Thursday 16 June 2011

Why I'm Not Having Children

Recently turned 42, I've been thinking about why I haven't had a child of my own, as I adore my 12 nieces and nephews and enjoy children's company wherever I find it.

In my twenties, I wouldn't have even considered having a child. I was in Los Angeles until I was 26, at first working full-time and going to school at night, then working part-time and going to UCLA in the day. On graduation, I headed down to Orange County to pursue my MFA in creative writing at the University of California, Irvine; I lived in Corona del Mar for those two years before moving to Irvine when I started the PhD programme in English. So you could say that in my twenties, I was too busy getting educated--and was hence too poor--for a child to be a real option.

In my thirties, when I married, moved to England, and finished my PhD, the reason for not having children changed: my men became the greatest barrier. I have always been attracted to men whose vocation--intellectual, academic, artistic, or some combination thereof--is their passion and ambition. Literature and writing have been my driving force for nearly all my life, and I relish the company of others who have a comparable sensibility. My ex-husband, whom I began dating when I was 27 (I moved in a mere three months later) and separated from when I was 34, is a reader in philosophy at a prestigious university and has always had an all-encompassing intellectual ambition. This meant that after he was late with several rent payments, the finances fell to me, then all travel arrangements (for conferences, family visits, etc.), etc. My next partner was a poet and musician, whose hours reading, writing and revising poetry, and reading about, listening to, and playing music, took nearly all his time outside his teaching. Along with the finances, I took up the greater share of housework.

I knew that to have a child with either of these men would be like being a single parent. While I know they both would have loved a child dearly, their vocations would still have been dominant, the first thing they turned to in a free moment. I believed--and believe--that circumstance would be destroying for me and any child.

Now that I'm in my forties, I've lost interest in having a child of my own. I love their company, and I think if I could have a few hours a week in the company of my nieces and nephews, any maternal urges would be completely satisfied. I want to get on with my writing--there are so many books I want to write!

It's hard to wish things had been much different, as then I might not be here, where I have (apart from the admin &c.) a wonderful job teaching promising writers, I travel regularly to give readings and workshops, and I've published two books of poetry and edited an anthology. In Britain I've made the best of friends, found a little success in my writing, and come to live in a beautiful city with one of the best men I've ever known. I suppose that explains why I've stayed in the UK as much as why I don't want to change course now.

Why am I telling you this? Now that I share a house and have been with my boyfriend for over a year, people are starting to ask about marriage and kids, and when I say I'm not interested in the latter, they respond with disbelief or dismayed surprise. Is it really still taboo for a woman to choose not to have children? If so, why?


  1. "Is it really still taboo for a woman to choose not to have children?" - not so much amongst the people I know, though I think there's a tendency to believe that the stated choice is just a cover story.

  2. Exactly--as though I must be lying!

  3. Not so much "must be" but "could be" - assessing the odds. If a couple say they've been trying IVF for years, I tend to believe them, but experience suggests that I shouldn't be so certain about those who say that childlessness is a choice they've made. I'm used to English people being reserved about medical conditions, financial problems, relationship uncertainties, etc.

    By the way, in "The Psychologist" March 2009 they reported on a survey that found that parents are no happier than childless couples. In fact, once the children leave home, parents are sadder.

  4. People are often surprised that I want children. The underlying assumption, I think, is that if I want children then I should work harder at gaining a man and a house (because you know that's easy). As I look at your experience, I'm rather terrified by the underlying assumption that combines the two experiences.

  5. Anonymous1:09 pm

    My partner and I don't have children through medical reasons, but I feel there is too much pressure put on people to have children. The world is over-populated as it is, it is our biggest eco problem. We sponsor two children in India and Zimbabwe, and I think this could be an option for more couples, rather than bringing more life into the world.

  6. Ah now, you haven't lived until you've left the house with undetected baby vomit stains...:) Seriously though, I think taboo surrounds every aspect concerning children - whether you have any, if you have too many or too close together, how you raise them etc etc etc. I have 3 and although it's extremely tough, they are my greatest joy - so admittedly when I hear people don't want kids, part of me thinks 'why would you deny yourself that kind of happiness?' But ultimately it's your decision - so what if people don't like it?!

  7. It’s unusual because in women the drive to have children is so strong – so I’m told but only being an honorary woman I have to empirical evidence – in fact from what I’ve seen it can border on the downright irrational at times. That said, the more I read the less convinced I am about many of our drives and desires, even something as simple as my love for my own daughter, as if I had any choice in the matter. Women want kids because their hormones tell them they want kids, because society shows them ‘normal’ women with kids and so the pressure is really on. But it only lasts so long and you should be over the worst of it.