Can emotional abuse be sexual abuse?

woman looking away

A black and white image of a woman covering her face with one hand and looking downcast. Her dark hair covers her shoulders and part of her face. Photo by Juan Pablo Arenas via Pexels

I got divorced last May, and in the midst of Justin Timberlake memes and shorts weather and anticipating my upcoming book launch, the anniversary of my divorce date looms near. And I am still mad at my abuser, which is frustrating because I thought I would have overcome all my trauma in a neat, tidy package by now.

The more I process out loud, in therapy and in online support groups and in conversations with my friends and in posts to my social media, the more the shadowy puzzle pieces of the seven years I spent with him click into place and are illuminated for what they really were.

It was not “irreconcilable differences.” It wasn’t “communication issues.” It wasn’t anything like that. He orchestrated our relationship, and my submission, from day one, and unpacking that level of abuse feels like a punch in the gut. It wasn’t love, it wasn’t happiness, it wasn’t anything I thought it was. I was preyed on, targeted, groomed, and controlled, and when I left, he was so angry about it that his entire facade fell apart.

I was scared of him for years, and went to therapy to figure out what about ME was wrong, was preventing me from trusting him, was causing these conflicts and doubts in my head about our relationship. I wish I could hold my former self and tell her that there was nothing wrong with her, and that the reason she didn’t trust him was because it wasn’t safe to.

When I first left him, I knew that he had been manipulative. I caught on to the cycles of treating me nicely, lots of sex and affection, lots of praise… followed by reminding me I was a lot of work, difficult to be with, and that he was the only one who would love me like that, whenever I expressed an interest in, say, sex without him watching porn the whole time.

When I was upset or doubtful about our relationship, he would say things like, “How can you think so little of me? There is a version of me in your head that you’re upset with that’s not the real me.” And I would go to therapy and ask what I could do to not be so anxious and distrustful. I wanted to be a good wife.

When mental abusers use sex to control

There are so many facets of our relationship that I’ve become more clear about since leaving. But the one that recently gobsmacked me is the sexual aspect of his control.

When I moved into his house, our sex life disappeared overnight. He always had a good reason. First he was upset about his divorce being final, then he was stressed at work, then he was not sleeping well, etc. And I was patient, and reassured him I loved him, and waited for him to feel better, for our drives to sync back up like they had when we had been dating.

According to him, me talking about our mismatched sex drives was pressuring him, me asking him to not fantasize about group sex or watch porn while we had sex was shaming his fantasies, and me suggesting we table the idea of getting pregnant while we worked on our issues was a slap in his face and the assertion that if I wasn’t sure NOW, we may as well never try.

He started Viagra to help things along, insisting that he had the mental desire for sex but just had some physical issues with the execution of it. He took 1/4 of a Viagra before bed, with the hopes that it would “be in his system” when he woke up and he could have sex with me in the morning. Spoilers: This is not how Viagra works.

Other reasons we did not have sex included:

  • He hadn’t slept well
  • He didn’t want to prevent me from my morning workout routine
  • He didn’t like evening sex, only morning sex (but see #1)
  • He felt I was punishing him by not providing (unreciprocated) oral sex

Finally, desperately, in an attempt to not totally screw up my life by having an affair to satisfy my carnal desires, I sat him down, told him I loved him, told him that I did not want to pressure him into sex, and asked if we could open our relationship.

He absolutely blew up in fury. He said things like:

  • If you get pregnant and it’s not mine, your options are abortion or divorce.
  • If you get pregnant in the next six months, even if we don’t open the relationship, I will demand a paternity test.
  • How could you risk our marriage by getting pregnant with another man’s baby?
  • How can I trust that you will use condoms?
  • For fuck’s sake, you should have had an affair.
  • You know this means I would be able to have another partner too.

He kept me awake past midnight, demanding to know why I had dared to ask him for this. I told him, “I can’t have this conversation right now, I am so tired and I need to sleep,” and he said, “You’d better wake the hell up then.” He wouldn’t let me end the conversation. Finally I said, “I guess I didn’t think it through,” and that was the only thing that made him relent and forgive me.

To my knowledge, he remains convinced that I was already seeing someone else when I left. The introspection it would take for him to realize that he pushed me to a breaking point with his sexual manipulation tactics is never going to happen.

After a year of distance from being in this day to day minefield of affection, I realize now that he had no issues having sex with me when he needed me to feel better about our relationship. When I was in my lowest lows, he managed to rise to the occasion. This was such a pattern that, when I finally told him I was leaving, one of his legitimate grasps at the straws of our relationship was, “Did our weekend of great sex confuse you?” To be clear, our “weekend of great sex” consisted of me setting a five minute timer for oral sex, asking him to continue after my five minutes was up, and then him telling me that I didn’t understand limits and boundaries, and this was another reason we couldn’t open the relationship. Because if I couldn’t be satisfied with five minutes of lukewarm cunnilingus, how could I be satisfied by protected sex with a new partner?

Realizing I was used

This part, the realizing that our sex life was never a fun and spicy time of physical affection and mutual desire, but rather a means to keep me on my short leash and happy about it… feels disgusting. I feel used, I feel dirty, I feel gross.

I struggle to call it sexual abuse. I don’t know if it qualifies.

But if I had known? If I had known that I was consenting to sex for the sole purpose of making my brain trauma-bond to the good times so the bad times seemed less painful? If I had known that sex was being used as a weapon to keep me in line, denied when I wasn’t performing my wifely duties of shutting up and looking pretty but freely given when I was at the end of my rope? I would have left him years earlier. And that feels awful.

You aren’t alone

In the year since I left my abuser, I’ve been sharing stories from survivors on my blog. Sometimes they’re mine. Sometimes they’re not. But I share them, and I continue to speak out loud about my experiences, because there is power in the story. For anyone reading this who has felt used, abused, and controlled… you aren’t alone. And you can be okay.

For help identifying or leaving an abusive relationship, please contact the Domestic Violence Hotline. 1-800-799-7233

 

 

 

 

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Tips for a Meaningful No-Spend Challenge

piggy bank

Before I became my fully evolved writer-self who championed the millennial cause, I really enjoyed writing about budgets and personal finance. Of course, these topics are definitely still related to the millennial experience, especially considering how many of us are juggling multiple jobs and side gigs to make ends meet or work toward financial goals. Today’s post is all about a monthly No-Spend Challenge.

Originally posted by credit.com earlier this month, I’m revising the plan for a more topical take on reduced spending for the millennial burnouts reading this blog. Of course, you can always tweak the plan to make it fit your own needs!

No-Spend isn’t really “no” spend

First off, it’s called a No-Spend Challenge, but you’ll still be spending the usual cash flow on necessities like rent, utilities, food, and transportation.

When planning your No-Spend challenge, you WILL spend on: shelter (rent/mortgage), insurance, internet, phone, utilities, business expenses, personal care items (menstrual products, toothpaste, etc.), and groceries. But you WON’T spend on: eating out, coffee shops, clothing, unneeded cosmetics or toiletries (i.e., if you still have a bottle of shampoo in the cabinet, don’t go buy a new one this month), home decor, hobbies, entertainment, or toys.

Why No-Spend?

A No-Spend challenge is a way to streamline your spending so you can put more toward a savings goal, debt payoff, or other financial objective. But you can make it your own, if your budget is so tight you’re really not spending much on those “luxury” categories in the first place.

Alternatives to the No-Spend Challenge

If you like the idea but don’t have the financial wiggle room to change your spending habits, try the following alternatives:

Use It Up Challenge: Don’t buy any new item until you’ve completely used up the current one. A bar of soap, your cabinet stock of facial cleanser (guilty – the discounts at Marshall’s got me), a tube of toothpaste, or even a dish towel with a hole in it can all be used up completely before being replaced.

Pantry and Freezer Challenge: Cut spending on groceries by using up the food in the freezer and pantry. If you’re a stocker-upper who never seems to actually use those stocked up items, take a week or two to limit your grocery spending to only fresh produce and perishables, while you use up your existing stores of frozen meals, grains, canned goods, etc. in the kitchen.

One Week Challenge: If you can’t swing a whole month of No-Spend, try just a week or a weekend. Or don’t, I’m not the boss of you.

Tips to stick with it

I always enthusiastically start a No-Spend month and then end up allowing this or that, and before you know it, oops, I spent what I normally spend in a month on eating out or haircuts or whatever. Here are some tips to keep your spending at bay for this temporary challenge:

Unsubscribe: Take shopping apps off your phone, unlink your cards from your shopping accounts, and unsubscribe from sales list emails.

Think it Through: When you’re itching for an impulse purchase, think about it for at least a minute first. Write down the item, why you want it, what you could do instead of buying it, etc. — by the time you’re done, you will likely be able to walk away from it. Keep a list so you can buy items after your challenge is up (if you still even want them).

Do Free Stuff: A quick web search for “Free things to do in (your city)” will open up a whole new world. The library has events on a regular basis, museums are usually free to the public (or have a free day for local residents), and the spring and summer is a great time of year to go exploring local hiking trails.

Make it Work for You: If you really love the experience of shopping or getting a treat for yourself (no judgment, I regularly have Treat Yo Self moments), make the No-Spend Challenge work for you. Host a swap meet with friends – everyone can declutter their homes and meet up to exchange art, clothes, decor items, and more. This way, you get the experience of new, cool stuff without spending a penny. Or you can have a garage sale, but that is less fun than hanging with your besties all day.

Get the guide!

Download this worksheet PDF to help you find your motivation for a No-Spend Challenge and check off all the days you meet your No-Spend goals:

No Spend Challenge Worksheet PDF

Acknowledge privilege

If you’re able to do a No-Spend month, of course you should support your own financial goals like debt payoff, saving up for a meaningful purchase, etc. However, it is extremely important to check your privilege. Financial know-how can’t be boiled down to just “skip your daily latte and stop getting fast food.”

For people in food deserts, who straddle a benefits gap, or who otherwise struggle to make ends meet, a No-Spend Challenge is not an appropriate way for them to meet their needs. In addition, their small coffee or muffin at a cafe might be the only way they let themselves have a small piece of indulgence. Luxuries are not only for the well-off, friends. Everyone deserves to live well and have a moment of peace.

If you are privileged enough to have the kind of income that makes a No-Spend Month a huge financial boon, consider rehoming some of those dollars to people in need. You can donate to the Reparations Emergency Fund by Nice White Ladies, which helps black women and femmes who need emergency support for shelter and other needs. Or support a charity of your choice to help marginalized populations.


PS. I mention the benefits gap in this post, a topic I also cover in my upcoming book, “The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation.” This book helps people unpack the claims around millennials’ destruction of society by providing a mix of data and stories, plus advice on how to get ahead in a society that blames you for everything. Check it out and find pre-order links at bornagainminimalist.com/book.

Running on empty: Millennial burnout and why we deserve to stop

burnout

I’ve been listening to a mountain of body positive books lately, like I’m simmering myself in the decadence of self-love until it permeates every molecule of my being. I want every single morsel of myself to be flavored with the spice of confidence and knowledge that I am totally awesome and I don’t have to whittle myself away and restrict my behavior until I’m suitable for the average consumer.

After ravenously listening to Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker and The Body Is Not An Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor, my copy of the brand-spankin’-new The Fuck It Diet by Caroline Dooner arrived. And this book leans on a lot of the scientific data covered in Linda Bacon’s Health At Every Size.

Everyone benefits from self-love, and the first step toward self-love is changing your media habits as they pertain to how you view and interact with your body. This includes:

  • Unfollowing social media and mainstream media that focus on diet and weight loss mentality, or anything that makes you feel crappy
  • Following social media that focuses on self love, self care, and body confidence, or anything else that makes you feel good
  • Unsubscribing from magazines and returning library books that celebrate restriction, weight loss, and dieting
  • Reading the hell out of books like the above that affirm your desire to love yourself no matter your BMI or body fat percentage

I love the affirmation of books like Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls and The Body Is Not An Apology. They gave me moments of “hell yeah” and “damn right” and “I do what I WANT and if you don’t like me then GO AWAY,” all of which are really nice to feel. But what The Fuck It Diet and Health At Every Size have done is make me super, super mad.

I was so mad that I turned off HAES and called my sister to say, while she was getting a pedicure, “DID YOU KNOW THAT BEING FAT ACTUALLY HAS NO BEARING ON DISEASE? YEAH. FAT PEOPLE AREN’T ANY MORE PRONE TO DISEASE JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE FAT. ALSO THE CDC FAKED DATA AND INFLATED OBESITY RELATED DEATHS BY 94% AND I AM SO MAD RIGHT NOW.”

The truth, they say, will set you free.

It turns out that a lifetime of my bloodwork being great, blood pressure being great, cholesterol being great, prediabetic markers being nonexistant, and overall health and fitness level being great was completely overshadowed by my fatness and BMI. So I restricted, I dieted, I did extreme exercise, and I lost a whopping 99 pounds.

I kept it off for years, too. I was the success story, y’all. I did it. I had made the “lifestyle change.”

And then I left my abusive ex and slowly unpacked that my weight loss had been the only thing in my life I’d had any control over, and every part of me that had been striving for some piece of control and self-efficacy was just burned out and exhausted.

I have gained back 90 pounds. I was struggling with this fact.

But thanks to the knowledge contained within books like The Fuck It Diet and Health At Every Size, I know that it’s not because I failed. It’s because diets fail. They do. They’re designed to fail. No one can sustain such restriction forever, and your body is smarter than you. If you put it into a famine state, it will act like you are in a famine. If you avoid your hunger and fullness cues for decades, you will have to re-learn how to eat.

Listening to HAES on my commute to work this morning, it so happened that I pulled into the gas station to fill up my tank about ten or twenty miles before the fuel light came on. I considered this a huge success. My new year’s resolution was to take better care of my car, which included no longer running it to the fuel light (my previous go-to method).

I pulled away from the pump and turned the book back on, and the topic was hunger cues and when it’s the right time to eat. Each person is different, but the author states that if she waited until her stomach was growling, she had passed from “hungry” into “ravenous” and would likely not make very conscious food choices, as her body would be driving her to eat more food at a quick pace to stop the internal panic of running on empty.

Oh.

Shit. 

The way I operated my car was the way I had been operating my body for years. And let’s not talk about how I routinely run my phone battery charge into the ground and I don’t even know the last time I used, let alone charged, my Kindle.

I’ve been doing a lot of work in therapy lately. I started with body image, and then shifted to rest. One of the thoughts I’m targeting is “I’m not allowed to rest.” Since childhood I have always overcommitted and overachieved, in the hopes of getting recognition and affection from my parents and teachers. Now I do it to impress bosses, peers, everyone around me.

But guess what?

When you keep running on empty, whether it’s your gas tank, your schedule, or your stomach, you are not being a very good steward of your car, your time, or your body.

Millennials are the burnout generation, because we’ve been raised to be. You have to hustle. You have to do so many things, do them well, and do them for a long time, in order to make any headway in life. Retirement? You have to start early! College? Better work as much as possible and take as many classes as you can to get through this expensive experience ASAP. And then haul ass to pay off those loans, what were you thinking? Weight loss? You can’t take over the world if you’re fat, fatty – get moving!

In this world of constant movement, constant stress, constantly worrying what the next problem is going to be, it is radical to rest. It is radical to stop harming yourself with an overcommitted schedule. It is radical, even, to eat what you want, when you want it, without forcing yourself to eat what’s healthy even though it makes you gag.

Fill your tank, please.

With laughter, with dance lessons (even though you’re fat!), with a grilled cheese sandwich, with good sex, with a good long nap, with your favorite book, with a hot bubble bath. Please, take care of you, BEFORE your fuel light comes on.


PS. If you haven’t noticed the new home page for Born Again Minimalist, or the fun link that says “Book” in the navigation – I wrote a book! You can preorder it now!

Learn more at bornagainminimalist.com/book

 

Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Color Up Your Life

color blog

Photo by Zaksheuskaya from Pexels

With springtime here (even though the snow came for a fateful April Fool’s Day prank), we start to see brighter colors and pastels pop up around us. Whether it’s through fashion, nail colors, or those springtime flowers that start to pop up, it’s time to say hello to brighter hues. As most people absolutely love the chance to include different colors into their life, it’s no surprise that colors have amazing benefits for us, both mentally and physically. Keep reading on to find out why no one should be afraid to include a little more color into their life.

Colors Have Health Benefits

It should come as no surprise that each color offers something more than just being an 

appealing hue. Each color of the rainbow offers beneficial health benefits. For example, there’s a reason why people love to fill their living space with house plants. They’re not only pretty to look at but there are also health benefits that come from surrounding yourself with greenery. Studies have shown that the color green has been known to stimulate healthy living while also relaxing the mind and body. As we’re surely about to be surrounded by pink with the arrival of spring, pink also has health benefits worth noting. Reports have shown that pink has a calming effect on our nerves while also being seen as intuitive and insightful. If you want to find out the health benefits of other colors, check out this informative article on how colors affect our health.

Colors Positively Affects You

Not only does color have the power of affecting you in a positive way, it can also be used to affect the people around you as well. Yellow is the best example of this, often depicting feelings of happiness and warmth. This affect from yellow colors is one reason people use light therapy as a way to avoid symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Orange is another bright hue that has been known to positively affect people and has been shown to be the color of comfort and confidence. With these positive side effects, incorporating brighter hues will make a world of a difference for you and the people around you. You can easily do this by adding more orange and yellow into your home as well as your office space. Doing so will have the people around you radiating with positive vibes!

It’s Easy to Incorporate Color into Your Life

With all the ways you can easily add color into your life, it’s simply silly to not include more color when the opportunity is presented. A simple way to add more color is through the use of flowers. Take advantage of all the vibrant flowers that are about to be blooming and incorporate them throughout your home. Colorful flowers not only instantly add a homey feel to your space, but they can add a floral scent throughout your home as well. (Just be sure to check and make sure they are pet friendly if you have furry friends… lilies are extremely toxic to cats!)

Another fun way to incorporate more color is through your appearance. If you want your hair to be matching those springtime feels, opt for coloring your hair a fun color from a brand like oVertone. Color conditioner company oVertone offers brightly hued hair colors, so the next time you feel like making a change to your hair, consider going bold with a yellow or a vibrant pink. If you’re not ready to dye your hair a bold color, stick with applying different colors into your outfits, makeup, or nail color. No matter how you choose to incorporate color into your life, you’ll no doubt be feeling color benefits for a significant period of time.

PS. I have not personally used oVertone, but I really want to try. If you’ve tried them, please let me know your results in the comments because I’m thinking of switching next time I need to re-up my color. I rock hot pink, in case you didn’t know!

Emotional exhaustion is as real as physical exhaustion

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Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

This week is full of anniversaries for me.

In 2012, my first divorce was finalized on March 19.

In 2018, I began the process of leaving my second marriage on March 17.

In 2018, my stepdad died just after 1:00am on March 22 and it was the first time I had seen or spoken to my mother in fourteen months.

In 2018, I last saw my mom on March 24.

In 2018, my ex-husband berated and harassed me via text message, Facebook messenger, and phone calls on March 20, March 26, and March 27.

In 2018, the last time I pet the five cats I left behind was March 27.

In 2018, I packed and moved all of my belongings in a matter of days, moving into a new apartment on my own on March 27.

At some point around this timeline last year, I also saw my dad for the last time in person. He came to visit me after I moved out but wanted me to explain the ways I was abused before he would believe me. I had no patience for this and stopped returning his calls.

I think my body remembers all this trauma, sadness, and honestly hard ass work.

I have been nothing short of exhausted all week. I even emailed my boss that I’d have to work in the evening on Tuesday so that I could take a nap during my normal work hours. (Props to me for not forcing myself to work when I seriously had no spoons).

When I say all this to my friends and ask why I am so tired, they remind me that emotional exhaustion is as hard on the body as physical exhaustion.

I’ve been focusing on rest for the past month and a half. I try to get nine hours of sleep each night. I take baths almost daily to relax my muscles so my legs don’t hurt. I eat what I crave and no longer restrict myself, which has really opened up a lot of space in my brain that used to be filled with arbitrary rules and self-loathing.

It’s all happening at once, so fast, and I am tired.

I am, without a doubt, healthier and happier than I was a year ago. But I was also running on fumes, and my body remembers. I wasn’t taking the time to process any of my emotions then, because I needed to haul ass and survive. And I have done more than survive.

I have been unapologetically running my mouth about my abuse, my experiences, my loss, and my grief. For a year. They are mine, they belong to me, and if the people who mistreated me are upset about their portrayal in my story, they should have thought of that before they hurt me. I own everything that happened to me, and it is my right to share it.

So I share it.

Another driving force behind my continued storytelling about abuse and the self love that grew from my own personal forest fire is the fact that countless people have let me know that my story has helped them realize they were in toxic relationships too. They have left abusers, they have done the impossible.

The more we talk about it, the more we help others see that they can do it too.

But damn, I am tired.

 

Simple Ways to Create Calm in Your Workspace

Hey friends! This week’s post is a guest blog from Johanna Cider of Musings of Johanna

calm workspace 1

Image Source: Pexels

Is your workspace causing you stress? Your physical environment at work can affect your mood, focus and productivity. If your workspace is elevating your stress levels, it’s important to make some changes.

Taking time to create calm in your work environment will have numerous benefits. Ultimately, you’ll feel happier, more relaxed and motivated to get tasks done. Here are a few simple ways to promote calm in your workspace.

Bring in Nature

Exposure to nature has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. Most of us spend so much time inside the office that we don’t get enough time in nature. But that doesn’t mean you can’t bring nature indoors. Consider adding a couple of potted plants to your workspace. This will create a calming environment, improve the air quality and liven up the look of your space.

Declutter

Is your desk area surrounded by clutter? Keeping organised is the best way to promote calm and order at work. Taking some time to de-clutter will make a huge difference to your daily productivity. Go through all your documents, papers and items, storing away what you don’t need. Create an efficient system so that you know where everything is kept. Get rid of anything that could be a distraction during your day-to-day work tasks. Prioritise tidying your desk regularly. A clear, organised workspace will result in a clearer mind.

Invest in a Comfortable Office Chair

When you spend all day sitting at your desk, it’s important to be comfortable. Investing in a high-quality chair will do wonders to improve your mood. You will immediately feel more motivated if you feel comfortable throughout the day. You’ll spend less time fidgeting in your chair and more time focused on your tasks. Another option is to get a relaxing chair to sit in during your breaks. Look for a cosy chair in your favourite colour. Having your own relaxation chair at work is a great way to manage your stress.

calm workspace 2

Image Source: Unsplash

Add a Personal Touch

Creating a workspace that you enjoy being in helps encourage calm and relaxation. Plus, an uninspired environment does no good for your creativity or productivity. Try to add little touches of your personality here and there (as long as it’s not overly distracting). For example, you could bring in a couple items that remind you of home, like family photos or artwork. These homey reminders will help you feel at peace during periods of stress.

Adjust the Lighting

Big windows with natural lighting are ideal in a working environment, as the sun is a natural mood booster. If you don’t have big windows, it’s crucial to get the right balance of artificial light. Fluorescent lighting can be harsh on the eyes, making it difficult to focus. Instead, go for soft ambient lighting to create a more relaxing feel.

calm workspace 3

Image Source: Pxhere

Bring in Relaxing Scents

The smells around you can affect your mood. Some smells, like lavender, are known to have calming properties. Why not bring some relaxing smells into your office space? Scented candles, flowers or essential oils can help to create a soothing atmosphere. Focus on the scents that make you feel happy and calm.

Keep Water at Your Desk

Many of us forget to stay hydrated throughout the busy workday. This can affect our overall energy and ability to focus. Keeping a large bottle of water at your desk will remind you to stay refreshed. The more refreshed you are, the easier it will be to stay calm in stressful situations.

Author Bio:

Johanna is passionate about home and design and is currently addicted to TV shows about house flipping and home renovation. However, on most days, she is busy crafting articles for blogs and local sites such as Hercules Gazebo. She resides in the laid-back city of Wellington, New Zealand. You can find the best excerpts of her written work on her blog, Musings of Johanna.

 

To baby or not to baby: The millennial question

Content warning: This post discusses the decision to have (or not have) a biological child. It also touches on childhood emotional abuse and infertility.

baby stuff

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.