Guest Post by Andrea Peterson (left):
Being childless by choice, I’ve faced questions, accusations, controversy, and envy. Those who choose not to be parents have many different reasons, all very personal.
Some women may feel that they would rather have a career and their independence. Others don’t want to spoil the genetic gift of a beautiful body. Some families face the heartbreak of inherited devastating disease.
Genetic counseling about parenting a child with a serious health issue creates the choice not to take the risk. Some people just don’t like children. In some cultures, poverty makes the decision for the parents, and a pregnancy is terminated rather than have a child who may be a financial burden which destroys an already fragile existence.
Whatever the reasons, and especially in my own case for choosing to remain childless, it is not a decision that is taken lightly, or without a great deal of soul-searching and thought. I don’t dislike children. I enjoy interacting with infants and teens – but never wanted this to be a permanent part of my life.
I made the choice not to be a parent at a very early age. As a teen, I read The Baby Trap by Ellen Peck, which powerfully finalized my decision. I felt unloved and unwanted by my father, and used to wonder why parents had children if they did not love and want them. In my family and perhaps that entire generation without adequate birth control, it seemed that people got married and had kids – it was the thing to do, even though there may have been a secret desire not to parent.
I don’t remember ever seeing a family without children when I was growing up, unless the woman was medically unable to reproduce. I horrified the surgeon who took out my tonsils when I asked him to take out my uterus at the same time – at 13 – because I knew I never wanted to be a parent. Of course, he just took out the tonsils.
I was a vocal, stubborn rebel as a child, and gave my parents, who were far too old to be first-time parents, a hard time. One of my parent’s reactions sent me the message that having a child made parents angry, depressed, hostile, threatening, physically abusive, tired, and poor. I had no desire to suffer such an existence, and it reinforced my choice to remain childless. I also had such low self-esteem as a child and young adult that I believed I was not worth reproducing, and told my parents I wished I’d never been born.
Family and friends told me that I would change my mind and welcome parenthood if I ever became pregnant accidentally. I had nightmares throughout my reproductive years about that scenario becoming a reality. I believe a woman’s body is hers alone to control, and politicians and others of strong beliefs have no right to control a woman’s most personal and private choices. I remember babysitting as a teen, a valuable proving ground to see if I really didn’t want children. Even with nice children, those experiences convinced me that parenthood is a gift from God to the right person, but I was definitely not one of the recipients.
I am in awe of anyone who is able to parent successfully. It must be the most difficult lifetime commitment in human existence, and even more difficult for women today who are trying to have it all.
My truly wonderful husband survived years of experimental treatment for multiple cancers from Agent Orange during his Air Force service. He was genetically murdered by the treatments, and his doctors warned him against ever having children. When we met, and he told me this, I told him that I had never wanted children anyway, and we were blessed to be in agreement on this very delicate issue. He loved children, and his large family provided ample opportunity to interact with children without having any in our own life.
It never bothers me if people ask why I’m childless, but it does make me curious why people are interested in my reproductive choice. Some actually express envy of my childless existence. Others remark that I’m selfish. Some have asked if I had a medical problem, or was infertile. I’m asked if I don’t like children. I sometimes sense pity when people discover that I am a childless widow.
I get questions or comments about who will take care of me when I’m old and alone. In my opinion, having children in the hope they will provide parental care late in life is a terrible reason to be a parent, and there is no guarantee that those children will still be part of the family or even care. Children do become estranged as they become adults, or choose not to remain within the family.
I have never had any regrets about not having children, and the longer I live, the more this personal choice has proved it was the correct one for me. In my newly discovered freedom and independence as a widow, I’ve become my own child.
As I grow into new adulthood, I give myself the love, approval, kindness, support, understanding, and forgiveness I lacked as a child, and which I would have given to any child I gave birth to if I had desired to be a parent. I’m a parent despite being childless in the traditional sense – I’ve given birth to a better me, after 50.
**Originally printed at www.BetterAfter50.com