I am used to being the odd one out: first of my friends to leave school, get a job, leave home, get married, then divorced. At the age of 33, I am in the minority once again. I am the childless one. All but three of my close friends have children, and two of them are trying to get pregnant. I fall in love with their babies. I buy gifts, change nappies, listen to all the stories of sleepless nights and cracked nipples and I give the well-rehearsed smile when it’s suggested that :“You’ll be next”. But I won’t be. Having a child was never part of the plan.
I find it difficult to articulate why I don’t want kids to my friends; it’s hard to describe a deep-seated feeling that you’ve had for most of your life. Aged 19, I went to my GP and asked to be sterilised (he refused to even refer me to Gynaecology for at least ten years). If I do ever tell people I don’t want kids, I am told that one day I will grow out of the notion, the biological clock will start ticking and I’d better start making plans.
My decision to not succumb to the “norm” has cost me relationships, changed friendships and devastated my parents. It is fair to say that my folks would have been delighted if I had fallen pregnant. My older brother has gifted them with two grandchildren but they were always hoping they would get some more from their “little girl”.
I have always found in relationships that no matter how much I protested, boyfriends (and, later, my husband) always thought they could change my mind. My major barrier is fear. Not fear of childbirth, fear of failure. Fear of fucking up the child for life. I do not have the temperament needed to be a parent. I have a short temper, a ridiculous stubborn streak and I am an absolute nightmare to live with after a disturbed night’s sleep, which anyone who encounters me during my frequent bouts of insomnia will attest. There’s also the even bigger issue. In order to procreate, I would have to find a man I want to spend the rest of my life with because even if you split, you will always be tied together by your children. I haven’t found a man that I could be connected to for life.
I did come close to changing my entire belief system. I was in my early 20s, head over heels in love and my husband was turning 30 (which, I have observed, seems to be the popular age that men become broody). We talked about it and agreed we wouldn’t actively try to conceive but if it happened, we would be happy. I have been on the pill since the age of 17 so I was fairly convinced that this would never occur. But it did. Almost immediately my body rebelled. Profuse vomiting, migraines, violent mood swings and horrific nightmares. Then, 13 weeks in, my body rejected the pregnancy. My husband was devastated. I was sad, but also relieved. I knew I would never be able to give him what he wanted. I wasn’t willing to go through that again. It was the first nail in the coffin of our marriage.
In the years since my miscarriage, I have felt incredible pangs of guilt. I know people who have tried for years to get pregnant, who have been distraught by failed pregnancies and unsuccessful fertility treatments. And here’s me wanging on about how much I don’t want a child. But I also feel that some of the criticism levelled at me has been a bit harsh. My lack of maternal instinct has been described as unnatural and abnormal by people I considered friends. I would never criticise them for their decisions; how do they get to slate me for mine?
Despite having such strong feelings on the matter, I have to admit that occasionally, whether it’s through my subconscious (in dreams) or during some strange hormonal surge, I do have the odd twinge of broodiness, but it never lasts. I talked about it a lot with my mum before she died and I told her I couldn’t imagine raising a child in a world where she didn’t exist. Caring for a terminally ill parent made me think of who would be obligated to look after me when I am old and demented. I must remember to be extra kind to my niece and nephew, so they don’t plonk me in a nursing home at the first signs of forgetfulness…