I don’t tell everyone that I don’t want children. Not because I don’t want to advocate for choice, autonomy, or living however you want to live. I don’t tell everyone because whether or not I want to be a mother is no one’s business.
Yet, on a weekly basis, countless strangers not only ask me if I want kids, but expect that I justify my response.
While I didn’t struggle with my decision to have a tubal ligation at age 31, I have struggled to understand my place in a society that’s consistently asking me to defend a private decision that does not involve them.
To be honest, the choice not to have kids never really felt like a choice to me. I just never felt any way but one way, and that way didn’t include raising a child. My procedure in January 2014 wasn’t very memorable. I didn’t have sweeping emotions or feel grand waves of independence. A friend came with me, and we read magazines before I was called for surgery. I woke up cold and groggy after the anesthesia wore off. Another friend came to bring me home. I had some pain. I spent a few days relaxing in bed, and then returned to work and my typical day-to-day shenanigans.
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Yet nearly four years later, I still find myself in situations where I am either asked if I have kids or when I will have kids. When I respond that I don’t want children, I am pressed to explain myself. And when I share that I tied my tubes, I am typically met with two responses: People either want to know why I did it, or they want to know how many hoops I had to jump through to access elective sterilization. Not only do people want to dig into my private life choices, they also want to know how stressful and painful it was to go through.
Yes, it was an ordeal. I faced shock and patronizing speeches from individuals who just met me. There was convincing my doctor, over numerous consultations, that I had no doubts about my decision. Once I had a physician who agreed to perform the procedure, I sat through more appointments that included signing paperwork with a witness present, more condescending speeches about my age, and interactions that I can only define as highly unprofessional.
At my appointment for pre-op bloodwork, I was sitting at a woman’s desk, answering routine questions: name, date of birth, procedure. When I replied the words “tubal ligation,” her face twisted and her eyes grew wide. As she put her pen down, I took a deep breath and braced myself. “Honey,” she said in a concerned tone. “You don’t want to be a momma?” When I responded I didn’t think she could legally ask me questions about what procedure I was having, she continued to ask me if I already had children and how could I be so sure that I wouldn’t change my mind.
From abortion to voluntary sterilization, the personal and private choices of what women do with their reproductive organs seems to be of great public interest, and debate, in our country. More than 330 restrictions have been placed on a woman’s access to abortion services in the U.S. since 2010. There are nearly 4,000 fake clinics across the country that lie, shame, and pressure people about their reproductive health decisions. And Catholic hospitals have downright denied women’s requests for tubal ligation, sometimes even putting a personal decision in front of an ethics committee to decide what is right for the patient.
Every time I am asked for my stance on motherhood, I have an internal dialogue trying to come up with the right reason for not having kids. A brief sample of my responses would look something like this:
“It’s not that I don’t like kids. I just don’t want to raise one.” (Saying to myself: Quick, I should bring up my nieces and nephews.)
“Sure, I think babies are cute. I just don’t feel anything else.” (Is there something wrong with my uterus?)
“I’m sure giving birth is an incredible experience. I just know I don’t want to do it.” (If you have given birth, you are the strongest person in the world. Period.)
“I wouldn’t be happy raising a child.” (Wait, do they think I am insinuating they are unhappy?)
“Maybe I just don’t have a biological clock.” (What is this clock and why don’t I have one?)
Every single time someone asks me why I don’t want kids, I am reminded that I must be different. The question itself promotes the concept that a certain way of life needs justification. So why ask it?
The notion that womanhood equals motherhood is reinforced in almost every aspect of our lives. Whether it’s a commercial for laundry detergent or the baby dolls and strollers we buy for children as toys, the concept of motherhood is an inescapable social norm.
Since my tubal ligation, I sometimes turn to my own mother to ask if there is something wrong with me for not feeling what society expects me to feel. It seems ridiculous to have to ask for this validation, especially as an advocate for reproductive freedom. But when I share my choice with others, I feel like I am swimming against the current. Every time someone furrows their brows and asks me why I don’t want to be a mother or tells me I may change my mind, they place their ideals on me. And they have society and politics behind them to confidently impose those ideals, stigmatizing me in a way I am unsure I will ever shake off.
It’s somewhat absurd to have so many feelings about not having specific feelings. Mostly, I feel a combination of relief and bitterness. Tying my tubes allowed me liberation to freely have sex without anxiety of accidental pregnancy. I don’t have to think about it anymore. I no longer pressure myself to find my way down a path I don’t want to be on in the first place. Tying my tubes turned off that inner voice constantly questioning why I didn’t want kids and allowed me to move on with the life I want to build. But, frankly, I am bitter that I have to justify my choice.
The more people question my decision to tie my tubes, the stranger I feel for not having a statement for reproductive freedom or not leading the charge for all who choose to be childless. It feels like a Catch-22. Talking about the right to choose if, when, and how to have a family helps break down stigma and connects people who may feel isolated or different. Yet, the more I am asked to explain why I’m not choosing motherhood, the more different I feel from everyone else.
So here is my request: Stop assuming all women want to be mothers. Whether a woman has difficulty conceiving or actively chooses not to, her private choices of how she will lead her life have nothing to do with you. It’s time we untangle the notion that to be a woman is to be a mother. It’s time that we respect each individual’s right to build the future they want for themselves.
I don’t want to have a child. I don’t want to raise a child. And I don’t get why anyone else should care.