Les Enfants

DEAR REGARDERS,

Please tell us about your life’s plan not to make babies/children, specifically how you discussed this with your partner and if/how you decided whether Permanent Physical Solutions were your chosen jam. I am having a hard time approaching a civil conversation about this topic that doesn’t start me with me going, “You knew this when you met me ten years ago, so don’t pull any shit on me now buddy,” because I am defensive like that, so it would be awesome to hear about another couple’s discussions and how you worked through this stuff.

To clarify, we’ve both talked about not wanting babies, but I have put a lot more thought into it than he has. Now we’re at a point where Things Are Real, and therefore heavy convos and thoughts must be had. He is of the ‘well maybe someday you will change your mind, and I am cool with that, but not actively needing babies’ ambivalent mindset, which I have a hard time accepting. I want shit to be FIRMED UP, I want DECISIONS, because this is a big damn deal! Do I need to be more accepting of his go with the flow ‘tude, or does he need to figure his shit out? (I know the answer is probably both!) But honestly just hearing about how other couples have talked through this would be helpful too, because we really don’t have any friends who have been firmly anti-baby but still dealing with the mental/emotional/biological realities.

Thanks!
ADVISEE

I really understand your desire to get things firmed up. You want to know where you stand, you want to be able to talk about your future with your dude without Potential Future Ghost Baby lurking above every conversation. I am someone who likes things to be very firmed up (that’s what she said) so I empathize. However, I know that lots of people do not like to firm things up, preferring instead to just “let things happen.” This lifestyle gives me hives, but is apparently quite popular, judging by almost everyone on the earth I am even vaguely friends with. So, you guys are struggling with a kind of mild difference in vibe that I think is not that big a deal.

If I were you I guess I’d be a little worried that your dude’s loosey-goosey stoner ambivalence actually indicated that deep down he kind of wanted kids. Which would make me even more frantic to firm that decision up.

To his credit, I think it’s kind of nice to be a person who is able to just be open to whatever. It’s nice that if you suddenly wanted a child he would be like “that’s fine too.” He sounds like an easygoing guy and that is a good thing! I feel so awful for these couples that have to break up after years together because one of them suddenly decides they simply can not budge on the baby issue, one way or the other.

My personal testimony on this issue, as per your request: I never wanted kids, ever. But then at a certain age I did go through a weird societal/biological struggle. Colloquially termed “baby fever,” I would indeed describe it as a kind of sick feeling. Seeing toddlers made something in my stomach go “URK” and I’d get sweaty. At this time (roughly age 27) I told my old man “I want to have a baby by the time I’m 35.” He said “That sounds fine.” Then we basically never talked about it again. During the next few years my body was like “the time is now! DO IT!” but my brain was like “but I don’t want to!” Every once in awhile one of us would say “should we have a baby?” and then we’d both be like “ew, NO, not yet.” I felt a rising panic, like, if I’m gonna do this I really ought to do it, but I don’t actually want to do it! But aren’t I supposed to do it? Everyone on the earth is telling me to hurry up and do it. That kind of pressure is hard to just shrug off. But that “not yet” just kept never turning into “yes, now,” and that has to mean something. If I had wanted to have a baby, surely I would have just done it by now. But still I wasn’t really sitting down and nailing my desires to the sticking post or whatever that saying is.

Then, a couple of years ago, on the plane to visit some relatives, I read Freedom, and had kind of an epiphany. It was like I’d never actually seen it put into words, all the good reasons there are not to have children, if you don’t want to. I feel dumb saying this but it kind of hadn’t occurred to me until then that “not having children” was actually a viable life choice, really. It seems like something everyone does, and like everyone just kind of has to do, or else your life gets all boring and pathetic and you’re sad when you’re old. But suddenly I realized, EVERYONE is sad when they’re old! And who says the childfree life has to be boring and pathetic? I was letting everyone in the world pressure me into doing the thing everyone always does, instead of challenging myself to imagine an alternative. And this realization was really huge! I looked at the world with new eyes. What would that feel like, to just say “I’m not having kids,” and then actually do it, and commit to it, for better or for worse? What if you regret it one day? Well, Jesus, I imagine I will regret any number of things, one day. Throw that one on the pile. Plus, I bet there ARE people who regret having children, they just aren’t allowed to say it out loud. So ultimately, whatever! We’re all gonna fucking die alone, who gives a shit?!?!?!??

On this trip we hung out with two toddlers. And I mean, I know children who are delightful and who do not fill me with malaise–I get that there are different ways to raise children and different amounts of sugar to cram ceaselessly into their shrieking bodies–but generally I was feeling a lot of angst and horror at this time, w/r/t children. Or really, not children per se, but to parenting. The concept. And then I went to Target to buy diapers with the mom and I was suddenly appalled to the very center of my being, by the diaper aisle at Target, the vast, vast diaper aisle at Target, filled with so many plastic diapers. And suddenly I really realized that I felt this general sense of shrinking horror, when I imagined procreating for myself, when I thought of the world and babies and humanity, the ceaseless daily slog of childrearing, the trauma to my body, the anxiety about my children and their well-being, the attempt to make good feminist and/or environmentalist choices while being a mother–something that I know exhausts some of my friends who are mothers. I just don’t know how to want to do it. I feel like I conceptually understand what is beautiful and awesome and wonderful about having a baby–I get it, I get why people want to do it. Babies are amazing, doing that with your partner must be amazing. You must learn so much and it must be a rad challenge in so many ways. But just for me, I don’t know how to WANT it.

I also know that once you actually have a kid, all this stuff becomes totally “worth it,” because obviously you love your kid so much and can’t imagine your life without it, but like, why force yourself to have a kid, if you’re not feeling it? The world doesn’t need any more kids. Save it for those who really really want to do it, who are called to it and who are going to do a good job at it. Of which I know several! And I prefer to hang out periodically with THEIR kids rather than having some of my own, at least that’s how I feel right now, I guess.

And so that night after we went to bed, my old man suddenly said in this really tender voice, holding my hand, “has being here changed any of your thoughts on having children?” and I was suddenly filled with terror, like in that moment I really realized that I don’t want to do it. But I was suddenly POSITIVE that my old man–characteristically so ambivalent and like “maybe in the future, sure”–was going to tell me he wanted to make me pregnant and have beautiful babies with me. And I was terrified! And I said, “I really need you to answer that question first: has being here made you want to have children?” and he paused for a long time and then he said “No. The opposite.” And I said “ME TOO,” and I felt like crying. And then we hugged and I felt closer to him than I have ever felt. And we talked about facing the world together, just us, and facing the fact that we are all gonna die someday, and really embracing what we want to do in our daily lives and then doing it, and about how teaching college is an awesome way to be involved in young people’s lives, and about all the stuff we want to do instead and how it’s okay that we want to do that stuff instead. We talked about overpopulation and global warming and how even if we’re being stupid, we still don’t fully believe there is going to be a world for future generations to live in so why would we make more people? etc. etc. We felt relieved. We felt LIBERATED. I don’t mean that not having kids is automatically liberating–I just mean that for us, we’d sort of unconsciously assumed that we “had to” have kids, and fully verbalizing that we didn’t want to and didn’t actually have to was very freeing.

I might regret it, sure. I might kick myself later for never having kids. I don’t know. People love having kids. But there are so many things you might regret, how can you possibly make decisions based only on that line of thinking? You should do something if you really want to do it, if it seems right, if it makes sense, if you feel called to it. And none of those things are present for me, when I think about babies. And now my biology doesn’t even fight me anymore, it’s like I rode out the Baby Fever and now it’s over. Now when I am around a nice child like my friend Calvin the hilarious toddler, or my friend Rachel’s beautiful children, or when I see pictures of J Hopper’s weird little dudes, e.g., I enjoy it and am pleased by it, I feel love and happiness, I have fun, I’m happy for my friends and their beautiful families, and I’m so glad to see them so happy, and then I go home to my childless house and am glad to be there, dropping F bombs with my husband at one in the morning (swearing, not actual fucking (also actual fucking)).

I feel like, why does this make me a monster? People with kids are happy; I am happy; we’ve both made choices based largely on selfish desires, and that is fine, and why can’t that just be okay, all of us living our different lives respectfully. If, as everyone in the world predicts, I do “change my mind” one day when it’s “too late,” boo hoo I’ll fucking adopt. Yeah I know it’s expensive and really really hard but it can’t be any more expensive or time consuming or heart breaking than the shit people get into involving fucking fertility clinics, Jesus Christ. Everyone’s like “Adoption, ew, gross, what if the kid has emotional problems?” well to that I say: god, shut up. Everyone I know has emotional problems.

And if I can’t adopt, oh well. OH WELL! I say OH WELL to everything. Good day sir.

Actual Advice:
My old man likes to put his arm around me and say “Never having been born is the greatest gift we can give our children.” There are plenty of good reasons to have a kid, but there are just as many good reasons not to. Do you think it would help you and your partner if you sat down and discussed all the reasons not to have kids? Even more specifically/brutally perhaps than you ever have before? Would it help him if he were forced to really lay out all the pros and cons and talk about his literal feelings when he imagines the day-to-day grind of child-rearing? Because I think for us, really verbalizing it and turning it over in reality and saying all the harsh shit about mortality and futility and capitalism really helped us come to a conscious, open-hearted embracing of our decision.

My other advice would be, if you want to really fucking nail down the issue one way or the other, raise the concept of THE VASECTOMY.

If you are really truly not going to have kids, there is no reason not to go ahead with this procedure. Imagine never again having to worry about birth control!! It’s a luxury I almost can’t even imagine. What would happen if you sat him down and said “Hi baby, it’s money-where-mouth-is time: How do you feel about making that ol’ vasectomy appointment?” If he’s like “WHAT? BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN,” then you’re in trouble. If he’s like “WHAT? BUT WHAT ABOUT MY BEAUTIFUL SPERM,” then that is annoying but you are in less trouble. If he is like “WHAT? BUT MY TESTICLES! HOW COULD I EVER HURT THEM” then you punch him in them (not literally). You point out that you’ve been destroying your body for 20 years with hormonal birth control or whatever. You point out that getting your tubes tied is a billion times more invasive and painful than a vasectomy. You point out that the physical consequences of an unintended pregnancy are going to rest 100% upon your body, all scraped up and sore and sad and bleeding, while he plays X-Box and drinks beer or whatever (comically gendered abortion stereotype). In short, you point out that he is being a total wiener.

And if he’s like “Whoa, that’s intense, but yeah, I guess I should do that,” then great. I feel like if you sit him down and say “There is zero percent chance I will ever, ever, ever want to have a baby. I think we should talk about vasectomy,” this will surely open the door to the kind of conversation you’re really wanting to have. Right?? Because it’s about something so literal, an actual decision that needs to be made right now.

I know people our age who have gone the vasectomy route, and I am jealous of them. I am not sure why we have not yet gone that route…I feel like eventually we will, but somehow it seems too final, too intense. Maybe this means a tiny subconscious part of my brain is still whispering “…but what if?” I assume by the time I hit menopause–which will apparently be sooner rather than later–I’ll finally see that the decision is out of my hands, and I’ll prod the ol’ beardo into making that appointment. “GO TO YOUR WIENER APPOINTMENT HONEY.”

I feel like raising the vasectomy issue is a great way of getting this shit nailed down. In fact it may be the best way! Give that a shot and report back.

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7 Responses to Les Enfants

  1. ericka says:

    Also weighing in pro-vasectomy (and NB this comes from a legit Reproductive Expert, Y.T. will vouch for me on that): Vasectomies are 9,000,000 times better than tubal ligations for the following reasons:1. Less invasive = less painful, less risk of infection or other complications.2. As mentioned above, vasectomies really provide a chance for men to step up, Take One For The Team, and acknowledge that contraception, abortion, pregnancy, birth, and/or nursing take a definite (even if WORTH IT) toll on women’s bodies.3. Not enough people talk about this which is why I won’t shut up about it: You can always check to see if a vasectomy is still good. There is a <1% chance, for both vasectomy and tubal ligation, that your body will basically heal itself and you will find yourself capable of reproducing when you have taken great pains to become sterile. There is NO WAY to check to see if a tubal is still good – you just keep not getting pregnant, until what if oops one day you do get pregnant. But men who have had vasectomies can return to their urologists or GPs, offer up a sample, and get a quick semenalysis to make sure they are still shooting blanks.Also, for straight couples who want high-quality, highly-reliable birth control but are spooked by the permanence of surgery, I cannot highly enough recommend the copper IUD, which is incredibly safe, is even MORE EFFECTIVE than tubal ligation, hurts like a period going in, lasts 10 years (you can take it out sooner if you do what everyone says you will do, and change your mind), and is supremely cost-effective. But for real, vasectomy.

  2. Anonymous in PDX says:

    I’m a male in his early thirties who has been in a handful of semi-serious relationships that have ended because of the children topic… mainly because I have been serious about not wanting to have children for well over a decade. There was the girl who said, “it’s fine if you think that now… you’ll probably change your mind in a few years” .. we broke up a few days later. Five years later, she’s currently due to have her first child in about a month. I’m thankful it’s not mine. Then there was the girl I managed to get pregnant due to a dysfunctional condom… whom I barely knew… and well, when she told me… she wasn’t sure if she wanted an abortion or not. She did want kids. I didn’t. For weeks, I started to have nightmares about what my future was going to look like… with kids I didn’t want. Fortunately, she weighed the pros and cons of having a child with someone who obviously hated the idea of having kids and opted to continue putting it off until she found a suitable partner to raise children with. (huge sigh of relief). The weirdest part of that experience was that she was pissed off when I said we should stop dating because it obviously wasn’t going to be compatible long-term. (but that’s another story entirely)

    When we went to take care of the situation, I found myself in the women’s clinic looking over some vasectomy paperwork. It’s starting to look more and more convincing. Despite not being in a serious relationship right now, I think taking the plunge and doing that will definitely reframe future conversations with potential dating/life partners. The conversation of, “do you want to have kids?” me: “No” them: “How do you know you won’t change your mind?” me: “I’ve already made a permanent decision not to.” I feel like this will sell my position on the topic a bit more seriously… because I’ve had a number of people say that I was just being a “typical guy” who doesn’t want to settle down… yet. As if I’m some wild animal that just needs to be caught and tamed. When, in reality, I definitely desire finding a great companion to spend a good chunk of my life with… but I’m more interested in planting a garden with some arugula than planting my (own) seeds.

    Now to schedule that damn appointment.

  3. eileen says:

    We did vasectomy & it was a good plan. However, the discussion amongst partners seems like the main thing here, so. I think opening the doors to the discussion & KEEPING them open until you both feel 100% resolved on a course of action is crucial. Lots of talking, early & often, & about everything you may be the slightest bit concerned about! Even after we made the vasectomy decision, we both needed to talk about it & process what was happening for A While. We were still having discussions of the “so, you’re SURE” variety the night before surgery. Also, surgery fears turned out to be way out of proportion. The actual procedure took maybe 45 minutes outpatient (including waiting), plus 2 days of recovery w/ icepack.

  4. dalas v says:

    I’m totally on the same page with you here.

    Eventually I will get a vasectomy, although I think there is some amount of “easy for you to say, ladies!” in these comments. It’s still very scary, because as the person who might end up a “worst case scenario,” you read them and then freak out somewhat.

    My wife has pretty much the same feelings towards the IUD, which is highly recommended, but the subject of some horror stories, so we’re currently just being super careful.

  5. Katie says:

    Here is where I stand: Right now I don’t want kids, but sometimes I catch myself thinking I might. Someday. SO Copper IUD! I got the IUD at age 24, three years ago, and I love it so much. For the first year, I had more painful and heavier periods than ever, but by now they’re totally back to normal. BC I am really paranoid, I went to the doctor and got my blood checked for elevated copper (after reading horror stories on the internets) and all was well. Plus in my state, it was covered by a special grant, so it only cost $70 (covered by some insurance but the deductible made it expensive without this grant). Even if I had paid the whole $400, over 10 years, its the cheapest birth control out there. Spontaneity (i.e. no finding a condom in the dark)/no weird hormones. YES PLEASE!

  6. Vicki says:

    Copper IUDs are definitely fantastic, but I want to plug for the Mirena a bit too. YES it has progesterone (or some synthetic version thereof) and YES it lasts five years instead of 10; HOWEVER, since the hormones are released locally (instead of ingested orally and pushed throughout the bloodstream) you get much less hormone in your system (this is what I’ve been told at least). For what it’s worth, I have 0 side effects from my hormonal IUD (except the to me largely positive one of no longer having menstrual cramps or really menstruation at all) and I got so sick on the pill that I had to stop after 2 and a half months, so it must REALLY be a very little bit of progesterone released. I know that the lack of period icks some people out, but I feel like, hey, there’s a lot I do that’s not as Nature intended (cf. not having children at age 13).

    Also, I think there’s a lot to be said for looking outside the nuclear family for chances to nurture children. I have 8 nieces and nephews and I get to help raise them in various ways, and I think this is good, and it satisfies my “what if nobody loves me in my old age/remembers me in the future” angst. Thanks for the awesome post!

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