Happy Mother’s Day.” This phrase was uttered to me years before I actually became a mom. When you’re of a certain age, people just assume you have kids. Just as they assume you want a child–and ask you when you plan to have one–as soon as you finish reciting your wedding vows or turn 18, whichever comes first. It’s true that many people dream of the moment they see the right number of lines on a pregnancy test. I wasn’t always one of those people.
Growing up, I assumed I’d have kids, and when the traditional slumber party question inevitably came up among giggling girls–“how many kids do you want?”–I found my answer had changed from four to two by the time high school was finished. But being a mother is something I never doubted for myself.
After college, a boy named John swept me off my feet. I was 100 percent sure I wanted to marry him, and thankfully I convinced him he felt the same way. Because we had careers to build and adventures to chase, we didn’t think about expanding our titles to “mom and dad” in the beginning. Then as the years went on, we were in a pretty good groove, and life felt right as it was.
In my 30s, I began dreading my annual OB appointment, as I was consistently reminded that my clock was ticking and that risk of birth defects and other issues were more prevalent among older parents. My doctor was doing the right thing, but it felt like pressure. Pressure that I’d grown accustomed to feeling–not from our own families, but from the random receptionist or business acquaintance. I’ll never forget the wife of one of my older colleagues saying to me and another 30-something “Girls, you must have children–and have three of them, it’s just the right number.”
Having children seemed to be the right answer in most people’s minds, and I found myself changing my answer to the inevitable “Do you have kids?” question from “no” to “not yet.” Somehow that answer seemed to placate people a little better.
What I found most offensive were the people who had no knowledge of our situation but implored us to have kids. For all they knew, we could have been spending a fortune on fertility treatments that were resulting in tears instead of toddlers. That wasn’t our case, but I knew several people who were reeling from the havoc the process wreaks on your mind and body.
One day I found myself on the north side of 35–that magic age when you’re supposed to be hanging up your baby making pants–and realized that we probably should make a decision. John and I had been married for so long that it was hard for us to envision our party of two expanding. From impromptu cocktail hours to weekend getaways, wouldn’t we be trapped? And, the sleep. Wouldn’t we age three times as fast because of sleepless nights and early mornings?
I started asking people how they knew they wanted to have kids. I remember one of my guy friends saying with a shrug “Because I’ve just always known I want little ones running around.” They made it sound so simple, but it wasn’t to us.
We started wondering if delaying the decision to have kids was similar to taking a year off between high school and college. Does the pause prompt you to reconsider the end destination altogether? Maybe we had fast forwarded through the stage when young married couples typically decide to have children so we had escaped that primal urge.
Over long walks and talks, John and I decided to give it a try. After five years and four pregnancies, we became the proud parents of two daughters, now ages two and five. Are we happy we have kids? Absolutely. Do we remember what life was like before kids? Very clearly. We definitely remember sitting on the rooftop of our Manhattan apartment building with the biggest Sunday night decision being where to go for cocktails. But we had enough of those years to appreciate where we are now.
It’s been a life-changing experience to see the wonder of the world through fresh young eyes. I feel fortunate we were able to have children and can enjoy the amazing, exhausting journey of parenting. But I also know kids aren’t for everyone. Some people simply don’t want to have kids, and we parents need to support that choice without judgment.
Maybe someone doesn’t feel financially stable enough to support a family. Maybe there’s just not a paternal or maternal instinct. Or, maybe some sane person decides that they would rather sip a glass of wine without snot on their shirt and shrieking in the background.
The reason for not having kids doesn’t matter. What matters is that parents don’t assume non-parents are selfish or cold–or that they really wanted children but couldn’t have them. We shouldn’t exclude them from our conversations because all we want to talk about is how little Ava potty trained herself. Instead let’s welcome the opportunity to talk about current events and dream vacations and anything other than kids. I personally appreciate non-parents who help me shift back from “Rachel’s mom” to “Courtney” mode.
So for all the non-parents out there, next time you’re at a social event and are stuck with someone droning on about bodily fluids and developmental milestones, you have my permission to fake a smile and run for it. Come find me–just know that if you start our conversation with “When I was in Paris last weekend,” I might have to punch you.