Deciding to Remain Childfree, a guest post by Stefani

Stefani’s studies have taken her through modern, medieval, and ancient languages and literature, gender studies, reproductive sociology, and education. She is currently most preoccupied with climate change and human overpopulation and hopes that humanity will muddle through, in some way or other.

Deciding to remain childfree: my thought process

by Stefani

Stefani_image

Stefani

A few months ago, a decisive shift occurred in my thinking that gave me a good jolt. After six years of having looked forward to becoming a caring and all-out stimulating and dynamic mother at some indeterminate point in the near future, I suddenly realised that this wasn’t the only possible narrative for my life. I had swallowed the motherhood mandate hook, line, and sinker and I had never given myself the space and time to question whether I really, really want children. The trigger for this sudden realisation was taking on physically strenuous babysitting while suffering from chronic pain (at a time when I still believed the pain was easily resolvable). To be completely clear, this was only the trigger: she was a lovely little one, and I genuinely love children, so much so that it’s a big part of why I don’t want to have children (it being far better, environmentally, for the children already living not to gratuitously create more of one’s own…). But this crucial trigger let loose a thought avalanche where I sat down for the first time to think rationally about the family-building process and about how (genetic) motherhood and fatherhood are consistently presented as the most automatic and desirable avenues of maturity despite all the glaring evidence that creating yet more children is not the wisest thing to be doing in our era.

My thought process during these months has journeyed through the following four areas (overlapping of course, and they have an additive effect on my decision), which I’d like to unpack a little here in the hope that they may help you or others in your thought process too. Here goes:

Environmental

We are living in an age where human-induced climate change is really going to hit the fan, and sooner than we anticipated. It’s all very well to keep on burying our heads in the sand and pretend that our blip of human existence on this earth will continue indefinitely regardless of our behaviour on its surface and in its atmosphere. But the fact is that this earth doesn’t give a jot about the welfare of one species living on its surface and will happily make it walk the plank if we keep disrupting the earth’s systems to the extent that we are doing now. It looks like the 21st century is going to be tremendous: it looks like the instability building in the system is going to create a terrible positive feedback loop that is going to make our current (wildly excessive) numbers completely unsustainable (they already are, and we’re adding 1.5 million new humans to our 7 billion every week because of our complete failure to implement or even acknowledge the necessity of global population sustainability programmes). It is going to be the greatest tragedy in the history of the human species: a substantial culling of the human population by nature because we have overreached her carrying capacity and pushed so many other forms of life out of the way. The changing face of life on earth due to climate change is no longer something far in the future, or uncertain, or something that we can keep applying technofix band-aids on in the hope that it will fade away (though obviously these do need to be pursued). It is already happening – just ask the people of Kiribati, or Alaska, or Bangladesh – and building like a rising storm. This is a future that we will need to adapt to and survive in; and this is not a future that I want to bring a new human being into.

Earth is the most tremendously beautiful, astonishing planet: life is beyond description, beyond beauty. But we as a species have played foul by this planet because of the predominance of greed and stupidity in our behaviour. Unfortunately, our brains don’t seem to be developed enough to sustain collective, long-term thinking. Shamefully (and shamelessly), we operate in the short-term (absurdly short-term – just the few years of an electoral cycle!), atomistically, and with a steadily diminishing sense of connection to the biosphere of which we are a tiny constitutive part. Our behaviour is on the whole unintelligent, destructive, and hubristic.

I love life, I love children, I love people (though sometimes more in the abstract when the litany of our casual inanities becomes overwhelming), and I love this astonishing, marvelous planet. For all these reasons, we need to work to become sustainable and to survive, and a crucial part of that process is to make our population sustainable: through making education available for women worldwide, through contraception and family planning provision, through providing incentives for people to have smaller families or indeed to remain childfree, and through fostering again our sense of connection to and dependence on the environment – as environmental activists are coming increasingly to realise, people don’t care for things that they don’t feel an emotional connection to. How can we expect kids who have never been in a forest in their life, who haven’t been given the opportunity to become awake to the natural world, to love the world enough to actually care for it? We can’t, and this is part of the struggle. For me, remaining childfree is part of my lifelong effort to live sustainably, and rationally, and responsibly. I must set a positive example for those around me rather than bury my head in the sand and pretend that the personal isn’t political.

Health-related

I have been diagnosed with a condition which means it is likely I would not have the physical energy and stamina needed to raise a child in the way I want to, that is, to be able to give my child all the attention and stimulation and physical activity she needs. I need to acknowledge my own physical limitations and know that, even more than pregnancy which would be bad enough, rearing a child is hugely physically strenuous work which I would probably not be able to handle. I would not be able to give my child the dynamic and action-packed and full-on childhood I would want to give her, and I would only be reducing her chances of a joyful childhood as a result.

Professional

I am in training to be a teacher, for two reasons: because I love children and they have their whole lives ahead of them; and because educating them, stimulating them, guiding them, and feeding their hearts and minds is the best I have to offer them. In deciding to become an educator, I have decided to devote my entire working life and all my skills, energies, and talents to children. Crucially, I am giving all this to children who are already living, hence children who are right here, right now, and who need mountains of support, guidance, stimulation, challenge, and attention to get them on a good path in a highly complex and changing world. I intend to throw myself into solid, enthusiastic, engaged teaching, to get my students on the path of thinking globally, critically, responsibly. That will be the shape of my contribution to society. It is then completely redundant for me to tag on the exhausting and physically draining role of mother as well when I am already giving children the best I have to offer – my mind and my enthusiasm. Each one of us has a role to play during our short life, indeed many connected roles that shape the contours of our contributions and our joys: I will be an educator, mentor, lover, partner, friend, daughter, sister, writer, swimmer, traveler, and so much else besides, but I will not be a mother. It is not a category that I feel I need to inhabit when I intend to make my life so full and fulfilling otherwise.

Personal

For me, retaining autonomy and freedom (so hard-won by those before me and constantly under threat) in my life is vital. It is pivotal to my well-being and to the way I move in the world. I am introverted (by today’s hyper-extrovert standards) and I like privacy, solitude when I need it, space to dream and explore and just be with my own body and thoughts. Also, of course, freedom comes in so many forms: mental, financial, sexual, physical, professional. Having a child is a lifelong, absolute commitment, and entering motherhood or fatherhood means your whole life shifts in alignment with the new arrival. It has to: otherwise you’re not doing it properly and you’re not doing right by your child. I am not eager enough to enter motherhood and welcome that complete realignment, for all of the above reasons. And any desire on my part to have a child of my “own” (telling word – a child being something that you own, genetically partitioned off and privileged in contrast to the kids who had the misfortune to be born with a couple of different genes and are now growing up in a slum) becomes even less justified in the face of the millions of orphaned or otherwise severely deprived children already living who need the same attention and care that I would otherwise lavish on my own comparatively privileged child. In the mini-diary I’ve been keeping in an attempt to chart my thought process during these last few months, I’ve written the following:

I want to carve out my life on my own terms, avoiding the traps of automatic thought in which we sign our own life away in so many unconscious permanently binding contracts. How can a short life be lived in anything but freedom and on one’s own terms? My own life, consciously shaped and enjoyed fully.”

And that is what I intend to do – live freely, rationally, and responsibly. It is only in this incredible, liberating era of contraception, which has only been the case for less than a century in privileged pockets of the world and only because it was fought for tooth and nail, that remaining childfree has for the very first time in the history of the species become a viable life choice for women (enforced abstinence and “avoiding” rape not being realistic alternatives to childbearing but travesties of any idea of female autonomy). Taking all the above into consideration, then, deciding to remain childfree is one very important way in which one can carve out one’s life on one’s own terms while living freely, rationally, responsibly.

7 Responses to Deciding to Remain Childfree, a guest post by Stefani

  1. houx October 10, 2016 at 8:22 pm #

    Unless you women get your tubes tied you still run the risk of getting pregnant. No woman should tell a man to get a vasectomy, it should be his decision and his alone. Don’t use cost, what the woman are really thinking is that my man can’t get any others women pregnant therefore he won’t ever be financially responsible for another life or another woman. I am 60 years old woman I didn’t want kids so I got my tubes tied at 22 years old, most of my girlfriends did too. I am glad my husband of 32 years didn’t get a vasectomy like so many of his friends back in the day many are dead from prostate cancer, or have urologic problems, and that is why all these men take ED medication now. Penis pudding needs to be shot out to keep the plumbing working. Men don’t let women tell you what to do with your penis, as the scream at you all the time that the men are trying to take their birth control.
    It is just another way of women trying to control men by cutting of your dick to make their lives easier.

  2. sony8877 October 10, 2016 at 5:22 pm #

    Europeans are reproducing at below replacement rate, while many countries in Africa have an average fertility rate of 4 to 6 babies per woman.

    Serious question: If you are genuinely concerned about over-population, why worry about a population that is not reproducing itself by foregoing having children, when any effort to reduce population is being totally dwarfed by the fertility rate in nations that can barely sustain a quality of life above the poverty line with the help of foreign aid?

  3. susie August 31, 2016 at 4:27 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this – lots of very interesting perspectives on sustainability and ownership, I’ve found it very interesting in my own thought processes.

    • Stefani September 2, 2016 at 3:49 am #

      Hi Susie! The whole “ownership” thing has been rolling around in my mind for quite a while now, that phrase is just so telling… a child of one’s “own”… The thing is, the whole idea of the nuclear family where kids are so strictly tied (legally, socially) to their parents because of the genetic connection is a pretty recent invention. Before that, many societies were organised along much more multi-carer lines, where the entire community would look after children – in a sense, all children had all adults as their parents and vice versa, so child-rearing was a communal activity for the good of the community and everyone was responsible for ensuring that children were fed, protected, etc. And now we box children into little nuclear family units and shoulder on to parents the huge exclusive responsibility for their welfare (some of these parents of course being unfit for parenting), and adults without children are excluded from the whole culture of child-rearing (re: paedophilia paranoia etc.). But multi-carer arrangements just make so much sense! Biological parents and social parents and honorary aunts and adoptive big sisters and mentor-teachers… they all have a part to play. As long as they are all accountable to each other and to the community for the welfare of the child, the stress and difficulty of the boxed-in nuclear family unit can be alleviated and both parents and children benefit. Instead we think narrowly, and kids bear the brunt in particular.

      • sony8877 October 10, 2016 at 5:27 pm #

        If having kids with a ‘genetic connection’ is a recent invention – why then, when a male tiger replaces another as an alpha male, does he kill any offspring he can sired by the previous alpha male? This would suggest that having kids of one’s own runs very deep and is not a recent invention.

  4. KN August 31, 2016 at 11:51 am #

    Thank you for this article. I completely relate (all levels but I’m not an educator) and wish that others would see this more. I often feel a lot of couples are being selfish for having more than 1. It really bothers me because I see it so often where there is a family with small children (1 or more) and the parents don’t bother to recycle. I live in a well educated and generally well compensated county. You would be surprised how many of these so called well educated and paid (handsomely) individuals don’t bother to recycle the stuff they use and eat from, it disgusts me. Take care!

    • Stefani September 2, 2016 at 3:24 am #

      Hi KN – I’m so glad this resonated 🙂
      I’ve experienced very similar shock: all throughout my studies I would watch housemates and coursemates being more wasteful than I thought possible. It would drive me nuts. Not just the complete lack of recycling and the hyperconsumerism (not to mention the packaging extravaganza of food products nowadays – I was amazed at the excess of packaging in British supermarkets): the astonishing food waste as well. I have parents who have been through drought and know what it’s like to have to ration water: and here were very, very privileged kids at an elite uni throwing entire plates of food into the bin because it was one day old (“inedible”, apparently), or a whole loaf of bread because it was past its (fake) expiry date even though there was clearly nothing wrong with it. (This in a city where homelessness has shot up by 50% in just the past half-decade because of austerity politics).
      People don’t seem to get real food education anymore: to know where your food comes from, what were the circumstances of its production, seasonal foods, how to smell and look at it rather than rely on the misleading expiry dates that are irrelevant for many foods. Again, that pervasive disconnection from everything natural. And the amazing self-centredness and wastefulness that goes with it…

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