Sex Ed in Higher Ed

College instructor teaching human sexuality rants about the dumbing down of America, the lost art of manners, grammar and (the perfect combination of both) the thank you note. Also includes random rants about life, pet peeves, and sometimes raves about favorite things.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I am Tired

Somehow I didn't think that I would get tired of not having kids. Oh, boo-hoo. I know. Poor me. I deliberately chose a child-free lifestyle and now I'm struggling.

But let me explain why: I am not struggling because I feel I made the wrong decision and now with me being 38 and Mr. J. turning 40 next month, suddenly I'm having doubts. Oh, no. I rarely have doubts and if I have anything even remotely resembling doubts all I have to do is go to Target for 20 minutes and I'm fine.

I'm tired of feeling like a freak. And then some.

Back when I first met Mr. J., I knew he was the one (for sure!) when he confessed that he felt he was falling in love with me but wanted to be fair before the relationship progressed any more: He did NOT want children. Ever. And if that was something I wanted, then he wanted me to have exactly what I wanted in life so I needed to move on, because, well - it just wouldn't happen with him.

Not only was I grateful for his honesty, I was thrilled. Because personally? I never really knew where I stood on the whole motherhood thing. It was something I would do, maybe, someday in the future. Far off in the future. Right after I stopped being overwhelmed, appalled and grossed-out by tasks that seemed to be part and parcel of motherhood.

My friends who have children often said, "It's different when it's your own." Probably, I suppose. But being up to your elbows in poop still seemed like it was just being up to your elbows in poop regardless of the owner of aforementioned poop and your relationship to the owner of that poop.

And even if I could get past all the bodily fluids - the puking, the pooping, the drooling and the snotty noses, I wasn't sure I could get past the rest of it. What if any child I had someday asked me the meaning of life? I would probably say, "How the hell do I know?" and that would not be good. The majority of my friends have children and it is interesting for me to watch; all of the children are at varying life stages so I get to see everything from Mean Girls-esque adolescent drama and angst to driving lessons to college tours to clarinet lessons to mastitis from breast feeding to croup and thrush (it's a yeast infection in the mouth that some infants get. And if I'm not mistaken adults with weakened immune systems can get it also) and night terrors and homework struggles and sweet holy Moses, the time, energy and money involved. Ultimately, I'm just really, really lazy and parenting has always looked like too much work. There. I said it. Hate me yet?

Finally, very few people seemed to be able to give me a good reason to reproduce except, "It's what we're supposed to do" and yes, I guess that's right. Continuing the human species is a biological imperative. I get it. But whenever I asked my mother why she had children, she just said, "It's what we thought we were supposed to do." Sorry. Not good enough.

Most of the men I've dated wanted children and when I pressed for a reason why, they usually just said something ridiculously patriarchal like, "To carry on the family name". Good reason to bring another human being into the world, loser. And by the way? Yeah, it would be a damn shame if "Anderson" died out. There's a huge possibility of that happening. And if it did? Wow. What a tragedy that would be.

After Mr. J. and I got engaged, but before we got married, I wanted to be 100% completely and totally sure that I was okay with this choice. We were taking rather, uh, permanent measures to make sure we never conceived and the thing about permanent measures is that they can seem so, well, permanent. I did the only thing I could think of to do: I read books. I went to our local library and found as many books as I could find on living "child-free". More than a few of the books were basically a collection of essays written by women who ended up without children because of . . . life. Many of them never announced at 18 or 21 or some magic age, "I'm opting out of motherhood". Life happened . . . some thought they'd have children "eventually" and "eventually" just never arrived. But one of the books was entitled Why Don't You Have Kids and I remember thinking, "Hey - this doesn't sound so bad. I get it, I can do this. I'm ready."

But sometimes you don't know what you don't know. Or you ask yourself, "How bad can it be?" and then you found out you have no idea. I imagine there are a lot of things that work that way - parenthood, in particular. Childbirth. Maybe cancer.

I walked/ran a marathon and thought the same thing during all the months of training until I was in the marathon, at about mile 20, in the pouring rain, feeling two of my toenails lift up off their native toes and cursing myself out loud saying something like, "Wow. You are really, really REALLY damn ignorant. A marathon can be insanely bad. What the hell were you thinking?"

I'd like to think it was then I learned never to ask the question, "How bad can it be?" but I did it anyway.

So I'm reading the book by Leslie Lafayette, way back in January of 2003 and although it (and many of the other books I read) gave me pause, I determined that ultimately I was okay with my decision. It also helped tremendously when I read, "People who choose not to have children often spend more time and give more thought and effort to that decision than people who do have children." Of course this makes sense - again, reproduction is our biological imperative as humans, so following through on a biological imperative? What is there to think about, really? Doing the opposite of what we're (supposedly) hard-wired to do - I guess you do need to think about that.

But the past two weeks have been filled with announcements of pregnancy, and new babies and infertility struggles and yes, in a way that only I can, I have made it about me: What is WRONG with me? (Please don't answer that. If at least a dozen therapists and hundreds of self-help books haven't helped me come to any conclusion, I doubt you can.)

So I did what I typically do when I'm confused (well, I did drink but that's not what I did first) - I went to the library and looked up my old pal Leslie Lafayette and there was her book, right where I remembered: Why Don't You Have Kids.

Reading it now, I am getting the answer to "How bad can it be, really?" even though I had the exact same information available to me 6+ years ago. I imagine it's like reading or hearing about, say, childbirth, nodding, thinking you get it and then reading the same book or having the same conversation after you've gone through it yourself. Then - and only then - do you realize the earlier you had absolutely no freakin' clue.

Take, for example, my new favorite chapter called "Living Childfree Isn't for Sissies!" I'm guessing that parenting is the sport that really isn't for sissies and if I'm barking up the wrong tree, it's okay with me if you stop reading now. Here is a quote I still remember reading 6+ years ago and now I can read it and think, "And how, sister!" I almost said, "I wish someone had told me this earlier" - but someone - the author had and it didn't matter. But I digress. The quote:

"Understandably, there is a strong emotional reaction to something as basic, as visceral as choosing not to have children. Even if you did not originally choose not to have children, the very fact that you are living happily without them is threatening to many around you. Childfrees can expect strong responses from those to whom such a lifestyle is, frankly, unacceptable. . . It seems to be everyone's business to investigate the reasons you have not had kids . . . What are you going to tell these people? Are you truly prepared for the never-ending, ongoing onslaught that life is about to hand you?" (pp. 25-26).

And also from a section entitled, "Don't Expect Anyone to Think You're a Hero":

"Suffice it for now to say that few decisions you make will be as unpopular as choosing to live childfree. If being out of step with the majority of your fellows really bothers you, you may want to think this lifestyle through again!" (p.35).

And all these years I thought I was immune to peer pressure. Let me clarify: I do not want to run out and have a child because I'm tired of feeling like "everyone else is doing it" and I'm the only girl at the party drinking milk and not keg beer out of a plastic cup. I do not want to run out and have a child, period.

The peer pressure I am feeling is the "What, exactly, is wrong with you that you don't want children?" pressure. I get those vibes, I feel that look and I know on some level, I'm supposed to hang my head and apologize and explain what is wrong with me for not wanting children.

And what is the answer? What am I supposed to think and/or what am I supposed to say to other people? Here are a few answers I've come up with - haven't yet said any out loud, although I'm tempted. And yes, I'm kind of joking, but only kind of.
  • I'm selfish (And yes, I've had people from virtual strangers to my hairdresser tell me that upon learning about my decision)
  • I'm too lazy (well, that one is true - I've already admitted to that)
  • I'm heartless and cold
  • I have no soul
  • There's a laptop and a hedge fund where my uterus should be
  • I prefer to die alone with no one to take care of me and just several hundred cats left to eat out my eyeballs after my death which will probably go undiscovered for several weeks
  • There is nothing in my personality, history or genetic makeup that is worth passing on to anyone
  • I'm too afraid that any child of mine would get my original nose
  • I hate holidays and creating pleasant memories for others
  • I think it's critical to miss out on one of life's most important human experiences (in response to those who say, "But you're really missing out!")
  • I don't enjoy giving of myself tirelessly, sacrificing or doing without so someone else can have a better life (Also been told this - see first bullet - i.e., "I'm selfish")
  • At this time I don't have enough cash stashed away to get the "Mommy Makeover" plastic surgery tummy tuck/breast lift combo
  • Elmo's voice makes me want to rip off my own arm so I have something with which I can beat the television
  • Kids are stupid
  • I want to make sure I make one really big mistake that I will regret for the rest of my life and I decided this would be a big one (To answer the question - no - really the gasp/statement/pearl clutching combo of, "OMG! You're going to regret it!")

I suppose I should be used to this by now; after all, I certainly heard these things enough the first year we were married and to be fair, I've gone a long time without feeling like my decision makes me a selfish, self-absorbed freak of humanity. And I'm sure I'll get over my own little pity party sooner than later. (And to be fair, I don't need to throw my own pity party because it's easy for me to see that lots of people pity me - esp. those who blurt, "Oh, but think what you're missing out on!" But for today, I'm just tired of being the weirdo in the cube down the hall who was born without a heart and without a soul and something clearly, clearly wrong with her.

Tomorrow will be better. Don't cry for me, Argentina!

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Blogger Kai said...

I feel exactly the same way, only it's about being SINGLE as well as childless that pretty much seems to make me a pariah of society (at least according to my mother). No man + no children does NOT = a glamorous episode of Sex and the City.

Pass the corpse eating cats this way.

October 19, 2008 5:28 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

I'm 46, single and childless - I can't win for trying! LOL Even if I were married I might not have had children - at one point in my life I suppose I wanted to, but I never wanted to go through childbirth or do all those yucky things either. I think I fulfill my maternal instinct though teaching and though the children in my family and my friend's children....and to be perfectly honest I'm very happy to go home to my cats. If I meet a man someday who has children - even if they are younger children, that's fine. I won't not date a man because he has kids, but I'm not having any! My best friend and her husband chose not to have children - you're not alone!

October 19, 2008 7:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always thought I wanted to be a mother. I knew how many kids I'd have, and yes, I was one of those nerds who had names picked out since junior high.

The last year or so, though, I've started to question that "given." My life is pretty nice as it is... do I really want to go through all that? And what if I don't live up to the unreasonably high expectations I have for myself as a mother (the same expectations to which I hold all parents I see around me)? Parenting the kids in my classroom might be all the parenting I want to handle.

I like kids, but I don't know if I really want one full-time anymore. I might need to check out some of your books, see what I find...

However, to solve your dilemma: why bother being honest? Tell anyone who asks that you're infertile, that you and your hisband have been trying for years and that you lost your house from the debt of all the fertility treatments, thank you very much for asking.

(I hate seafood, any and all kinds, and I hate getting flack about it from people who eat seafood. Instead of having that idiotic argument, I just say I'm allergic to it.)

October 19, 2008 8:49 PM  
Blogger Liberal Banana said...

People always say those things to me, too. Never say never. You never know. You'll change your mind. You're young, just wait.

I have said that I didn't want kids for as long as I can remember. Almost every other woman I know who just KNOWS she wants kids. And I think that if it's nothing I feel passionately about, then I certainly shouldn't jump into something as huge as bringing another person into the world just because it's "what you're supposed to do". There are enough people on this planet and having kids is a choice people (who are fortunate enough to have access to forms of birth control) should really think harder about.

And yes, I want to use the time and money I'm going to save by not having kids on myself - but that doesn't make me selfish. I'm just someone who doesn't feel the urge to have kids! Am I supposed to then feel guilty for spending my money on me instead of offspring that will never exist? Because I don't.

When I get old, I hope to have enough money to pay for a nursing home - if I'm lucky enough to live that long. People who DO have kids often still end up lonely in nursing homes. Having kids does not guarantee you anything.

This is a good reminder that we should be careful how we judge others. Just because their choices may not be the same as our own does not necessarily mean that they are wrong. Choosing to do drugs? Yes, wrong. But choosing not to have kids? So what? Why do you care so much if I reproduce or not?

Teacher Lady, people often project their own wishes for life onto other people. If they want to have kids, they just can't understand why we wouldn't. I guess we just have to be patient with them! *sigh* ;)

October 20, 2008 7:42 AM  
Blogger Ken Wagner said...

Great post and series of comments. There are many good blogs and forum communities online that can help people explore the pleasures and challenges of childfree living.

My wife and are married nine years and childfree. It may not be best for everyone, but everyone does not get to live our life.

Just us. Without the kids.

Thanks again,

October 20, 2008 9:29 PM  
Blogger Marcy said...

I;m one of those people that's always known I'd have kids. I've always wanted them, worked with kids for years when I was younger, etc. I now have an 8 month old son and while I adore him and of course don't regret having him by any means, I have had at least a few moments in these past 8 months where if someone had given me the choice to give him back, I just might have. Parenting is frigging hard, and no one should take it on just b/c it's expected of them or seems like the "next thing to do." No one looks down on people for being "too lazy" to want to run three marathons in a row, yet somehow not wanting kids makes you "lazy" when it's THE biggest challenge we face in our lives.

October 20, 2008 10:18 PM  
Blogger Susie said...

I think it's great that you and your husband both knew what you wanted and made the decision you did. People do feel threatened when others choose differently from them (to a lesser degree, I received similar comments when I told people we were stopping with only ONE child, an only child, we'd regret it!) but really, it's their problem. There are plenty of other folks around who will validate their choice to have children. You shouldn't have to!

October 21, 2008 9:02 AM  
Blogger The MSILF said...

There's a lot more of us out there than you think.

October 22, 2008 11:39 AM  
Blogger Courtney said...

I can relate to feeling like an outcast. I felt (and occasionally still feel) the same about my lack of belief in a higher power. Growing up in a religious family and being forced to go through a baptism at age 13 when even then I knew it was not the path for me. It was an early lesson for me about following your own instincts and not judging others.

October 23, 2008 1:47 PM  
Blogger laughingnell said...

I'm actually one of those people who knows she wants children. In a world where so many people don't think about the consequenses of their actions, who see children as accessories, or as anything less than a monumental (often thankless) task and lifestyle change, I applaude your consideration.

Personally, I can't see anything wrong with it.

On another note, isn't deciding you don't want children now, so much better than having them because "thats the way we do things", and discovering you don't want one then? I understand that this scenario is a particularly fashionable one these days.

I can't understand these people.

I'm sorry you've been given such a hard time. Jerks.

October 24, 2008 10:41 AM  
Blogger Antique Mommy said...

I've been where you are and understand precisely what you are saying. I was married for 8 years to a man who didn't want children and I knew this going in. I didn't want kids either. I was widowed at 34 and that changed everything. But yes, your in-laws, parents, friends and society don't like it if you choose not to have children. It's unithinkable! How DARE you?

I didn't have my kiddo until I was in my mid-40s. And you are right. It is a lot of work, poop, snot, time, aggravation.

When your kid asks about the meanning of life, it's okay to say I don't know. Raising kids is hard. And it's an exclusionary club. I know, I've been on both sides. People with kids usually want to hang with other people who know first hand about snot and poop and not being able to finish a sentence. Having said all that, I'm glad I didn't miss out on it, it's wonderful even when it's awful.

Having said THAT - a child-free life is a different kind of wonderful. Life is short, soak it up all the good stuff however you choose to go.

Even at 48, after a complete hysterecomy, I still have to turn away from the pregnancy announcements and baby showers. It makes me sad that that season of life is over for me. You've still got some time by my standards if you were to change your mind or should you get a SURPRISE! like I did.

I wish you peace and joy for your life.

I'm sorry if this makes no sense. I really resonated to your post and now it seems I've written one in your comments.

November 01, 2008 6:52 AM  
Blogger Fraulein N said...

More people -- wait, make that a lot more people -- should think it over before making the decision, like you have. Sorry, but we're not apes; "biological imperative" doesn't cut it as far as I'm concerned.

November 05, 2008 11:30 PM  
Blogger Angel said...

My husband and I don't have children either and while I can't actually say that we will never have any, we decided a while back that children just weren't in the cards in the remotely near future. It's been....8 years and no offspring.

We hear constantly (friends, aquaintences, coworkers, random enquiries from people looking to make conversation) that it "must be nice" to have such a selfish life. To have all the disposable income. To not have any responsibilities (like bearing spawn is coupled with a copy of QuickBooks and rent).

Hell yes, there are a number of advantages. And I am hesitant to use that word because it implies there might be disadvantages. Which, on second thought, might be "not having a tiny maid you don't have to pay a salary to". But just because we aren't procreating doesn't mean we are somehow worth less than they are.

Why can't people keep their opinions out of my ovaries?

November 07, 2008 4:38 PM  
Blogger Charivarius said...

An interesting post. At first I thought it was strange that people reacted negatively to a couple not having children, but then I considered the women I've been on dates with who have not wanted children, and there has always been that visceral: "Seriously?" Having seen what I've seen, now more than ever I that raising a child in the comparative safety of the West with all its educational and medical benefits (though also with the crushing existential crises) could be a social imperative.

November 18, 2008 1:14 PM  
Blogger Jane said...

I think it is just as sad that you get comments like that as much as I find it sad when stay at home Mothers get comments like 'Oh you don't have a real job' and working Mothers get comments like 'Oh I guess you don't mind strangers raising your kids'.

Truth be known as a young girl I too didn't want children, however, when the condom broke and 9 months later I had my first born there I was. Honestly had that not happened I can very easily see myself being exactly like you.

At almost 37 I'm done having children, been done for a while and no desire to go through all that again. That being said I still go mushy at the sight of newborns and 2 year olds!

November 28, 2008 2:36 PM  
Blogger Carla said...

Horseshit...there is NOTHING wrong with you for not wanting to have children. No is an answer too.

October 24, 2009 5:20 PM  
Blogger Urban School Teacher said...

I stumbled upon your blog kind of by accident and have enjoyed reading your most recent posts. Different and interesting.

November 07, 2009 12:54 PM  
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June 17, 2010 2:30 AM  

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