Like many people who drift away from their childhood homes, I have a group of friends that I always see when I go back. The ones I grew up with and went through the agony of school with, the ones who were there through thick, thin and painfully embarrassing. I remember that cold and rainy day when three of us went over to the fourth one’s house, to see her newborn baby. She was 21, and later managed to finish university as a single mother – my hat remains firmly off to her. But as we sat there, huddled around the tiniest human being I’d ever seen, my other friends gushed about how much they were “looking forward to the day”. I, on the other hand…wasn’t. I found the baby to be almost excruciatingly cute – but in no way did that elicit any wishes for one of my own.
The incident repeated itself two years ago when my sister, nine years my junior, gave birth to my first niece, and, a year later, my second niece. The joy of aunt-hood is almost too great for words, but “aunt” is where I’m happy at. I don’t feel anything in the pit of my stomach, or anywhere else, beckoning for me to move towards the status of “mother”.
Unfortunately, being the wrong side of thirty, married, permanently employed and child-free (not childless. My condition is voluntary, unlike those who suffer the unimaginable pain of wanting children but not being able to have them) is a combination that rarely goes unnoticed. All of a sudden, people seem to think it’s in their right to ask incredibly personal questions. Yes, “are you trying for a baby?” is a very personal, invasive question of a sexual nature, if you will. Not to mention what it might do to someone who, as mentioned above, is involuntarily childless. And when I explain that no, we’re not “trying” because we’re not sure we ever want children, I’m met with a variation on any of the following:
“You will change your mind.” (so did you change your mind about having your children, then?)
“But what if you end up old and alone?” (this is why I got married. So I have someone to torment in old age)
“But it’s the greatest joy in life!” (I will let you enjoy it then, and be happy for you, if you leave me to the greatest joy in my life: travel)
“I’m sure that your husband would make an amazing father, though” (ah, nothing like a nice guilt trip. I’m sure your significant other loves this side of your personality)
I’ve also been told I’ll want a baby when I meet The One. I did, nine years ago, and nothing changed, except that I was 200% sure that he was The One. But aside from having been stupidly lucky to find the love of my life, everything else stayed the same. I was still the same person. And among all the things in life, becoming a mother is something I’d rather not half-ass. Like Elizabeth Gilbert’s very wise friend in Eat Pray Love said, “having a baby is like having a tattoo on your face. You’d better be sure.”
Recently, to avoid confrontation, I started experimenting with different reasons to give for my child-free status: I can’t afford it (true), I’m too selfish (well, also true) and perhaps the most unexpected one of them all: I’m an environmentalist.
Vegans love to repeat how meat and dairy are the biggest environmental villains, and that’s obviously true. But there’s another factor that’s taking its toll: the sheer volume of human beings. Our all-time high population is taking a huge toll on our planet. Most of the biggest strains on the environment are connected to the fact that there are simply too many humans on the planet. From air and water pollution to landfill and biodiversity, everything connects: our rabbit-like multiplying is slowly killing the planet. Consuming, travelling, wasting, over-producing, throwing away: it’s all eating away at the already-fragile health of our Earth. In light of this, calling the child-free immature just because we like a lie-in on Saturday mornings seems a little out of touch.
In her brilliant piece for Mind Body Green, eco blogger Alden Wicker argues against allowing future humans to suffer the consequences of our generation’s environmental crisis. “I cannot protect my kids from the effects of climate change”, she writes, bringing to mind this little-considered issue: where will future people live when large chunks of the planet will be uninhabitable due to natural disasters deriving from climate conditions?
With this in mind, those branding me and those like me “selfish” for being child-free might consider that actually, contributing to keeping populations down is the less selfish choice. Granted, there are many things you can do for the environment as a parent, including raising a conscious, compassionate adult who leads the way for a better future – but ultimately, if we want our ecosystem to thrive, population reduction is necessary.
If now you’re sitting at your computer, thinking, “bullshit. She just wants to spend all her money on herself and is too lazy for the sacrifices that come with motherhood, so she’s found the perfect excuse,” well, yes – that too. My environmental sin is that I love to travel. It’s my drug and I’d do so much more of it if I just had more of that money I so like to spend on myself. And I’m definitely more than a little lazy. Not when it comes to running up hills or pulling all-nighters to make this magazine the best it can be, but in terms of housework and changing nappies, I’m definitely lazier than your average.
I’ll close with these words by Alden, which I completely agree with:
“Given the choice between laying eyes on one of the last remaining rhinos in Africa or watching my child go down a plastic water slide at the local amusement park, I choose the rhino. I will always choose the rhino.”
This month I am reading...The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
This month I am listening to…Green Day, hoping I can make it to their London concert in February
This month I am watching…The Get Down by Baz Luhrmann on Netflix
Photo by David Camilli