Moms the Word: Musings on Being Childless
Amy Leask

Like many successful people pushing thirty, I have a list of things I’ve accomplished, and more importantly, a list of things I intend to accomplish. I used to think of this as a list worth being proud of, and for years, those around me seemed to agree. However, in the recent past, it has been brought to my attention that my life contains a glaring omission for which it seems I will not soon be excused. I am, you see, childless, not because of any misadventure or ailment, but because I simply haven’t had any children. Nonetheless, I’m confronted with this fact on a fairly regular basis, at the most inopportune times, in the strangest places. I am faced with a steady stream of “Why not?”

Throughout my youth, I was told that my education and my career should be my priorities. Many of these same advisors, women in particular, now make a point of telling me which popular stores have begun to carry maternity clothes. People who used to be glued to my every word as I discussed Existentialism and modern poetry, now lose interest when I tell them I haven’t replicated. “What’s your view on Sartre’s self-other dilemma?” has turned into “You’d have such wonderful babies!” I am suspected of crimes against my own biological imperatives. I’m beginning to feel that at any moment, I could be pulled into an alley and have my ovaries taken away. My biological clock is ticking, and while I have chosen to hit the snooze button, others around me are sounding their own alarms.

Do I loathe children? Do I cringe at the sound of tiny shoes squeaking against linoleum? Does my skin crawl at the sight of sticky fingers? Am I phobic of poo-poo jokes and little cartoon-shaped barrettes? Decidedly not. I, like most children, own my own array of squeaky shoes. I too thrive on sticky foods and toilet humour. I am a long-time fan of youth, that of others, as well as my own. Having another creature in the house who enjoys wearing Spider Man underwear and living off cereal could potentially be quite heartening. Perhaps my own tendency to speak like Homer Simpson, or my extensive collection of plastic toys might suggest otherwise, but rest assured, when it counts, I am very much an adult. I pay the bills, I work like a demon, and I relish commitment and loyalty. I never shirk a challenge simply because I “don’t wanna.” I am a unique combination of “champion belcher” and “most organized person on the planet.”

Does my lack of progeny result from a lack of respect or admiration for the parenting profession? Absolutely not. As an educator, I spend considerable time in the presence of many young people, and am in awe of anyone who would willingly take responsibility for them for more than an hour at a time. I’ve also witnessed first hand how good parenting (or bad parenting) can affect the course of a human life. This, in itself, is reason enough not to enter into motherhood without giving it thorough consideration.

Perhaps I’m too wrapped up in my own superficial concerns to selflessly devote my life to another. Possibly. However, in my own defence, there probably isn’t anyone who wouldn’t relish being able to sleep for more than three hours at a time. The rigors of pregnancy seem like something out of a Kafka novel, and the physical atrocities of childbirth rival those of a Ridley Scott film. Is there any carbon-based life form who wouldn’t rather be relaxing in a café with a warm, spicy cup of tea than scraping pudding from the ceiling or having someone claim they’ve ruined their life? Call me shallow, or self-centred, or callow. Call me anything you like, but he or she who utters the words, “I wasn’t complete before they were born,” likely still feels sympathy for animals that eat their offspring.

Perhaps it’s a matter of politics. My partner, although he does what he can to defend my honour, is never subjected to the same scrutiny. It isn’t us who should be thinking about babies, it’s me. In the estimation of others, life will go on as usual for him, while I consign myself to diaper duty. My career, my ambitions, my interests, and hell, even my sanity seem to be worth less than his. It makes me cringe to think that my achievements, all of which have taken considerable time and effort, could be viewed as ways for me to kill time until I fulfill my “true destiny.” Maybe I should be flattered when I’m told, “You’d make such a wonderful mother.” However, it’s possible I’d also make a wonderful pastry chef, Olympic diver, or nuclear technician. If my current life is so unremarkable, why is it that parenting is my only other option? Moreover, what is it exactly that they’re saying about me when they describe me as a “good mother?” Is it that I’m nurturing, resourceful, or capable of great love? Is it that I’m eager to please, self-sacrificing, or simply willing to be a mother? There are times when the distinction between a compliment and a Jedi mind trick becomes quite blurry.

In an even broader sense, what of the millions of women who, in the past (and undoubtedly also the present), were not given the same range of options? What of all the women who were never permitted to contribute anything to society beyond their DNA? What of the women who explain that, as much as they love their children, couldn’t recall a point at which they wanted a family? What of those who were never confident they were any good as a parent? What of the women who have told me there was no job waiting for them when they returned from maternity leave, or those who are told at an interview they are unsuitable because their children might “distract” them? Is becoming a mother some bizarre hazing ritual, something you want others to go through simply because you did? Undoubtedly, my motives for keeping my legs proverbially together are at least in part, reactionary. Can you blame me, though, when much of the world is still nostalgic for the image of the mother who wears crinolines, loves to bake and carpool, and lives only for her children?

Ironically enough, my reasons for waiting also lie with my future children, the ones whose very existence, at this point in time, is undecided. I want any children I raise, whether they spring forth from my loins, or someone else’s, to feel secure in the knowledge that they were wanted. I don’t want them to catch me gazing out the window longingly. I never want them to hear me talk of things I could have done, or might have done if circumstances had been different. Above all, the example I want to set for them does not include making major life decisions according to the expectations of others. I hope they learn, as I have learned, that there is only one good reason to have children - because one chooses to.

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