Friday, May 25, 2012

Goodbye Ovaries: Thoughts on Choices Other Than Children

After years of pain, I will say good-by to my ovaries and uterus in a few days.  It’s major surgery, and had a doctor suggested it six months ago, I would have had heart palpitations.  Now I’m ready.  Especially after that Friday where I thought the 4-hour pain pill I’d taken over twelve hours before had worn off (certainly the amount of pain suggested it had) and drank wine with dinner.  Bad, bad idea. 

Recently I told an acquaintance about the surgery and said other options existed, but because the pain had become disabling and I didn’t want children, this made the most sense.  His first response?  “You can always adopt.”  Well, sure, I could, except for the part where I don’t want children.
As a kid, I assumed I’d have children because nearly every adult I knew did.  In my twenties, I still assumed that, though I imagined it would occur at some vague future date that never grew any closer.  At 33, I dated a man I thought I would marry.  Matt and I discussed how much we might enjoy having children and how much we might enjoy not having children.  We decided to reserve a year or two together for just the two of us, then let the chips fall where they may.  Kids – great!  No kids – great! 

Matt and I broke up when I was 35.  I still felt the same.  What I wanted was a happy life, with children or without.  Five years later, my view changed.  I’d created a full, happy life, with two careers (writing and law), significant volunteer commitments, a close network of friends and family, and a home I loved.  I didn’t feel the desire to switch gears and spend the next twenty years focusing on bearing and raising children.
Sometimes I wondered if I lacked something essential because I didn’t feel devastated not being a parent.  Books and TV shows depict “childless” women in their thirties as lonely and depressed.  Also, many people express or imply I can’t be happy with my lifestyle.  Often the same person will ask me again and again if I regret not having kids.  This tempts me to ask if that person regrets having children.  The fact that I don’t do so raises an interesting point in itself.  Why is it considered okay to ask me about my personal reproductive choices, yet taboo to ask a parent the same question? 

From grade school on, my friend Julie knew she didn’t want kids.  In her twenties, she tried to get her tubes tied.  Her OB-GYN refused to do it.  She was too young, she was single, she’d never had a baby.  Julie kept asking.  By the time she reached her thirties, she must have wondered – really?  How old exactly do I need to be to be credited with knowing my own mind about whether I want to reproduce?  Finally, when she was 40 and married, a surgeon agreed to do the procedure. 
In part, I understand a doctor’s hesitancy to perform surgery that results in permanent birth control.  People do change their minds, and it’s difficult if not impossible to reverse.  But so is having a child.    

Another statement I hear is that it’s selfish to choose not to have children.  This puzzles me.  Because I have no kids, I can generally donate more time and money than many parents can to charitable causes.  Also, as a household of one, I put less wear and tear on streets and highways than does a household of 2-6 people.  On the average I pollute less and use fewer public services (such as libraries, police, or ambulance), and I don’t take advantage of public schools.  Yet every year I pay significantly more in taxes than do the households with the same income that use more services, as adults with dependent children lower their tax bills through deductions or credits.  Not only do I publicly help finance other people’s children, I do so privately as well, through decades of gifts at baby showers, baptisms, birthdays, and, eventually, weddings.  I don’t mind any of this.  One thing I agree with Hillary Clinton about is it takes a village to raise a child, and I believe our world is better when children can access education, food, and healthcare.  I also love being part of my nieces and nephews lives in particular, and enjoy celebrating their milestones as much as I can.  What seems strange to me, though, is that some people consider me selfish for doing these things.
The explanation most often given for the selfish label is that non-parents spend more money on leisure.  We often can afford to travel, attend the theater, visit fine dining restaurants, or ski more often than parents with similar incomes.  Again, this puzzles me.  Yes, I may be doing more of some things that I find fun, but I am not experiencing the joys of parenting that parents tell me they experience.  If I am selfish for doing what I enjoy, aren’t they equally selfish for doing what they enjoy?  I actually don’t think either of us is selfish, we just followed different life paths.  I don’t see any reason to denigrate or question parents’ choices, I simply don’t understand why some parents want to denigrate mine.

Why write about this?  It’s a very personal issue, as is my upcoming surgery.  But the personal really is the political.  Our nation struggles daily over abortion, contraception and women’s roles.  That our culture regularly questions an individual woman’s competence to decide whether to become pregnant, or to know whether she’s happy with her life path if that path means not having children, can’t help but inform the larger debate over women’s rights and women’s roles.  To insist that I don’t know my own mind or feelings when I say I am happy focusing on pursuits other than child-rearing implies the only real or valuable role for a woman is that of mother. 
I don’t have a perfect wrap up for this post or an answer to all the questions about women’s roles that are still being examined in our country.  But for now I’ll paraphrase Jane Austen and suggest that when a woman is asked about her reproductive choices, the questioner ought to pay her the compliment of believing her sincere, and see her as a rational woman speaking the truth from her heart.

A 2014 update -- A couple of my friends now have grandchildren & are enjoying that immensely, and I've realized that is one thing I'm sorry I missed by not having kids (though of course that doesn't guarantee grandchildren). My mom and dad had great fun with the grandkids (my brothers' children), as did I. But I'm happy with my overall decision. Interestingly, today I ran across a list I made years ago, probably when I was about 36 or 37, of the pros and cons of not having kids. The pro list was very long and anticipated all the things I enjoy about my life as it is. The con list (favoring having children) had only 3 items. The first was not having grandchildren. I hadn't realized I'd ever considered that. It's nice to know I had a pretty good sense of the pluses and minuses personal to me about children


Lisa M. Lilly is an the author of THE AWAKENING series, which is about a young woman whose mysterious pregnancy may bring the world its first female messiah -- or trigger the Apocalypse.

THE AWAKENING is available at:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005CDXXY0

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-awakening-lisa-lilly/1104252756?ean=2940012849618


13 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post. Completely agree, its good to know I'm not alone! Hope the op goes ok.

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    1. Thanks for reading & for the good wishes!

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  2. Lisa - what a wonderful post! Many years ago I asked to have my tubes tied and the uterus removed, but my doctors refused. It wasn't until major complications set in that they final said - yeah o.k. After two very complicated pregnancies - I knew years ago I would never try another - but yet they refused.

    I agree that we each have our own choices to make - I would never look down on someone for not choosing to have a child! Hell at times, I would envy them! If my life had been different, I can see me not having children - would that make me selfish, no. It would be just who I am.

    Glad you are being who you are - and that are doing all that you do! Good thoughts and wishes for a speedy recovery - take it easy - it's a hell of a surgery - but get up and walk as soon as you can after! It helps!

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    1. I don't know why I'm surprised the doctors refused even in those circumstances, but I am. Thanks for stopping by & sharing your experience!

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  3. Thank you for giving voice to the thoughts in my own head. As a person from a large family I decided young that I didn't want to add more children to the world. I think that my worth hasn't lessened because of that choice.

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    1. So glad you commented. I still often feel I must be very strange in the way I feel, it's nice to know I'm not the only one.

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  4. Very powerful post about a subject that few people are willing to discuss in public--the choice to go against the norm and not have children.

    Children are a polarizing topic. You're discriminated against if you have them (forget advancement and promotions, or even landing a job, if you're a woman with kids), yet you don't receive any credit if you are, in fact, childless (something must be wrong, you're a failure or to blame).

    I've often felt that a woman can not win whatever her personal life choices; someone is always eager to pass judgement (the recent debate about birth control comes to mind). There can be a real double-standard, as men are rarely questioned about their reproductive decisions.

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    1. This is a really good point. Even "family-friendly" companies and firms sometimes mommy-track parents who have primary childcare responsibilities, which usually means women. Also, there is lots of criticism directed at women who have "too many kids, kids at the "wrong" time, who don't devote enough time to their kids, who devote too much time to their kids, etc. Having or not having kids doesn't seem to have nearly such a strong effect on men's careers or how they are viewed.

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  5. Thanks for this “choice” statement. I agree that women choose many different life paths and my belief is that it is not selfish whichever pathway is chosen. Society in general and the corporate world tries to claim they’ve made great strides in equality regarding family orientation, women vs men and the matter of choice; they are few and far between.
    I was told I was selfish for having only one child and choosing not to remarry. My answer in one form or another has always been “it’s a matter of choice” many won’t accept just that…they want to know reasons or acceptable explanations to them as how a women’s choices are okay as if they have less merit…especially if they go against the “traditional” lifestyle.
    Men are not thought to be selfish if they state they don’t want to have children some of the commentaries I’ve heard is; he has a strong will and knows what he wants. I have always been perplexed as to why women are not given the same consideration.

    As always Lisa thank you for your honesty and the sharing of your feelings.
    May you have quick healing from your surgery.

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  6. Thanks for this “choice” statement. I agree that women choose many different life paths and my belief is that it is not selfish whichever pathway is chosen. Society in general and the corporate world tries to claim they’ve made great strides in equality regarding family orientation, women vs men and the matter of choice; they are few and far between.
    I was told I was selfish for having only one child and choosing not to remarry. My answer in one form or another has always been “it’s a matter of choice” many won’t accept just that…they want to know reasons or acceptable explanations to them as how a women’s choices are okay as if they have less merit…especially if they go against the “traditional” lifestyle.
    Men are not thought to be selfish if they state they don’t want to have children some of the commentaries I’ve heard is; he has a strong will and knows what he wants. I have always been perplexed as to why women are not given the same consideration.

    As always Lisa thank you for your honesty in the sharing of your feelings and beliefs.
    May you have quick healing from your surgery.

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  7. Hon - You do what YOU think is best. You make your decision and move on. I love that you thought this through instead of acting on a whim. I'm so sorry that you were in so much pain. Hopefully, this will put your pain in the past. It IS a major surgery. Take your time and do what they tell you for rehab (like, really, you wouldn't?) Wish I was there in person to visit. Know that I will be thinking of you and praying for a quick recovery. =BJ

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  8. Hi, Laura Carroll, author of Families of Two and just released, The Baby Matrix. Love your post's honesty and insightful thoughts. Underneath the myths about those who have no children by choice (e.g., selfish), and how the personal is political is a set of beliefs that has influenced our society socially and culturally so strongly the beliefs have come to be seen as true-the phenom: pronatalism. The Baby Matrix lays out why we need to start seriously questioning pronatalism for the betterment of all...check it out. http://lauracarroll.com

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  9. Lisa - fantastic post, and I agree with you. I am 42, and have been with the same man for 22 years. We knew from the start we didn't want children. We both have much younger siblings, and we were aware of the time, energy and cash that children take out of you. We didn't want to follow that path. I have repeatedly asked my doctor's surgery for sterilisation, and been refused - under the excuse that because I've never had children I might "change my mind".

    I too get puzzled by the selfish label. People who want children and have trouble conceiving go to great lengths for IVF. Why don't they adopt? Because what drives us to want children is 'the selfish gene' which gives us an overwhelming need to reproduce our own genes. Isn't it more selfish to have children of your own, in a world where so many children are in need of loving adoptive parents?

    Childless people have more time and money to spend on themselves - on frivolities, on hobbies, on holidays. Those who have children might resent this occasionally, and this is where the criticism sometimes come from.

    In the 21st century, we as women should be free to make our own choices about what we do, or do not do, with our own bodies. It's rather sad that we still encounter prejudice.

    Sara

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