Welcome everyone! It’s week eight of the “On Being Childfree” blog series and I wanted to say a HUGE thank you for your continued support. Every week the post is the most read on my blog and I receive emails from people wanting to take part and DMs on Instagram that people are finding this so helpful. This week I’m delighted to welcome our seventh guest story, Sarah. Sarah got in touch via Instagram all the way from Tennessee which blows my mind, asking if she could share her story. She’s been through so much and still has some challenges to overcome with her and her husband’s decision to not have children, certainly challenges that I know I would never have to deal with. Please do read, leave a comment and share as much as you can, I’m really willing this to grow and grow so that we can help as many people as possible who may be going through something similar.
We Are: Sarah & John, early and late 30s
Home Is: Tennessee
We Do: I am a paralegal and John is a professional trombonist
I was raised in the south and my upbringing was about as southern as it could get as my mother was from Louisiana and my father was from Kentucky. The ideology of all women being “barefoot and pregnant” was (and still is) rampant in our culture. However, I was always bold and unabashed in my lack of desire to have children. My friends would chastise me when we would play Barbies and I would put the children to bed so the adults could chat, have an uninterrupted dinner, or throw a party. When adults would notice this behavior, I would be scolded. Even from the very young age of playing with Barbies, I remember being told that I would never find a husband who wouldn’t want children. By my teenage years, I created a motto: “It’s going to take one hell of a man to make me want to get married, and he’s going to have to be even more of a man to make me want to have his babies.” In that, I had convinced myself I would be fine if I never found a man worth marrying. But I was lying to myself. I wanted to be married. I wanted to find my forever love. I wanted to build a life with someone who would support my dreams and cheer me on when life got tough.
I was 14 years old when I saw a gynecologist for the first time. When he brought up birth control to help with my awful periods, I told him that was fine because I didn’t want to have children. He was the first of many medical professionals who told me, “You’re so young, you’ll change your mind.”
I was 17 years old when my father first asked me, “So, Sarah, when are you gonna get married and start popping out some grandbabies for me?”
I was 18 years old when I found myself in a sexually abusive relationship. I was submitting to the same behavior I witnessed my mother endure by my father’s hands. I thought it was normal. I thought it was okay. It wasn’t until the guy I was dating and living with told relatives of mine that his goal was to have me work long enough to help him afford a new car before keeping me “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen”. I didn’t stick around long after my aunt, uncle and cousin all told me the same story.
I was 19 years old when my best friend had her first child. At this point, I had been a nanny for a few years and was even more sure that I didn’t want children of my own. But since she was so far away from family and hadn’t established much of a support system where she was with her boyfriend, I flew up to New Jersey and spent the first few weeks of her child’s life with them. I saw first hand the chaos and aftermath of having a child. She had read all of the books and prepared their home and done all of the things they tell you you’re supposed to do when you’re expecting and her life was an absolute mess. Neither of us were prepared for the hormone imbalances or the postpartum depression she experienced. I remember all of us being exhausted one night and the baby was fussy. My friend lost her temper with the baby. The baby wouldn’t stop crying and she didn’t know why. And, out of frustration, my friend started to shake her newborn. I quickly took the baby away from her, told her to calm down, take a shower, and get some sleep while the baby and I went out to the sofa to snuggle. I remember the sheer anger and hatred glowering on my friends face when she came out of the bathroom to find that I had gotten her baby to sleep without trouble.
I knew this wasn’t the life I wanted for myself, and witnessing it firsthand solidified it all.
I was 21 years old when my father asked me to dress provocatively and go to business events for his company, “Maybe you’ll find a husband and maybe you’ll make me some money.”
I was 23 years old when I was offered a ridiculous amount of money to be a surrogate for a friend with Lyme disease. I declined.
I’ve taken Plan B multiple times after experiencing a faulty condom, having a man ejaculate inside of me without permission, and even after I simply made a hormone-fueled mistake. I was always resolute in my decision that if the Plan B pill didn’t work, I would have an abortion as soon as I knew I was pregnant. Thankfully that never happened.
Don’t get me wrong. I have always loved kids. But what I love most about them is giving them back to their parents. During my time as a nanny, I lost my temper with the children in my care. I would have them for more than a standard shift and I would lose all patience. I would leave them to cry in their crib for too long. I would handle them more roughly than was necessary when they were disobedient. I will always regret those actions, even if the children I was unkind to show no evidence of scars left by my hand. Long after those moments had passed, and even to this day, I wonder “What would have happened if I couldn’t get away from that child? What would have happened if I didn’t get to walk away from them? What would have happened if I would have been trapped with them as their parent or guardian? Would I have ended up one of those women in jail for killing a child?” I raised these questions to a pastor I was close with at the time who reassured me, “It will be different with your own children.”
“But I don’t want children.”
“You’ll change your mind.”
“I really doubt it.”
“Don’t be selfish.”
This conversation was had with so many different people that it made me wonder if I was the insane one. I began keeping my opinions to myself.
Until I found myself surrounded by “friends” who were openly condescending towards women who didn’t want children. It was then that I began to let my words take flight.
I can recount now a handful of conversations wherein people who thought they knew me were shocked to discover that I did not think like them in this regard. I would say something along the lines of, “But isn’t it just as selfish to want to bring children into this world knowing where it’s headed?” or “We literally just spent a week with orphans. Isn’t it selfish of you to ignore their need of a loving family and choose to procreate?”
After a few years of that, I lost several “friends”. I didn’t fit into their mould so I wasn’t welcome.
When meeting new people I would oftentimes alter my motto to make them feel more comfortable. I started to add, “Though, if truth be told, I would much rather foster or adopt. I’ve done so much work with the needy, impoverished, orphaned children domestically and internationally, I just feel like it would be selfish of me to create another life rather than save that space for someone who needs a loving home.”
In fact, I said that so much I started to believe it. I told myself that if I wasn’t married by the time I was 30 (35 at the very latest) I would make sure I had a home large enough to begin fostering and/or adopting children. Thank God that didn’t happen.
John and I met December 2016. I was 30 years old. We had been talking for a few days on a dating app and met for the first time in person at a coffee shop. I had just completed my final assignment to obtain my certificate in paralegal studies. Conversation was going really well, so I decided to see what could be done to chase this guy off.
“Deal breakers. What are they?”
We laid it all out on the table. From refusing to be with someone who is addicted or is recovering from an addiction to qualities our ideal travel companion must have to children. I remember the look of panic on John’s face when I asked, “What about children?” I let him take his time to express himself — “I, uh… well… I always thought… that maybe… one day… I might find… uh… the right person… uh… at the right time… to, uh… want to have children with… but, I… ummm…” — before I stopped him and said, “Listen, if you don’t want to have children, you can just say so. I don’t want children, either.” He literally sighed the words, “Oh, thank God” as he slumped forward and bent his head toward the table.
In John I found everything I knew and didn’t know I needed in a partner. We both love children, especially those of our friends and family and always notice when we come across well-behaved polite children. We’re not overly tolerant for misbehaved children that disrupt the calm environment we embody wherever we go.
John and I have both taken responsible measures to make sure we’re unable to reproduce. John got a vasectomy for Christmas a year ago and I’m fortunate enough to have a progressively-minded gynecologist who fully supports my decision not to have children. While we haven’t explored all of my options for sterilization, we have had many discussions and currently have me on year round birth control just so I don’t have to deal with my terrible periods.
But, and it’s a huge sticking point. I dread the day we actually have this conversation with John’s parents.
My mother passed away nearly 11 months before I met John. She and I were able to have conversations about what the rest of my life would look like. She was the first person to know that I wanted a surprise wedding. She was the first person to respond supportively to my decision not to have children. She didn’t even ask me why.
John’s parents, on the other hand, are strict Southern Baptists and are over the moon with their first grandchild and absolutely adore children. John has never outright told them he doesn’t want children. It’s possible they’ve heard me make a remark about not wanting children of my own when someone once said that I “looked great/so natural” holding a friend’s infant at a gathering at John’s parents’ house. It’s even possible that they know their son well enough that they know without being told that he doesn’t want to have children. It’s even possible they’ve heard me crack a crude joke when a child was being unruly in public. But neither of us have ever been asked nor have we ever simply informed them that we don’t want children.
It shouldn’t be such a daunting conversation. It shouldn’t be so scary. It should be just as normal as talking about the weather. But here, in the south, every word of the Bible is taken literally. We’re taught we are to “go forth and multiply” and that anything other than that is a sin in and of itself. But it’s not and it shouldn’t be considered as such.
Thank you so so much to Sarah for sharing her story as a guest poster and sharing her thoughts and views in this piece. As I’ve stressed from the very beginning, this is a warm, empathic platform for people to share their stories, hopes, dreams, fears. Please do read Sarah’s story, leave a comment if you’d like to and share this series if you know anyone it could help. Together we are making changes.