by Emily Coccia
I have a secret. Well, it’s really not so secret. But when I tell people they gasp; they stare at me with wide, disbelieving eyes; they giggle nervously and uncomfortably shift their feet; they insist it’s just a phase.
Do you want to know what this little secret is? Do you want to know what I tell people that leaves them so shocked, even at a progressive university in the 21st century?
I don’t want children.
I can hear the whispers. I can feel the tension. I can see the confusion. Then I can predict what will come next: “But you will. Give it ten years. You’ll see.” But the thing is, I really don’t think that there’s anything wrong with my position. After all, it’s nothing more than a point of view, a personal opinion. What makes it so much worse than someone who, at age twenty, knows that she wants to have four children and has their names all picked out and ready, just waiting for the day that each one is born? What is the big difference between Sally who knows that her first daughter will be named Katherine Marie and me who knows that my first cat will be named Emily Dickinson? (I love you, Liz Lemon, even if I don’t actually want a cat.)
But in all seriousness, I really don’t understand why my position is necessarily the “deviant” one, the “other,” to put it in colonialist theory terms. Especially with all the talk about contraception, we emphasize a women’s right to choose. However, people tend to assume this is a women’s right to choose when she will have a child, not if she will have a child. No one ever tells little girls, “Just give it a few years; you may find you don’t actually want to have children when you get older.” No one ever questions this dominant cultural belief. But what about those of us who don’t think we’d actually be great with kids? What about those of us who might have a little bit of neurotic perfectionism and who maybe panic and move out of our apartments for an entire week if one of our roommates says she feels “a little nauseous?” What about those of us who can “aww” at children but don’t understand why those cute little hands are perpetually covered in some sticky substance that smells like plain Cheerios and Play-Doh? What about those of us who are in perpetual gratitude to our own mothers but would like to throw ourselves wholeheartedly into a career without feeling like we’re abandoning a baby at home? Why can’t we have that choice?
Quite often (not always) feminism is associated—for better or for worse—with women being able to “have it all” (or the debate over whether or not they can), but we tend to ignore the fact that the underlying assumption states that “having it all” entails having children. The article references The Good Wife (aka the greatest TV show ever—and I don’t want to hear about how it’s an “old person show” because that’s just fundamentally false; it’s fabulous) and the characters of Alicia and Diane. It throws Diane into the category of women who have had to sacrifice family for professional success. But let’s just look at Diane; let’s think about her personality. Does she seem like she really wants children? No. But more importantly, do we ever see her as a character who lacks something, who is fundamentally incomplete? Absolutely not! Alicia is wonderful and all, but I wouldn’t mind being Diane (or Kalinda, save for that crazy ex-husband).
So I just ask: the next time someone turns to you and tells you that she doesn’t want kids, please don’t treat her like she’s crazy. You don’t have to like her decision, but try to respect it for what it is—her choice to make.