To be or not to be: a Mom
We sat down with two women who are choosing opposite paths to learn how they came to their decisions.
Societal expectations for women go something like this: Grow up. Graduate school. Start your career. Get married. Buy a house. Have a child or two or three. Retire. Be surrounded by little grandchildren.
How do these societal expectations fit into your life? Anecdotally, for me as a 29-year-old woman, about half of my friends really desire marriage and children while the other half feel perfectly happy pushing it off or avoiding it altogether. The data backs it up, too:
- By 2021, the US birth rate had dropped more than 20% — the lowest it’s been in a century
- Over 50% of women over the age of 18 are unmarried or divorced — the highest it’s ever been
So what does it mean for this societal recipe so ingrained in us? Personally, I genuinely don’t know if I want children. And honestly I feel really uneasy sitting with either option, so I wanted to sit down to talk with two women I know and respect wholeheartedly. They’ve made different decisions when it comes to getting pregnant and having children — and they both feel confident and 100% happy with their choices.
JN: First thing’s first, tell us about yourself! What’s your life like?
ET: Hi! First of all, I’m so honored to be included in this Real Talk series. Thank you for thinking of me :) I’m currently 33 on the edge of 34, and live in Los Angeles with my husband and our two dogs. I have a pretty exciting (and let’s be real, demanding) job doing PR for impact-oriented brands. One of which is Stix! As a teenager in her thirties living in LA, my hobbies include walking a few paces behind Gen-Zers to make sure middle-parts are still in style, going on hikes to try and spot Vanderpump Rules cast members in the wild, yoga, brunch, and reading three books at once that I’ll never finish.
CP: I’m 30 and I live in Philly with my fiance, cat, and dog (photo available upon request ;) ). As ya might know by now, I’m also Jamie’s business partner and the co-founder here at Stix. That definitely means I work quite a bit, but obviously love what I get to do each day. Outside of the Stix-iverse, I love to spend time with family and friends – cooking, yoga, exploring new things, reading, and (very occasionally) swing dancing.
JN: Alright, let’s get into it, do you want children? Why or why not?
ET: This is a tough question where the answer does vary depending on the day and what mood I’m in. But for the last few years, I’ve felt pretty firm in my desire to not have bio-children. (I would however love to explore adoption in a few years for elementary-aged children.) Now the why is always a complicated response. There are so many reasons I don’t want to have a bio-child. The first and most simple is that I don’t feel a desire to become a mom. I feel fulfilled in my life. It really is that simple! One of perhaps the more selfish reasons is because having a newborn seems like one of the most undesirable experiences I can imagine. It does not look like my kind of fun. I know there is obviously an overwhelming sense of love and connection parents feel toward their children, but I know that I would feel an overwhelming sense of resentment toward something that was depriving me of sleep. However, when I think about that more… why do I consider that selfish!? I know I wouldn’t like it, so why should I actively pursue it?
CP: I’m a strong yes on wanting kids. It’s funny, I feel like that’s increasingly rare these days. There’s a million reasons to not – the future of the earth, crazy cost, immense lifestyle change (and lets be real, burden) – but I still get a full-body-yes. As I am answering this, I’m trying to point to any one reason and am struggling. It really is an answer I can just feel in my core. I think it must be a combination of all the things in me – a biological pull, how wonderful I found my childhood and relationship with my family, I’m sure some societal norms, and knowing that my partner and I will be wonderful parents.
I have always loved kids. Not in the would-be-a-good-teacher way, but more in the play-in-the-dirt way. As people in my life have made the jump into parenthood, I have gotten more of a peak behind the curtain. The lack of sleep, privacy, time, etc is of course scary, but I can feel in my heart, and sometimes ovaries, watching the truest love these parents have for their children.
JN: Was there a specific point in time when you decided this? Or did you always know?
ET: I definitely thought I wanted children growing up and in my early adulthood. When I entered my late twenties, I started questioning whether that was a real desire, or just something that would organically happen to me because everyone wanted it. Where I’m from, there is only that one path in life. Getting married and starting a bio-family is the ideal. I’m really grateful I had the opportunity to travel, move away, and experience different flavors of life before settling on what felt true to me.
CP: I do think so many people don’t take the time to actually decide “yes I want kids”. Unlike those who have clear POVs of not wanting kids (or even maybe wanting kids), “Yes” is really the default societal choice. Like so many women, I definitely assumed for a long time it was just a part of the future. Instead of deciding ‘yes’, I really just decided ‘not no’. As I have grown and seen friends make other decisions, I have been pushed to consider all the reasons to not. Each time – watching a 5 year old melt down over mac and cheese, reading about the state of climate change, looking at what it might cost to put a kid in college, witnessing my sister-in-law not really sleep for years – I challenge myself to defend my opinion. Each time, I walk away from my internal debate more secure in my decision.
JN: I know there’s so much nuance to this conversation, but why did you make this choice?
ET: The more I started to examine the things that brought me true joy, the more I realized that making babies didn’t fit into that picture. I know that for me, getting pregnant and having a kid would be a huge disruptor that would impact my happiness in a negative way.
CP: There’s definitely a million reasons, but I think it boils down to this – I love kids, I love that version of family, I want to set up another being for a happy and fulfilled life, and I’m excited to create that with my partner.
JN: Have you spent a lot of time thinking about this?
ET: I think about it probably every day! Especially when I see a friend, family member, celebrity, you name it, announce a pregnancy or give birth, I think, could that be for me? It’s a part of every family conversation I have at the holidays, and just a question I don’t think I’ll ever stop asking myself or will ever stop being asked of me.
CP: Absolutely. Honestly, as I get older (at the ripe ole age of 30) I feel the pull stronger and stronger.
JN: Is there anyone who particularly influenced your decision?
ET: Real answer? It’s mostly from watching people my age have children…. Not from anything they’ve shared with me. Just being able to see their lives, and realizing that’s not for me.
CP: My family absolutely – I love being a part of a giant and close family that’s ever-growing. I also think friends have challenged my decision to make me more intentional.
JN: How do you feel like societal expectations have contributed to your choice?
ET: I can’t deny it, it’s a major contribution. I’ve got serious resentment toward the societal expectation that because I am a cis, straight, married woman, I should bring offspring into the world.
CP: I think it’s easy to default into kids – so in many ways its supported my choice. Instead, my challenge has been to be intentional about my decision.
JN: Do you feel like you have to defend your choice to people in your life? Who do you feel judgment from, if any?
ET: I don’t feel I have to defend it. I do have to explain it a lot. But I am actually really happy to do that! I love sharing why having kids is not for me. I also secretly delight in the shock-factor with certain folks. While I don’t often feel judged, there are moments amongst family where I do feel I’m a disappointment, or not understood. I don’t think that’s intentionally directed toward me, but something that I’ll always inevitably feel when so many of my family members do choose that path in life. It always feels a little awkward fitting my kid-free choice into that. Like I’m an intrusion to the norm that everyone else has happily accepted but me.
CP: Not defend at all, but as one of the few full-body-yeses in my circle, I definitely spend time explaining it.
JN: Do you think you’ll change your mind?
ET: I think it is unlikely, but I could! Never say never, as they say. I am thinking of freezing my eggs as an insurance plan. Who knows if I’ll ever carry that out. Like I mentioned earlier, I actually do love the idea of bringing in a child to my family that is a little older (either through adoption or fostering). Someone who needs a safe space and unconditional love. This feels silly to say, but I’m more drawn to the idea of having children who can already walk, talk and use the bathroom on their own.
CP: I don’t think so! I’ve felt confident and secure in this decision for a long time.
JN: Do you feel any social distance from friends who have made the opposite choice?
ET: I don’t think it’s so much the choice to have children as it is parenting style. I have friendships with people who have had children, and it feels exactly the same as before. I have friendships with people who have had kids, and it feels like they have morphed into completely different people. Maybe they weren’t prepared, maybe they didn’t really know themselves before they had children… I think that’s hard to dissect from my singular point of view! But from where I’m sitting, it’s all connected to how societal expectations influence our choices in life.
CP: Absolutely not – but I don’t yet have children. I hope when that does happen, it won’t create any distance.
JN: What do you want people to know about your decision? What would you say to someone who’s conflicted about their path?
ET: I would say take your time in making up your mind and try your best to make a decision that is for you and no one else. There are so many great options for people that want to look into freezing their eggs/embryos or building families in nontraditional senses that can be just as fulfilling. Maybe even more so!
CP: I think being conflicted is important! It means you’re sitting with probably the biggest decision of our lives. Listen to your gut, your heart and your brain (aka the big 3). What’s right will come.