The sun hadn’t yet risen, but there I was, sitting in front of Best Buy on a sidewalk that had long lost any residual heat from the previous day’s unseasonable warmth. It was the day the Playstation 2 came out. I’d made friends with a girl in line next to me named Chloe. We both liked to game casually, but neither of us would have been there if we weren’t trying to impress our boy-men with our devotion.
We were the outliers. Though seventy percent of the people in line were women, most were mothers buying the Playstations for their kids. All around us, women chatted about the myriad of motherhood challenges. The current topic was what teenage boys smelled like. Rotten cabbage was my personal favorite.
“Reason number 453 why I don’t have children,” muttered Chloe. She shook her head and pulled her black biker jacket tighter against the chill.
“Oh my god. I love it. I’m totally using that.”
And use it, I did. I have used that phrase so often that my reasons now number in the thousands. Hearing kids cry used to make my shoulders tense all the way up to my ears, but now, I breathe a sigh of relief and think, Reason number twelve why I don’t have children.
Though I had baby dolls when I was a little girl, my make-believe games rarely cast me as their mother. More often, they’d be acting out inappropriate stories from the soap operas that my babysitter watched. I cringe to remember the amnesia-laced scandals and acts of hedonism I reenacted with my dolls. (Reason #542: I don’t have to explain where babies come from.)
When anyone brought their baby to work, other women flocked to it. I was checking the exits. I had to escape before someone asked if I wanted to hold it; before it had a chance to cry, puke, or poop. (Incidentally, reasons 100 through 345 are devoted to bodily functions.) It took me a long time to comprehend what attracted women to babies. I never made that high-pitched coo other women did when a baby was in the room. Then, one day, I saw a kitten, and I heard that coo burst from my lips, and suddenly it made sense. (Reason #562: I don’t have to scold a child for carrying cats by their tails. Reason #563: No need to patch up cat inflicted boo-boos with SpongeBob band-aids.)
Somehow though, no matter how many reasons I’d give, everyone seemed to think that I’d change my mind at some point and decide I needed a baby of my own. Even my dear stepfather, who never had children himself, would tell me, “Wait until your thirtieth birthday. Your biological clock will start ticking. Trust me.”
He was the first person I called when I turned thirty, “Hey, Steve. You know that biological clock?”
“Yeah, Christina, tell me.”
“Just like I said, still not ticking. Pretty sure it’s broken.”
“Alright, alright. I stand corrected.”
I’ve got to admit that a small part of me wanted a kid; mostly, I wanted to see how my high cheekbones and my ex-husband’s glorious red hair might manifest in a child. But that curiosity wasn’t enough to weigh out 6,538 reasons not to. My ex and I would joke that if we had a child, it would be so pale that it would be a live version of the Visible Man anatomy model. Todd vaguely liked the idea of having children — strike that — he wanted one. Just one, and it had to be a boy — a boy named Bane.
“Todd, you can’t just say you only want a boy. That’s not how it works. You can’t control that.”
“Sure, I can.”
Although Todd never went to college and had a Kansas drawl that might indicate a certain level of dimness, he was typically quite bright. He could fix almost anything, had been an ‘A’ student in high school, was infinitely better at math than I was, and let’s not even get started on his ability to manipulate. Yet, he nodded and said, “The man determines the sex of the child. There are positions.”
I rolled my eyes hard enough that they rattled in their sockets. “Dude! You can’t possibly believe that. Plus, Bane? Like ‘the bane of my existence?’ Just — no!” I couldn’t help but think that naming a child Bane was an invitation for years of early morning phone calls from the police. “Nope. I am the keeper of the uterus. Sorry Todd, not gonna happen.” (I’d be lying if I didn’t admit immense satisfaction after learning that his second wife gave birth to a daughter.)
To his credit, he didn’t push the topic and even redirected the issue when his mom told us that she’d picked up a stroller and a crib, “Just in case.”
“Just in case?” He’d asked, “Don’t you think you’re a little old to be having another kid, mom?”
I’m thankful that my family never hassled me about giving them grandchildren. I had fantastic role models. Two of my great aunts were well-traveled college professors with doctorate degrees. They attended college during the 1930s when it was warned that college might delude women into believing “marriage should be between equals.” Apparently, this was an accurate warning since neither of them ever got married. They set a precedent for women in my family to travel and explore their potential as individuals instead of having children or getting married.
So, it was never an internal struggle for me to turn my back on motherhood. I recognize that many women do not have this luxury. Many experience immense pressure to forge ahead with this choice before they are old enough to fully appreciate the impact this choice has upon virtually every aspect of their future.
I knew I didn’t want children, and on a deeper level, I knew I didn’t want children with Todd. Maybe I should have examined that feeling closer before getting married, but hey, just because I have a college degree doesn’t guarantee smart decisions. Would I have second-guessed myself had I been in a healthier relationship? Hard to say. I’m just glad I heeded my inner voice and guarded my power to make my own decisions about my body and life. (Reason #2,562: No lifelong ties to a relationship that didn’t work out.)
Sure, it doesn’t feel great when people say things like, “But you’re missing out on the whole glory of womanhood,” or, “Who will take care of you when you’re old?” or, “Don’t you think that’s selfish?” Still, I’ve never regretted the decision. If enjoying my freedom, and being content with my life and identity makes me selfish, then so be it. And when I hear this one: “But you’re so good with children. You should be a mother.” I can reply with, “I’m also a pretty good driver, but no one’s ever told me I should be a NASCAR driver.”
This is the modern age. There is no population deficit. Most of us don’t live on farms with a need for a grow-it-yourself labor force. In most cultures, it is not only typical but expected that women have full-time jobs. So why is it still such an expectation that women reproduce?
Is it so hard to believe that a woman can be whole without being a mother? Is it because a woman’s body is still not entirely her own? How many times has a woman been told that she should not cut her hair? That she needs to lose weight? That she needs to wear makeup? That she needs to dye her hair? That she cannot get an abortion?
Things are changing, and more women choose not to have children, but many people haven’t gotten the memo. Many assume if you don’t have children you must be:
- A pitiful excuse for a woman who can’t snag a baby daddy.
- A cold-hearted monster who hates children.
- A broken woman who cannot have children.
Many assume that I fall into the “cold-hearted monster” category. Unfair and untrue! I think children can be remarkably cute, entertaining, and even insightful — I just love that I can return them when they start to stink.
Who knows how many people assume I fall into the “broken woman” category. Most people are smart enough to realize that infertility is not a polite topic of conversation. However, twice on first dates, men have literally asked me, “Is your uterus ok?” after I shared that I had been married for nine years but didn’t have children.
When I replied, “My uterus is just fine, thanks. It is doing exactly what I want it to,” one of these men proceeded to ask what form of birth control I used. Why I didn’t leave right then is another story, but I told him I had been on the pill.
“Ok, but what else?”
“What do you mean, ‘What else?’” I asked.
“What other forms of birth control? Did your ex get a vasectomy?”
I shook my head, “Uhh. No. Just the pill.”
“But the pill isn’t 100% effective.” He leaned forward and placed a hand over mine. “You really do have to wonder if there is something wrong.”
My eyebrows attempted mutiny, and I replied, “No. No, I don’t. The pill is 99% effective. This is our first date. Remind me why we’re having this conversation?”
Can you imagine if a woman asked a man on the first date if he had erectile dysfunction? For people dating in their 40s, this question has a hell of a lot more importance than the health of a woman’s uterus.
And what if there was something wrong? My version of the conversation was uncomfortable enough as it was, but what if I had been one of the many unfortunate women with one tragic, involuntary reason instead of 6,538 chosen reasons? For the record, men and women are equally at risk for infertility. Funny that no one ever asked if my ex-husband had low sperm count.
When I told a friend that I worried that my story was too self-involved, she said, “How much more universal can you get than a man being concerned about what a woman does with her uterus?”
Christina Howell was a project manager, living the American dream, in a former life. After years of hearing the words, “Oh my god Christina, you need to write a book,” she acknowledged her story was too good to keep to herself and began work on her memoir, Magicians, Cross-dressers, and My Uterus. In 2018, she quit her job, sold her house, and boarded a plane to Scotland with a one-way ticket. She settled in Munich, Germany after traveling for 30 months where she leads an online writing community for memoirists and takes writing courses from the University of Iowa.