In the break rooms at work, over lunch, next to coffee pots or in store aisles while shopping for high gloss paint, I have proclaimed with unwavering conviction to at least a hundred people: “I never, absolutely never, want kids.”
I have countered their what-ifs and you-might-change-your-minds defensively, almost aggressively, pointing out the violating nature if they’re imposing their assumptions onto my choices, predicated on the notion that they might have some greater insight than I do into my own ideas.
This stance has come to symbolize a lot more than my choice on children: it represents my autonomy, my position in (or not in) various social spheres, and, to some degree, my rejection of conventionality. Essentially, the decision to be Child-Free slowly nestled its way into my identity, transitioning from choice to an integral aspect of not only my selfhood but also my relationship with my partner. A lot of our lifestyle choices — being heavily rooted in academia, traveling, cat owning and pursuing experience — are wrapped up in this decision.
And thus, my recent confusion about whether or not I want a kid has felt like a lot of very unpleasant things.
Firstly, it felt like a disturbance of reality, a loss of something near-concrete I’ve had for a long, long time. A definite knowledge — a comfort — turned indefinite and unstable. Replacing a certainty with a question, or even just a shakier version, causes a flutter of anxiety: what do I know? What is my knowledge premised on? What facts can I take solace in?
Secondly, and probably most importantly, I felt like an adulterer. I haven’t cheated on my partner, but I feel like I’ve betrayed him. We have almost a decade of mutually confirmed desire to never, ever procreate. Only two years ago I said to him, “Can you imagine if you’d wound up with someone who wanted kids? How awful would that be?” This agreed upon passion to be Child-Free is a premise of our relationship and, in many ways, a promise. The idea of telling him that I sometimes feel confused or hazy about this vow makes me feel like a liar, a cheater. Nauseated, I worry intensely about how it might fragment or harm our relationship, not because it would divide us — I would never, even if I totally changed my mind, bring an unwanted child into our home — but because it just feels adulterous. Regardless, the idea that I might ever in any way jeopardize any element of this relationship, which is undoubtedly the most essential and sacred part of my life, makes me feel worthless.
Lastly, I question my identity. Who is this person who isn’t sure about this anymore? Has she been hiding inside? If so, what else is there? Who am I going to be in five years?
To be clear, I don’t “want” kids now. I just don’t for sure “not want” them the way I used to. And it should be understood that the idea of ME having kids before absolutely disgusted me in the way that watching someone throw up disgusts me. And for that to become unclear, at times appealing, feels like something in me has devolved, become perverse. Which is not to imply that having kids is a perverse thing, but that for my feelings that were so strong, harsh, and fundamental to shift, weaken, make new allowances feels utterly wrong.
For now, my resolution is that this is something I need to consciously step away from. I hope that, with time, these feelings will pass; this confusion will dissolve into the same clarity it once was. At this point, I just want to not have any thoughts on the topic — no stance or position.