“What do you mean you don’t want to have children? Aren’t I a good mother? Haven’t you had a good life?”
When my mom asked sixteen-year-old me this question, through tears no less, I wish I’d had Angie Abdou’s book, Between, to quote from. In the throes of a mommy-meltdown, Abdou’s Vero Nanton lays bare the fundamental lie of motherhood: “Parenting’s hard”. Well, that’s only the beginning. What follows next is a truth I have always, inexplicably and inarticulately but deeply known, and the reason I have never been consumed by the desire to reproduce.
“Whatever made us do it? I mean, really, imagine trying to sell this experience to someone if we hadn’t all bought into it already. Here’s the pitch: You’ll get pregnant. Your body will warp in ways you hadn’t thought possible. It’ll never be the same. You’ll pee your pants for months afterward, maybe forever. Delivering a baby will hurt until you think you’ll die. You’ll wish for death. You won’t recognize your own screams. What’s that awful noise? you’ll ask the doctor. As a reward, you’ll have years of shit and barf and endless sleepless nights of screams and whines. You don’t even know what that sound will do to your nervous system.”
Vero goes on with her darkly hilarious rant, which should be read in full and in context to appreciate, then concludes with “Oh, there are good moments…Sure. Build that into your marketing plan—there are good moments.”
That’s it. Right there. That’s the reason I never felt the pull of parenthood, because I wanted my life to be full of good moments but without the pain and the screaming and the barfing and the pants-peeing. I always suspected the Technicolor Disney version of parenthood was not quite right and the older I get the more I see this is the case.
I know at least some of you want to pop my cynical balloon. Hey, poke away, I’m almost egg-free anyway and Prez’s river has no fish. But I applaud Abdou (who is a mom, for the record), for writing with such raw honesty about the hardest job in the world. As a childless-by-choice woman, I have often acted as a kind of confessional for female friends and co-workers who needed a non-judgmental ear for their parenting woes. Want to know what they tell me? Along with the usual “barfing and screaming” complaints, a good number of women have told me that although they love their kids and wouldn’t give them up for anything, if they could go back and do it all again they would choose a life without them.
Shocking? I don’t think so.
To continue, our species needs a constant supply of new additions. We’re hardwired to want babies. There’s also a good chunk of evidence that we’re equally hardwired to forget the pain, the barfing, and the pants-peeing in order to make more babies and to convince future generations that, hey, this baby thing is AWESOME! It’s a lie, but it’s a lie with a purpose: our survival.
In his bestselling book, Stumbling On Happiness, Daniel Gilbert explains the phenomenon and also presents research to show that parents are not as happy as we’ve been led to believe. Of all the good things children give parents, Gilbert asserts that an “increase in daily happiness is probably not among them.”
I’m not anti-children. In case you’re getting that idea. I love kids. Kids inspire and rejuvenate me…in small doses. I am, however, critical of parenthood as the default setting for life. With a global population of over seven billion and climbing, humans have knocked it out of the park. There are enough of us now, (possibly too many), we’re all good, thanks. When it comes to babies, it’s no longer about survival. In the western world, at least, it’s about choice.
Go on, let that word sink in.
You can choose.
But before you do, go buy and read a copy of Between. One story may not change your mind, either way, but parenthood is too important enter into with your eyes only half open. The beautiful lie has had it’s day; its time for a little truth.