Content warning: This post discusses the decision to have (or not have) a biological child. It also touches on childhood emotional abuse and infertility.
Why aren’t millennials having babies?
Trick question — they are having babies! Obviously. Most of my friends are around my age and have kids. However, millennials aren’t having as many children, and they’re having children later in life, which is apparently some sort of crisis. (PS. It’s not).
Teen pregnancy is down (yay comprehensive sex education). People are delaying marriage and children because kids are expensive and we can barely afford healthcare and rent. And some people, despite the pearl clutching from the elder generations, choose not to have kids at all (and doctors won’t sterilize them because “what if you change your mind or your future husband wants kids?”)
This post is the first in an ongoing series about the decisions millennials are making to become parents or to remain child free.
I’m 30 and childless… for now
When I was about five, I happily announced to my dad that I knew where babies came from. I believed that each little girl had a seed inside her body that would grow into a baby as soon as she got married. I exclaimed, “I have a little baby inside me!” and my dad, very concerned with my understanding of human biology, corrected me. Probably so I wouldn’t shout to people in the grocery store that I had a baby inside me. This is fair, I’ve heard stories of kids shouting in the grocery store.
My whole life, I have wanted to become a parent. But I was waiting for the right time.
As my (first) wedding approached, my dad started hinting about grandkids, and I told him we wouldn’t have kids for a couple years at least. We were both broke, had no health insurance, and were patchworking together a livable income from multiple part-time jobs. Dad said, “I give it six months til you’re knocked up.”
Divorced that husband. No kids.
As my (second) wedding approached, my husband and I were already trying. This was it, I was ready. I was timing my ovulation and tracking my periods and knew when I was fertile. We tried for eighteen months. Nada. MAYBE one chemical pregnancy, because I was sure I’d seen a faint line on one of my hundred tests before I chucked it into the garbage can. My dad continued to ask me, “When are you going to start dropping grandbabies?” every time I saw him, and did not take the hint when I said “We’re working on it.” At one point, he told my husband “Get on her!” like I was his prized mare waiting to be bred. It felt disgusting.
During my second marriage, I was doing a lot of processing of my childhood emotional abuse and neglect. I unpacked that part of the reason I had waited until later in my twenties to start a family was because on an emotional level, I was terrified of my kids feeling the same way I did about my childhood. I wanted to make sure I could take care of them the way I wish I had been taken care of. My mother was shaming, cold, and perfectionistic in a way that left me feeling broken and alone, desperate for any love and attention I could get. It was easy to take advantage of me, and I’d do anything to keep a partner happy if it meant they’d love me in return.
As my second marriage came to a close, I remember asking my husband if we could table babymaking while we sorted out our issues and got on more solid ground. And his response was that if I wasn’t sure I wanted to have a baby with him right now, why was he about to finally go in for sperm count testing? Basically, he made a threat that if kids were off the table, however briefly, then him going to the doctor was also off the table. So if I thought I’d ever want kids with him and wanted him to get tested, I had better be up for kids right that second.
Divorced that husband. No kids.
To baby or not to baby, that is the question.
Now that I’m out of an abusive marriage, living a life I actually love, spending time with people who actually build me up and support me instead of tear me down, and no longer believing that a baby is a must-have for a happy life, I am confused. I know I would make a great parent, but I no longer feel that just because I’d be good at it, I’m obligated to do it.
I honestly don’t know if I want to be a mom anymore. I spent so long feeling called to parenthood that the absence of “the call” feels strange.
At a time in my life when I’m finally paying attention to my needs instead of the needs of others, am I equipped to bring a child into the world and balance my needs with theirs?
At a time in my life when the most I have to do for a weekend away is leave some extra kibble for the cat and water the plants before I go, am I ready to give up the freedom of only being responsible for me?
At a time in the world’s history when everything is a shit show, do I feel good about having a child and leaving them an even more damaged planet to live on?
At a time in my life when I’m sorting through what I really, actually, authentically want for myself, is a baby part of that or is a baby part of the social narrative I’ve been hearing since I thought babies were seeds that grew when you got married?
There is so much to unpack. There is so much to think about.
And, despite the fact that at 30 and society tells me my ovaries will soon dry up and leave me barren, there’s actually a lot of time to unpack and make the best right decision for me. Not the only right decision — I feel like I’d rock parenthood as much as I’d rock a childfree life — but the best right decision for me.