This subject is a polarizing subject for me. I am beginning to have strong opinions (on it) and keep wanting to express them. Much like all subjects and all people today. I read this book over a year ago. I had jotted these points down. I want to put them out there.
I also realize that reading book that promotes my point of view is hardly broadening my knowledge. But I did read it. And I feel the need to reinforce, to myself, the reasons for such decisions.
Selfish, Shallow and Self Obsessed – sixteen writers on the decision not to have kids
Edited by Meghan Daum
- Babes in the Wood – Courtney Hodell
It’s always interesting to know how we think we should feel versus how actually feel. We also juxtapose these feelings against what others are or are not supposed to feel. This essay made me think about those brief moments when I did believe I wanted a baby. It passed.
- Maternal Instinct – Laura Kipnis
This essay made me think a lot about the “naturalness” of having children because we are women or because we have wombs. As an aside I feel like I show get to know this author better because her name is so close to Tipnis, a close family friend.
- A Thousand Other Things – Kate Christensen
This particular essay reinforced the societal conditioning that demands we must want children. Must love it. Expect it with excitement. The author spoke about missing her phantom children during a particularly dark period in her life. It’s not something I could relate to.
- The New Rhoda – Paul Lisicky
This essay was a very different POV. Not just because it was a male POV but because of the time it was set in. I had never encountered (in writings) the generation that was singed by the AIDS epidemic. I never thought about the impact it had on reproductive health of that particular generation.
- Be Here Now Means Be Gone Later – Lionel Shriver
It’s an interesting thought that once life and education improves, women will push out having children. There are statistics and other curves proving that very fact and yet society somehow pushes women in the other direction. It’s as though nature (and society) want to disprove reality? Maybe not reality but it helps everyone apparently except women for women to constantly be stuck in the cycle of bearing and rearing children.
- The Most Important Thing – Sigrid Nunez
This essay talks about how your own upbringing influences your decisions – something I can relate to very keenly as a large part of my reason in not having children is linked to my upbringing. I was not traumatized or deprived in any way. I am not trying to compare myself to what sounds like hell for a lot of these writers. But I relate to it being linked to our own upbringing.
She mentions a lot of Sylvia Plath.
- Mommy Fearest – Anna Holmes
What is perfect femininity? The crazy devotion that motherhood it seems to demand? And the glorification of it leads to the other extreme POV of women staying children. She, along with others, talk about the fear that having children leads to losing any opportunity to create any memorable position/ achievement.
(It lead me down the road of thinking about my achievements, whether they were of any value especially since I did decide to get married but not have children; choose to work but not really pursue a career – where do I lie? Where do I find my place? Is it linked to this gender and this role and parts that I play or will I be shaped by parts I choose to exclude?)
- Amateurs – Michelle Hunneven
This essay drove home the point that we interpret life’s nuances to mean things they might not.
- Save Yourself – Danielle Henderson
This story talks about abandonment and makes me wonder about the wisdom/ ease of procreation. How fair is it that women who can so easily endanger their kids should be allowed to have kids! Is this (my) judgement fair?
- The Trouble with Having It All – Pam Houston
The title of this essay is pretty self-explanatory. More importantly, here the author speaks to a young girl who, while is very patriotic, is also very clear that she does not want children. She declares her view at a table where women of different ages are discussing child-bearing plans. There is no ‘having it all’ for any or every side.
- Beyond Motherhood – Jeanne Safer
In this essay, the author, who is also a psychoanalyst, details her painful coming to terms with the fact that she does not want children. She, like others in this collection, want to want children. They even have physical reactions to the process.
“Asserting an Affirmative No”
- Over and Out – Geoff Dyer
I loved this author’s writing style. It’s very non-apologetic, non-defiant unlike some of the female voices in this collection. He touches on all main points – freedom, (dis)inclination, propagating the species, leaving the legacy. Two points stood out – Why does life have to have meaning? And we regret (he does he said) almost every decision, so why should this be any different. “When it comes to regret, everyone’s a winner!”
- You’d Be Such a Good Mother, If Only You Weren’t You – M G Lord
This essay also talks about a physical reaction to having/ attempting to have children. The writer feels like she doing something wrong when she expresses relief at no children. It feels very painful – as though it was painful for her to get there.
More than one essay share this theme. Where it almost feels like the author/ writer/ person had to go through physical wrangling just to get to the point of admitting that, no she doesn’t want children.
- The Hardest Art – Rosemary Mahoney
One of the few questions strangers everywhere are apparently permitted to ask is “ do you have any children?” This essay addresses the vulnerability of being a parent and having little emotional agency. She knows she will succumb and wants not to do that. “Parenting is an art and not everyone is capable.”
- Just an Aunt – Elliott Holt
This essay touches on not being able to take care of one self emotionally – (genetic lottery) and consequently making that decision. Depression and self harm are scary companions to introduce a baby into. That can be scary.
- The End of the Line – Tim Kreider
This was the third male POV in the collection. Yet again it’s a voice that’s very irreverent. Not having children is a decision much like other decisions in life that are not taken. High risk ones.
Some other observations.
#1 There are multiple common references that run through many of these essays. One such reference is about articles that appear in the press about being childless and “carefree”. The stories showing visual depictions of “freedom” without children.
#2 Judgement from fellow parents. (I have never encountered a parent saying they’ve had to deal with judgement from non-parents) Again mom vs non-mom yes but do men face this too?
# 3 Women writers in this collection are constantly critiquing their decision. The male writers don’t seem to face such internal dialogue.