We can hear the clock ticking. A shadow looming, a continual poke in the back of our head, reminding us of our biological duty. Kids.
At 23 and 21, we’d been married for only two months and could already feel the pressure and social expectations weighing us down. This is what people do after all, right? Meet a girl, fall in love and have kids so you have someone to care for you when you’re old and frail.
But sipping milkshakes in a restaurant in New Zealand, we looked into each others’ eyes and confessed simultaneously for the first time in our lives, “I don’t want to have kids. Maybe ever.”
I mean, I always just assumed I’d be a Dad. The one that coached the basketball team. Taught them how to fish, ride bikes, kayak, all that Cats in the Cradle stuff.
But we had this sweet taste of freedom on our lips that came from hiking, busing and hitching around New Zealand. And the thought of settling down was unthinkable. We agreed to put it on the back burner. Maybe talk about it again down the road if we forgot to hit the snooze button on the biological clock.
Back home it was stunning to be with other couples. Many of our friends were unmarried, dating pairs who had been together just as long, or longer than we had. And yet no one ever asked when they were going to pop out baby number one. This question was reserved just for us. On a level it felt offensive. As if the only reason we’d made a life long commitment was to populate the world. But even in our anger, the words would echo in our heads.
So we kept talking about it as if it was inevitable. We talked about going for it when our careers were a little more settled. When we had reliable sources of income and could entertain the thought of being able to realistically bring another life into the world. This all implied that we would, you know, want to have real jobs some day.
We kept hearing about biological clocks, her mother instincts kicking in and the futile struggle against our own biology. I guess it was somewhat justified. We had talked frequently about having children before we were married. We even went as far as decide on names for our first son (Forrest) and daughter (Mabel).
Three and a half years later though little has changed. We hop nomadically from place to place, working seasonal jobs and stubbornly referring to our pets as, “children.” It felt selfish to say at first. Almost taboo. But the longer we go, the more comfortable we are with the idea of spending our lives childless.
So what happened? Why hasn’t this mad desire for babies overwhelmed the other passions in our life? Perhaps deep down we never wanted kids. Perhaps we just wanted to name something.
Obviously we’re not alone. Today one-in-five U.S women go through their child bearing years without giving birth. In the media this character plays the same recurring role. The career driven, successful, but unhappy woman. She would throw it all away for a man and a baby so that her life would be complete.
No way 20% of the female population is like this we told ourselves. We began to put up walls and barriers against such social constructs. Telling ourselves that if we did have children, it would be on no ones terms but ours.
As we approached our parents for the first time to reveal our decision our biggest fear was how our mothers would take the news. Perhaps this is the best indicator that we aren’t parent material. We don’t torture ourselves with the fear of waking up in 30 years, racked with the pain and sadness of an empty house. We don’t worry about our lives feeling empty or incomplete. No, we just worry about how our moms are handling the thought of not having grandbabies anytime soon. Maybe ever.
In the years since we’ve met, we’ve lived a life filled with improvisation. Our lives full and complete without a bundle of joy to carry around. The longer we go the more I’m convinced that I wanted to be a dad simply because I was told that I should be. We’re comfortable with choices we’ve made. Becoming okay with the raised eyebrows, the knowing smiles and the assurance that, “Someday you’ll know what you want.” Which is code for, “Someday you’ll get your priorities straight and then you’ll see we’re right.”
It comes with making a decision that’s in the minority. Going against the grain of society can be difficult. But coming out on the other side with the convictions we have, makes me grateful for that day with the milkshakes. To question what we, and not the world, wanted.
Maybe someday it’ll be different. Maybe I’ll wake up and want nothing more than to coach T-Ball and awkwardly explain where Forrest and Mabel came from. But it seems fruitless to plan and worry for a desire that may never come. There’s seven billion of us running around. Being fruitful and multiplying is certainly not a problem. And I think the world can survive without one more.
Author: David Cannamore
Editor: Travis May
Image: Flickr/Eugenia Loli