No Kidding: The Decision to Remain Childless and Still Be Normal

It happens all the time. I’ll meet someone new and at some point in the conversation, family comes up. They’ll ask, “So, how many kids do you have?”. I’ll say “none” and then watch as their brain searches for the proper response. Some are bold and will say “Oh, why?” As if our not having kids is a direct slight to them and future generations will fail because we didn’t contribute. Others will just say “Oh, that’s nice” and change the topic because they think we’re child haters. A small percentage of new people will just continue to have a conversation with us as if we’re normal people, which is nice. Those people usually become friends.

It’s been this way for years. I’m used to it.

When we were first married, childbearing was something that we never really addressed. I mean, we had always just assumed that we would have kids the way you assume the sun will rise each morning. We had always just gone along with the whole first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage mentality. We would discuss future offspring and our lives thereafter in the mythical land of “when”. Neither one of us knew where when was, but it was out there. When would happen, because that’s the natural order of things. Neither of us thought much about it.

Fast forward a few years, and when became like that friend who loaned you $50 that one time, and he’s now stalking you to pay it back. We avoided when at all costs. We went out of our way to not speak of when even though everyone else still loved him. We tried changing conversations to not include the word. Instead of announcing a new member of the family, we’d announce that we were going to Mexico for a week in the winter. We were excited. Everyone else, not so much. The comments started rolling in. “Great!! Better do that now while you have time because that’ll end when you have kids!” “Hey, you should work on that while you’re on your vacation! You’re not getting any younger so you should start that family!!” I didn’t even think to be offended, but when was overstaying his welcome.

Eventually, when got tired of hanging around. It was nice without him, but then if showed up. If was pushier than when ever was. Hell, even my husband and I fell into the pattern. We would say things like “we really need to look at bigger houses if we’re going to have kids” without blinking an eye. That if would just get tossed out and we’d go about our business, neither one of us mindful that the other person wasn’t pushing the issue at all. It was to be discussed, and we discussed it: check the box.

At 33, I started to recognize that having kids wasn’t high on my priority list. I loved my life. I loved my husband and the little life we’d been building. I was comfortable and happy with what I had and I realized that I wasn’t wanting more than us. However, with that realization came the thought that I may also be a horrible bitch for it. I mean, that’s what you do, right? You get married and you have kids. That’s the natural order of things, so sayeth everyone. I tried to put it out of my mind. I thought I was just going to have to revisit it when I was in a better mood or another day. I mean, who wouldn’t want to reproduce and experience the a child of their own and share the joy and…and..and…me? I didn’t. I couldn’t get excited. Then I got worried. Clearly, there was something wrong with me. I was broken. I would visit friends who had babies and be so happy to cuddle that little bundle, but there was never that kernel of desire within that screamed “I have got to get one of these for myself!!” I would just paint that smile on when asked when I planned to have a baby and mumble something to get through, all while hating myself for not being “normal”.

Soon after that, as some sort of twisted self-motivation, I put a shelf life on my ovaries. I told myself that if I wasn’t pregnant by 35, we were going to have to rethink the whole thing. I made that announcement to my husband. He nodded, agreed. We didn’t want to be old parents. We didn’t know why, we just were looking to not talk about it right then, which lucky us! 35 gave us 2 more years so nothing to worry about now! We became pros at avoiding the topic. If got to hang around a little longer.

The fall before I turned 35, the elephant in the room had been there so long, we should have charged him rent. We were getting questions from family members and friends. My cousin had just announced she was pregnant with her second child. The mail was full of baby shower invitations and announcements of new arrivals. Everywhere we turned, tiny humans were coming into existence and the pressure was on from everyone who shouldn’t even be concerned with our sex life but somehow made it their business. The clock was ticking on a conversation I didn’t want to have. Not because my husband is an unreasonable person, but my inner dialogue went from “you’re a horrible bitch” to “you’re a horrible bitch who is depriving your parents of a grandchild and your husband the chance to become a father and what the fuck is wrong with you, everyone likes babies.”

I have a pretty good handle on my self-esteem. I’ve rarely let what others think dictate how I feel and I’ve been pretty comfortable in my own skin for as long as I can remember. Nonetheless, I can honestly say that I hated myself at this point in my life. Guilt is a pretty exhausting thing when it involves your decisions affecting others. It’s downright debilitating when you let that guilt rule your every thought.

I will never forget the night if became too big to hide behind. Another baby shower announcement had arrived in the mail. My 35th birthday was 5 months away. The self-imposed time bomb was ticking and I was avoiding a conversation with the man I loved because I was afraid that we wouldn’t agree. We were making dinner and the shower invite was sitting on the table. I can’t recall how we got there, but my husband point blank looked at me and asked “do you even want kids?” The words weren’t vicious. They weren’t leading. They weren’t accusatory. They were just there.

The Decision to Remain Childless - Without Guilt

I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t take time to think about it or sugar coat what could have changed our marriage forever. I simply said “I don’t think I do.”

Only when he said “I don’t either, I realized I had been holding my breath.

We spent the next 6 or 7 hours discussing everything. We repeated the words “are you sure” a hundred times because neither of us wanted the other to say what they thought we wanted to hear. What we were declaring was huge. We realized that we were putting ourselves in a minority. We said that we had to be sure, but we didn’t need much convincing. It was OUR decision. No one was being pressured. We weren’t going to have kids. We were enough.

I’d love to say that the world has accepted our decision and we’ve not had to defend it coming up on 13 years of marriage. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the choice to not have kids is becoming more mainstream, there are still those who condemn us for it, even within our personal lives. We’re told we’re selfish, uncaring, unable to love anyone else, and (my favorite) soulless. For every naysayer though, there are others who say that we’re brave for not doing what others expected, that we are a family –he and I – society be damned. Once, via email, I had a friend declare that “the certainty with which you both make the statement we’re not having kids makes me jealous. I would love to be able to present that strong of a united front with my husband on anything.”

I used to question myself when people felt the need to inform me of my self-centeredness. I still bristle when the media produces yet another article about how people with no kids have less stress and more money and all the time in the world, mostly because I’m trying to figure out who they’re talking about. Regardless of our lack of reproduction, we still have obligations to fulfill. We are employed, we pay bills, buy groceries, make appointments. We’re not able to jet off on a European adventure at a moment’s notice just because we don’t have to arrange for child care while we’re gone. I wish it were so, but we didn’t make a deal where we exchanged our not reproducing for unlimited funds and airline miles.

Looking back, I only wish that I would have been strong enough to say what I wanted earlier in our marriage, because regardless of whether he would have agreed or not, we would have come to a resolution. However, to this day, I don’t regret having that conversation. I don’t live in fear that my husband said what he said to placate me, nor I for him. We have a strong marriage, a circle of love from family and friends and life I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Still, if anyone wants to fill me in on that unlimited funds and airline miles thing, I’m all ears…

Tonya Brown

I'm Tonya. Late in life college student, lover of Tigers baseball, iced coffee and cartoons made for kids but with humor geared toward adults. Married to Adam. We've been together for 20 years and married for 13. No kids, by choice, but we share our home with 2 cats and a rescued Doberman, none of whom do chores or contribute to the mortgage. We've tried. Music is my outlet, and my iTunes library is both awesome and embarrassing. I like to read, love to write and probably swear more than is legal in 48 states. I fully believe that good is the rule and laughter is the best medicine. If you can laugh, you're good. If you can laugh at yourself, even better.