When I was a little girl, I imagined myself as many things when I eventually grew up1. In my mind, I was going to find the time to be a doctor, a vet, a football player, a gymnast, a lawyer, a nurse, one of the Avengers, an astronaut, Mystique from the X-men , a princess, a queen, a fashion designer, a witch in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and CEO of my own company. All of these seemed like perfectly reasonable things to aspire to. I never once questioned the possibility of being able to fly on broomsticks and perform magic with a wand. The one thing I know was missing from my envisionings of the future me was the one where I (got married and) had children. It was only as I grew older and my bubble2 was punctured in numerous places and I was exposed to “society” that I received the very clear message that because I was born with certain body parts, my goal in life was first and foremost to find a man, then get pregnant by this man and have his babies. Unless I did that, I would never be fulfilled or happy.
So I began to mentally prepare myself for this apparently essential phase of my life that was to come. I would talk to friends about how many children I wanted, whether I wanted girls or boys or both, how I would raise them, if I would spank them when they misbehaved. I always volunteered to take care of other people’s babies, as I believed this was practice for when I would have my own babies. Yet, deep down, I knew this was all contrived to play my role of aspiring mother. I could tell I succeeded at pleasing because I frequently got “compliments” about what a good mother I was going to be, but the whole thing felt hollow. I reasoned that when I got older, it would feel more natural. After all, it was perfectly understandable that a fifteen-year-old girl wouldn’t have much ‘maternal instinct’.
Fast forward several years and it has become very clear to me that I would feel more myself as a blue-skinned, orange-haired, shape-shifting mutant than I would as a gestating vessel for another human being. I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to get pregnant or give birth to children. And the day I was honest with myself regarding this question was the day I felt a huge load lifted off my shoulders. I don’t want to have children. And in an ideal world, this shouldn’t even be an issue. But I’ve lived long enough to know that this ideal world will only ever exist in my mind.
Now, before I continue, this essay is not a campaign against children, or the people who wish to reproduce. Adults can and should choose how they want to live their lives3, which is something the Taliban, ISIS, the US Republican party, the North Korean dictatorship, the Pope and his cronies of old ( mostly white) men and Nigerian society in general haven’t quite grasped. You may not agree with how they go about this, but part of maturity and wisdom is accepting that you will never agree with everybody (I mean there are seven billion of us), and understanding that compromises and tolerance are the only ways we can survive in this world without causing untold and unnecessarily misery and suffering to myriads of people, a concept that the above mentioned groups have also not grasped. If you desire to have children, and you are emotionally and financially mature and stable then by all means, pop out those babies, and stick with them every step of the way until they become responsible adults. I am writing this (largely personal) essay for three main reasons:
a) I am at that age when people have begun to (not quite subtly) hint their expectations of me to find the life-fulfilling man mentioned above, marry him and have babies. I have already begun to have this conversation in snippets with my family and there are so many things I have to say about the issue as it relates to me that I feel the need to put it in a clear layout.
b)These statements by Pope Francis. There is nothing at all absurd about an old, single man who has never had children, who has his own palace, body guards and private jet, who doesn’t have to worry about any material needs for the rest of his life, criticizing other people who decide not to have children.
c) I am publishing this not so much to convince anyone who thinks it is a woman’s “duty” to have babies (one of my earliest life lessons was that trying to convince an idiot is like trying to move a wall with your words – you can try, but you will get absolutely flipping nowhere), but to reach anyone else who may also have doubts about bringing forth children. I have met women who were pressured –directly or indirectly – into having children and who regret it very much, but are too scared of the social implications of admitting it out loud. When a woman gives birth to a child she doesn’t want and has to raise the child for no other reason than because she is expected to, it is often a tragedy for both her and the child. To the mother, the child is an embodiment of her regret and she will take out her frustration on him/her in all sorts of subtle and less subtle ways. The child in turn grows up believing her existence to be a mistake and a burden, thinking (or knowing?) herself to be unloved and unwanted and this can have devastating psychological consequences.
I have addressed the impetus behind this essay; I will now outline my reasons for not wanting babies.
Firstly, the idea of being pregnant, no matter how much Nigerian churches, celebrity photos of ‘baby bumps’ and the Hallmark Card company try to sell it, is not remotely appealing to me. To begin, the human reproductive system grosses me out quite a bit. What is more, to me pregnancy is essentially another organism living inside my body, recolonizing my internal body functions and taking the lion share of my nutrients… which gives a parasitic feel to the whole process. And this is in the best of cases. Sometimes, there are complications that come along with the pregnancy that make an already tasking process even more difficult. Furthermore, I am a very physical person. After playing football in secondary school, then learning to swim during my fake gap-year4, I went on a long journey of bodily discovery that took me from bike-riding, to indoor-rock climbing and gymnastics before I finally settled on dance and circus. I like to move A LOT and the thought of not being able to do so for more than a week makes me anxious. While other women might be glowing during the gestation period, I’d probably feel like I’ve been sentenced to some kind of bodily jail, marking off days on my calendar until I’ve served my time. Somehow, I don’t think this is an ideal beginning to the journey of motherhood.
The second strike against having babies for me is that the nine months of pregnancy doesn’t wrap up without an epic battle. Yes, a few women have “easy” labours, but for the majority of them, labour can range from a few hours to several days of physical (and emotional) torture just to get that baby out.Again, pregnancy PR not doing so great here.
I realize that the reasons I’ve given above might appear selfish to some, and I’d say, you’re right. I am selfish, and I own my selfishness. I do NOT want to have a foreign body invade mine, and certainly don’t want to feel “like a dozen tiny sadists are simultaneously tightening my abdomen with winches“, while a small orifice in my body is stretched (read torn) open at the same time. But I’m not done yet – my reasons go beyond an aversion to pain and discomfort, which you will discover if you read on to the second part of this essay.
- I’ve sort of kind of grown up now and I still imagine myself as many things. Does that mean I’m not really grown up?
- I grew up rather isolated (with adult supervision of course); I was the weird one in school and at church that children didn’t want to play with. This turned out to be great because I had a lot of time to read and develop a very active (not to mention useful) imagination.
- This of course comes with some provisos the most obvious of which is that these adults’ choices should (ideally) not (deliberately) harm other human beings (and depending on where you live, animals and the natural environment – but this will be the subject of a different essay yet to be written).
- I was enrolled in a university but since I wasn’t paying anything and I knew I was leaving after a year, I didn’t take it too seriously