I’ve gone from Child-Free to confused and now I’m grossed out

Guest post by Annie Oakley
confused about having kids
Plexiglass question mark from GnarledWares

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.

Comments on I’ve gone from Child-Free to confused and now I’m grossed out

  1. I’m in my early 20s and right now I REALLY don’t want kids, but I also realize that I haven’t undergone the “BABIEZ NAO!” hormonal surge that women often talk about, so I don’t know if that stance will change and it absolutely terrifies me. There are things I want to do with my life that don’t involve children, and I wouldn’t want to resent some being that I was responsible for bringing into the world for me not to be able to do those things.

    The ONE thing that makes me pause is that I think my mother “deserves” grandchildren. I do have a brother, but is it fair to make him shoulder the burden? My mom has never come out and said anything like that, and I’ve made no secret of my “plans”, but I just feel selfish that I can’t (won’t) give her this one thing.

    I think it’s normal to question these sorts of life-altering decisions, and it’s possible that you’ll go from “NO WAY” to “well, maybe” to “HELL YES!”. But it could just be ambivalence, knowing that you only have a short time frame where you CAN make this decision before your body makes it for you. So I echo others in saying don’t be so hard on yourself, talk with your partner, and try not to let this decision define who you are!

    • Remember that grandchildren aren’t always biological. Your mother may get to know a family with young children. I had 2 sets of non bio grandparents.

  2. Wow. I really appreciated this post and the comments to follow.

    From childhood I swore off having my own children and later met a great partner who wholly shared my views. After 7 years of living a happy child-free lifestyle with the occasional second thoughts, I let my guard down for one afternoon. Bam, now I’m pregnant. We’re elated, but it definitely took several weeks of serious conversations to be sure that the decision to have a baby was the right one for us. It wasn’t easy to go from random daydreams of babies to an unplanned reality. Luckily, we haven’t had any “I told you so,” moments from friends.
    I definitely second the opinions to talk with your partner. Having had discussions prior to pregnancy was an enormous help to our relationship during our decision making time.

  3. I know this was posted awhile ago, but I am really glad I found it. For years I’ve been shouting the “No kids” mantra, and it’s only in the last year – I’m 25 – that I’m starting to question it. Mostly, I’m afraid that I’ll change my mind too late, and regret my childlessness forever.

    But then I think of all the reasons not to have kids, that I’ve been repeating for years: I want to have a career and I want to travel; I might never be financially stable enough to raise a child; plus my man might be sterile (he went through chemotherapy) and even if he isn’t, both of us have so much chronic, genetic disease in our families that having a child doesn’t seem responsible.

    I’m just so glad that other women agree that it’s okay to feel like this. It’s okay to be ambivalent. But I do need to talk with my partner. Woof. In any case, thanks for the good advice, Offbeat Mamas!

  4. My cousin was in the “never having kids” camp for a long time. Now she has definitely shifted and is talking about trying to get pregnant. People change their minds. In our family at least, no one throws her past comments in her face. It’s a very personal topic, and we want her to be happy!

    My advice – try not to stress about it.

  5. I’m on the opposite side, but I completely understand. Until I was 22, I absolutely, 100%, never once questioned that I was going to have kids. My partner at the time forced me to stop and think about it. It was painful, I cried a lot. And now I’m in the middle of a debate that’s lasted three years so far, “Well crap, I don’t have any idea if I want kids. I could go either way.” It’s been really frustrating, I’d like to have an answer one way or another, but I know it doesn’t really work like that.

    Now I’m very careful to not state things as absolute truth, even about my own identity.

  6. Good luck to you with your decision. For those wishing to conceive, Julia Indichova offers wonderful support from her website and books. She also helps people deal with all sorts of issues related to children.

  7. We grow and change both as individuals and in all of our relationships in our lives. It is fine that you solemnly swore that you didn’t want kids. But you’ve changed your thoughts on that. You’ve grown in a different direction and that is okay. Don’t beat yourself up or over-analyze it. It’s normal to change throughout our lives as we grow!

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