?

I wonder what her point was. That she's a better person than me because she's a mom? That all moms are better people because they don't think it's "all about them"? That there's not enough support out there for women who desperately want babies? PLEASE. That those of us in the minority, obsessed with our "all about me" culture as she has accused, are unworthy of emotional support? When searching for childfree resources in print I had a VERY hard time and found only a small handful of books, many which had terrible reader reviews, and without the emotional support I've gotten from other childfree women that I've met online, I'd be so conflicted over this issue -- instead, I am confident we are making the right choice for our family. And we ARE a family.

It would have been such a wonderful counterpoint, too.

But then again, I don't know what I'm saying because my soul is stunted and I have no heart.

It's all about me anyway.