I’m struggling to find my own opinion on one of the biggest life decisions a woman can make: do I want kids? I figured that by the time I hit 26 I would have a better sense of where I stood on the matter. If anything, it’s only gotten harder.
Back in high school I always thought I would have at least one child. Easy to say when you’re 15 and the earliest you’d even consider such a thing is over a decade away. Now that I’m here I can’t help but feel I’m way too young to birth a tiny human whose survival depends upon me. Meanwhile, I have the two sides of the argument being hurled at me regularly and it’s clear that I’m losing my own position on the subject.
My mother wants a grandchild. I don’t begrudge her that, but her constant insistence spread over 20ish years makes me wonder if I ever wanted kids on my own, or if it was just engrained in me as something I would have to do. Even as a millennial woman who has more freedom to choose than any of my generational predecessors I still feel like I was programmed to want to reproduce. Popular culture and societal expectations have yet to shift to the point where a person my age being on the fence about kids is universally accepted.
The questioning by my mom and extended family members has naturally gotten worse over the last few years. It seems that when you gain a level of stability in your life people are begging you to topple it. I have a job that I enjoy. I make more than I need to pay for my house and student loans. I’m in a committed, long-term relationship. I even have a dog and two cats. I’m a picture of domesticity.
I get it, the next step is to decide if I want to have a child. But that assumes that there are steps to life. I know people that didn’t find their passion or fall in love until their 40’s and 50’s. I have friends that got married and divorced before most people were engaged. There isn’t a roadmap or a grand plan, yet people still ask and expect me to have an answer.
My mom wants a grandchild while she and I are still young enough to run around with them. She tells me how having one before 35 means you can be an empty nester again before your mid-50’s, as if child-rearing is just a matter of putting your life on pause for 18 years. And that’s where my boyfriend comes in.
He has never made a secret of what he wants in a relationship. As a child of several divorces, he sees no reason to bother with marriage. He was looking for someone to travel with, progress in his career with, spend most of his time with. More importantly, he was only interested in one person, not the multiple that come with reproducing. We started dating five years ago and by the time I thought our differing opinions on the matter may one day be a problem I was already in too deep. We agree on everything else, what’s one little aspect like children?
Turns out it’s a pretty big issue if your mother is waiting for a Facebook-worthy pregnancy announcement. But when you spend every day with someone that you love and want to be with forever you start to make concessions, especially when they make sense.
For instance, what kind of a world would I be bringing a child into? Overpopulated, divided, literally on fire. I go into panic attacks thinking about what this planet will be like when I’m old, I can’t imagine the stress of worrying what it will be like for my legacy.
Then there’s the concept of what I would be passing on. Anxiety, depression, addiction, genetic disease; between my boyfriend and me this poor child would have both physical and mental challenges to contend with. And that’s not even starting to get into personality traits.
I’m selfish, ambitious, and can have extremely limited patience. I have goals for myself that are more important to me than my close friends’ and even sometimes my boyfriend’s. I’m not ready to put someone else before me in every instance, and I don’t know when I will be.
All that makes it sound like I am firmly on the side of no kids, but then there’s that disembodied female voice whispering about the fulfillment of having a child. I babysit my nephews with my boyfriend and have moments where it seems so clear that we would be good parents. I see a toddler in restaurants and unconsciously smile at the thought of chasing one around myself. I worry about growing old without a son or daughter to hold on to.
The worst part: whatever I choose I’m hurting one of them. Either my mother doesn’t get the grandchild she so desperately wants, or my boyfriend becomes a resentful father that only went down this path out of love for me. It’s heartbreaking to think that there is no outcome in which both of them will be happy, which is probably what’s keeping me from deciding. I love my mother and I love my relationship. Both are positive aspects of my life that bring me joy almost every day.
They aren’t the only two pushing one way or the other. We have friends and family on both sides of the aisle. One of our close couples talks about how life-ruining kids can be. His sisters-in-law put their faith in me to finally have a girl in a generation of boys. But their opinions don’t really matter; they just add to the arguments of the people closest to me.
Do I want kids? Is it even my choice? The feminist in me says “of course!” but my gut is twisted in uncertainty. Even with fertility science expanding the timeframe I can safely conceive I still have a deadline for when I need to leave this state of limbo. I’m trapped in an if-then scenario where my own opinion seems less important and I don’t have space to even begin to decide. I’m starting to wonder: at what point do I become the resentful one?