The Road Not Taken

This Childfree Story is brought to us courtesy of Elizabeth Barton and is a re-post from her blog The Lizard Chronicles. Why “The Lizard Chronicles” you ask? Maybe she gets lethargic in cool weather…or it could have something to do with her name. We’ll never know. Either way, enjoy!

The Road Not Taken

Not long ago, I visited my doctor for a routine checkup. I was seeing this particular doctor for the first time (the one I had been seeing previously had left the practice). As we discussed my health and history, the conversation turned to contraception. “You have not had children, correct?” she said, glancing down at my file.

“That’s right.”

“Is having kids something you want to do in the future?” she asked.

I couldn’t help but brace myself before I even answered. I had heard all the retorts so many times. Really? Why not? Oh, you’ll change your mind. But you’d make such a good mom! I’ve come to expect some sort of argument or downright dismissal of my lack of desire for offspring. To be fair, I have always been open to the idea that I might reconsider and want kids some day. After all, you can only be told that you’ll change your mind so many times before you start to think that you will, or at least concede that it’s within the realm of possibility. Never say never, but probably not has been my stance on my own procreation for some time now.

But back to the doctor’s office…

“No,” I said, steeling myself for the barrage that was sure to follow.

Image - Childfree blogger Elizabeth Barton

“Okay, that’s cool,” my doctor said. Childfree blogger Elizabeth Barton

“Okay, that’s cool,” my doctor said. “I only ask because if kids were something you definitely wanted in the future, I would advise you to think about trying sooner rather than later. But that’s not an issue if you don’t want children. So, no worries.”

It’s difficult to describe what I felt in that moment. Gratitude, for one thing. I was thankful my new doctor was so cool about this. There was no pressure. She just wanted to know where my head was and be sure I was medically informed. Then I was annoyed that I was grateful. I had become so accustomed to people challenging me on what I think is one of the most important and personal decisions a person can make that I was practically jubilant when my statement went uncontested. There wasn’t even a tone in my doctor’s voice that suggested incredulity, no gestures to imply that, although this was my decision, I would surely regret it. I was irritated at how surprised I was that she would simply accept my answer so matter-of-factly and move on. On one hand, I was happy. I liked this new doctor, but I was annoyed that this attitude of hers should necessarily be so refreshing.
There was something else in the mélange of emotions I was feeling, something unexpected and hard to explain. Was it sadness? Disappointment? No, neither of those adequately describe the feeling, although they were somewhere in the vicinity. It was that bittersweet sensation we humans sometimes get when we make choices. Even if we are confident the choices we are making are the best ones for us, there is no denying the fact that opening one door usually means that another stays shut. In a way, we mourn the loss of the option. It’s not regret. It’s simply acknowledgment of fleeting thoughts about what might have been if we had chosen differently.

I’ve heard parents express similar feelings shortly after having a child. It’s not that they don’t love their child or that they would choose a different path if they somehow could. There’s just a moment of pause when it all hits—there is no going back. The option of not being a parent is officially off the table.

For those of us who choose to be childfree, usually, there is not one single, well-defined moment when the option of having a child is taken away. Instead, it fades gradually, such that, most of the time we don’t even notice unless something calls our attention to it. It’s not an option we’re interested in exercising, so we don’t pay much mind when it becomes more and more of a remote possibility.

Perhaps all of this is really my apprehension about getting older rearing its head as I edge closer to forty. That’s probably part of it, but there’s more to it than that. The fact is that there will be no resounding gavel bang to mark the end of my potential childbearing years, but the conversation at the doctor’s office that day was a warning shot of sorts. Suddenly, my attention was drawn to the fact that my choice would not be a choice forever, and suddenly, it felt more real.

Don’t get me wrong, I did not abruptly change my mind and want to have a baby. I’m still confident that motherhood is not for me. In fact, for a moment, I almost felt as if I shouldn’t allow myself to acknowledge this strange emotion I was feeling, as if permitting any room for such thoughts would give way too much satisfaction to all those who told me I would one day regret my decision to be childfree. Ultimately, though, that’s wrong. I can grieve the loss of a choice. I can mourn the fact that I cannot have things both ways. Opting for one road means leaving the other unexplored. Both paths may have their own beauty, and likely, their own pitfalls, but I can only choose one.

11 Responses to The Road Not Taken

  1. Heidi August 30, 2018 at 4:01 pm #

    Thank you Elizabeth for giving voice to the feelings that had been swirling in my mind for the past two years!!

    I have my own long and fun story for another time to share. I will say that over the years I have been giving myself the time and space to acknowledge all of the emotions that bubble up from my childfree lifestyle choice so I could process each one in turn. I was trying to work through the negative emotions and knew it was not regret that I was feeling but something more…”Opting for one road means leaving the other unexplored. Both paths may have their own beauty, and likely, their own pitfalls, but I can only choose one.”

    And that was what I was feeling when I embraced my childfree lifestyle along with the mixture of complex emotions. I was resonating with the lingering emotions of excitement and peace for the life ahead of me when I came out the other side.

    High-five from across the world! <3

  2. Bettina Hodgings October 15, 2015 at 1:28 pm #

    Never wanted kids. Couldn’t get sterilised. Ovarian cyst forced a full hysterectomy at 39. Now 53, not once have I regretted it. Wished it could have been done sooner. Very happy with my life, always have been. Looking forward to early retiring next year and travelling with hubby., as we can afford that having not had kids. Result!

  3. Jane April 17, 2015 at 6:33 am #

    I can totally relate to his post. From my mid twenties I had felt that I probably did not want kids, but in my late 30s I started to feel unsure but never actually got to the point of changing my mind. I even had some life coaching about the issue. I’m mid 40s now and I look back on that doubt as being to a great degree about having to let go of having the choice. I’d say I had a few years of struggle over in finalising the decision but I’m much happier now that the choice is settled and hubby has had a vasectomy.

  4. Shannon April 2, 2015 at 10:36 am #

    I completely identify with these statements. I would like to add that it’s okay to cry, and to recognize that the loss of choice is important and should be honored as such. I recently had a mirena placed at 43 years old. It is freeing to now have the choice in my control instead of just “waiting to see what happens”. My husband and I said from the start we’d just take what was given to us. That’s a lot of ambivalence and a lot of years of guilt for not trying harder to get pregnant. That I finally said “NO” is a like a blanket lifting; I gave myself the permission to not have children.

  5. jessie512 March 23, 2015 at 6:19 am #

    I was sterilized last year (28 years old) because I am happily married and we don’t want kids, and if we change our mind we’ll adopt because I never ever want to get pregnant. I didn’t just let the door close, I slammed it shut, and it was the most freeing feeling I’ve ever had. My GYN was the best for not judging me and making sure I had all the options to choose from, then letting me follow through without a fight. I don’t tell many people about it because not having kids and choosing to be sterilized is very taboo, but to be honest, with the few people I have told, it shut them right up about all the “you’ll change your mind” comments. Nice little perk 🙂

    • A. March 23, 2015 at 9:32 am #

      I never want to experience pregnancy either. I hope I can eventually get sterilized at whatever age. My plan has never been to have biological children, it’s always been to adopt (assuming I will want children). So I would like to be sterilized either way.

    • claudia April 27, 2015 at 10:26 am #

      I admire your choice. it’s so relieving to know that your choice is yours and that your doctor has agreed. Hope mine will agree too. I’m starting to get the “are you planning to have bb any time soon?”. answer is still Nope.

    • Sarah November 7, 2015 at 12:05 pm #

      My fear of being pregnant is almost worse than the idea of caring for my “own” children! I am a few years older than you, & I still haven’t attempted to search for a physician that will sterilize a young (childfree) woman. The cost is another aspect I just can’t afford at the moment. Good for you for finding a GYN and choosing sterilization as the right option for you. Do you know any good on-line resources that discuss women’s experiences with this? My partner & I are still talking vasectomy since this is a less invasive/lower cost/faster recovery procedure…but still considering all options.

      • jessie512 November 8, 2015 at 12:10 pm #

        I don’t know about your healthcare situation, but the Essure procedure was quick, with 0 recovery time, and completely free for me. You do have to go back in 3 months for the dye test to make sure the blockage is complete, and use an alternative form of birth control during that time, but that was also free. We considered vasectomy for my husband as well but ultimately my fear of ever getting pregnant meant I just felt better knowing my body wouldn’t betray me one day. As for forums, I haven’t found one specific one where people talk about the good experiences, there’s a lot of fear-mongering out there. Just use search terms and read people’s actual experiences, not just their worries.

  6. A. March 20, 2015 at 7:30 pm #

    Should I go down the path of having no children, I shall not look forward to the constant badgering by people wondering why I have no kids. It does not help that I’ve read so many anecdotes of people changing their minds, people describing how happy they are having kids, etc. that I’m starting to just assume I’ll have a child in the future, whether I want to or not. Regardless, I’vd ruled out biological children, and I do not care how long, complex, and difficult the process of adoption is, if I genuinely want a child in the future, I feel I’d be willing to forge ahead with that. People who follow this blog must be sick of my commentary by now. Sorry.

  7. Melanie Holmes March 17, 2015 at 6:47 pm #

    Honestly and eloquently stated. Thanks for sharing.

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