I chanced upon a fresh TIME article, via Twitter, this morning that featured the declining birthrate in America and the anomaly of more women choosing not to have children.
I read the first few paragraphs and it told the story of a woman who decided, at 14, not to have babies. The years passed, she got married, and wonder of wonders, she didn’t change her mind. At 50 years old, she still hadn’t reproduced.
The story has hung at the back of my mind all day and I’ve spent some time mulling it over.
I have some conflicting feelings about this article, I confess.
Even in today’s “modern” society, I still sense a subtle idea that women aren’t truly fulfilled or complete without a child. Once we give birth, it is the one thing that defines us above all others. Men don’t experience this in the same way, and a man who chooses not to have children isn’t generally a man to be pitied. There is something unnatural about a woman who willingly faces the future with no desire for children. Or so we’re told. I’ve seen reactions regarding these women vary from skepticism, to insistence she will change her mind someday, to an outright declaration that it’s selfish not have any. Besides, the common argument goes, who will care for you in your old age?
I, for one, believe a woman can have a perfectly fulfilling, complete and happy life. Child-free. I see the benefits of remaining childless. Kids are exhausting, time consuming and financially draining. Not all women are prepared, suited or stable enough to have children. Travel, free time and even careers become more complicated. And if there’s one thing I learned about parenting, it is that the word “mom” is synonymous with “guilt.” Dedicating your life to a career or even a worthy cause means putting your own child on the back-burner.
Sometimes, kids put added strain on a marriage. You can’t focus on your spouse like you used to and quality time is rare. On a bad day I wonder why anyone would choose to have one child, let alone two or three. I can’t help thinking of all the things I would have – from a more relaxed morning routine to the chance to travel the world – without children. Since I didn’t quite choose motherhood, it’s a decision I’ve never had to make. Would I have taken the childless path? I’m not sure.
But then I think about my daughter and how much richer my life is because of her. I think about all the things I would never know if I had never become a mother. I have come to know a deeper, more selfless love. I became a stronger person. I learned to care for another human being without expecting anything in return. I learned the true value of this life we are given when I had my daughter, how the ordinary moments can be extraordinary. She stole my heart completely.
I realize you can’t miss what you never had and if I had never become a mother, I wouldn’t know otherwise. I think I would still be fulfilled, complete and happy without the title, but I realize the gift I have been given.
Ultimately, it boils down to this: Love your life however it looks. Find fulfillment in being a woman, first and foremost, and then embrace whatever role you choose. Embrace being a mother and do it to the best of your ability. Embrace being childless and cherish the opportunities this presents.
Quite simply, live life with purpose. However you choose that life to look.