I'm child-free, not childless
I’ve been listening to Woman’s Hour a lot recently, their podcasts are roughly the length of my train journey to work so I can sit back and listen whilst knitting. I like the breadth of topics discussed although admittedly I do skim through probably a quarter of items. I particularly like Late Night Woman’s Hour and the slightly naughtier topics discussed there.
Last week Woman’s Hour had a takeover, with different women editing a show each. Tuesday’s featured Kim Cattrall and I saw it had got a lot of attention on Twitter.
I listened to it one morning on the way to work and completely understood what the messages on Twitter had been about. Not only does Kim come across as a lovely, erudite, intelligent woman (I once bumped into her, almost literally, in Chichester when she was performing at the Festival Theatre) but she described herself as ‘child-free’ and stressed that this is not the same as ‘childless’. I couldn’t agree more with this (just like a lot of Twitter) as words are important – these two words do not mean the same thing. Yes, they both refer to someone who does not have children, but they have different connotations – ‘childless’ implies that something is missing, much the same as ‘weightless’ implies weight is missing and that what is missing is what is normal – I’m thinking of being/feeling weightless in space. ‘Child-free’ implies something is absent, and this is a positive thing, such as ‘gluten free’ foods.
I am child-free. I do not have a child, nor do I ever intend on having a child. I like not having children. When I think about what my future may hold, it never contains children. I am happy with this, indeed, this is what I want. I want not to have children. I don’t see my future as lacking, or missing, anything.
This isn’t a decision I’ve made – it’s how I feel. I didn’t want wake up one morning and think right, I’ve weighed up all the options and therefore have decided I’m not going to have children, I’ve just always felt that I do not want children. The story goes that when I was five years old I told my mum I wasn’t going to have children and in the 25 years since, I haven’t moved from that stance. It’s not a conscious decision, I just know that I do not want children.
I’ve told this to many people – I’m at an age now where many of my friends are in long-term relationships, a good percentage of those are married, and many of them are having children. In the last fortnight two of my friends from university had babies. My friends, the people who know me, know that I am being serious – I’m not making a flippant statement, I’m not doing it for attention, it’s just a matter-of-fact fact. But other people, perhaps those who don’t know me so well, question me. Here are a few of those questions:
But you’re a Brownie leader!
Yes! Yes I am. I’m also a Rainbow leader, and I help on Guide camps. I have experience of children aged 5-15. I love being involved with Guiding, it is a significant part of my life. But what’s that got to do with wanting to have my own children? Is there an implication that mothers make better leaders? Can they contribute something I can’t? Quite possibly they can contribute something I can't, in the way anybody else could, because we’re all individuals. To Guiding I bring enthusiasm for wanting girls to be the best they can be, I want to help them discover the world around them, to learn about our communities and help to make this place just a little bit better. I love volunteering with lots of different children and talking about buttons, guinea pigs, pink vs. white marshmallows, how hard it is being in year 4, how mermaids breathe underwater and why it’s sometimes hard being a big sister. But I’m happy doing this for the duration of the meeting – I don’t want to do it at home. Admittedly, I talk about ‘my’ Rainbows and Brownies at home, often something sweet or funny they’ve said, but that’s it. I don’t want them to live with me.
But you love Brownie holidays!
Yes! Yes I do. Residentials have always been my favourite thing about Guiding. Sleepovers, weekends, camps, I enjoy it all. I love that parents have confidence in me to take care of their daughters for that period of time, I love getting to know the girls better, I love just having fun and seeing them have fun. Am I grateful when mums and dads come back to pick them up? Yes, yes I am.
But you like your friends’ babies!
Yes! Yes I do! One of my closest friends has two young children and I think they’re great fun. She tells me about things they’ve done or said and I love being a little part of their lives – I’m sent photos and they get stuck on the fridge, I enjoy shopping for birthday and Christmas presents for them. But we talk about other things too – I’m friends with my friends because I like them. Some of them now have children and of course I care about their children, they are the most important thing to my friends and I completely respect that. But we can still talk about other things. Equally, I don’t hate children – does anyone actually hate children?! ‘I don’t want children’ does not mean ‘I hate children’. I like children – as shown above through Guiding and my friends’ babies. I just don’t want my own. If I’m being honest, I’m not a great fan of being with heavily-pregnant women – sticky out tummy buttons make me involuntarily turn my nose up and I’m always worried they’re going to go into labour in front of me, it will take 5 minutes and I’ll end up delivering a baby in the street. To the extent that I did once look up ‘how to deliver a baby’ just in case.
But you watch 'One Born Every Minute'!
Yes! Yes I do! I love medical shows – from the fictional Grey’s Anatomy to documentaries One Born and 24 Hours in A&E, I’ve always been interested in our bodies and medicine. I’m a health researcher, I work in a medical environment, and if I was better at sciences and maths (I’m good but not great) then I think I may have been a medical doctor (I’m just ‘the other sort’ of doctor instead!). Not wanting to do something (have a child, eat potatoes, own a dog, be a midwife) doesn’t mean I’m against seeing other people do those things. I’m not going to stop watching documentaries, I’m not going to stop watching cooking programmes in case they’re cooking with potatoes (quite common), I’m not going to stop watching animal programmes. I still don’t want to have my own child, but I think it is amazing that other women are giving birth to babies – it is incredible stuff.
But how do you know? I mean really know?
I just know. I’ve known me for 30 years. I know I hate most forms of potatoes, I don’t like dogs, I know I’m not squeamish with blood although I hate people being sick, I know I prefer white chocolate to dark, I know I’m attracted to men. I didn’t one day think oooohh, I know what, I’m not going to like potatoes. I just don’t like them. I like cats, they’re cute and sweet. Some people will argue dogs are cute and sweet but not to me, I like cats. I know I’m impatient, I know so much about me. So please, don’t question how I know these things. I just do.
But don’t your parents want to be grandparents?
This is one of my favourite questions, as it is just daft. I’m sure my parents would like to be grandparents but that decision is not theirs – it is up to (down to?) me and my siblings. My parents can shout and scream all they want (they’re not, they’re really not!) but it is a situation entirely out of their control. I’d argue my parents want their children to be happy – and if I’m happy being child-free then they can respect and enjoy that.
But what happens when you’re old?
Another classic question. Who knows what’s going to happen when any of us reach old age? That’s assuming we reach old age anyway. I want to lead a good life, earn a good salary and be able to enjoy my retirement. But how selfish to assume children will look after you! Of course I want to be kind to my parents, in the same kind way that they have brought me up and in the same way that they were kind and supportive to my grandparents in old age. But you shouldn’t have children ‘just’ so there is someone to care for you when you are old and infirm!
But it’s not fair that some people are infertile and want children but you’re probably fertile and don’t want children!
As I was indeed once asked. Sorry, but that’s hardly my fault. I do feel sad for people experiencing infertility and I assume there is nothing wrong with me – but I can’t help that. I’m not doing it to be difficult or to make anyone feel bad. I wouldn’t wish infertility on anyone, but at the same time I’m not going to wish I had health problems myself.
But you’re only [insert age here]! You’ll change your mind at [insert age here].
As I’ve already said, I told people at 5 years of age I didn’t want to have children. Okay, five year olds change their mind on a regular basis. But as my mum will attest, I have always said I never want children and I have always loved fish fingers and spaghetti hoops. Some things just do not change. Also, this is incredibly insulting. Do I not know my own mind when I’m 5, 10, 15, 18, 21, 30? At what age do you think I’ll change my mind? When I’m 30? 35? 40? 45? At what age do you think it is right to stop questioning what I’m (not) doing with my own body? Is there some point at which I can persuade people that I really am never, ever going to have children? I’d never question why you had children at [insert age here] so please don’t question why I’m not having children at [insert age here].
But I can’t imagine not having children!
Fab! Lovely! Brilliant! You are you and I am me. We are not the same. We are different. I can’t imagine having children. So let’s leave it at that and respect our differences.
So hats off to Kim Cattrall for bringing this issue to attention again – an issue which shouldn’t be an issue. Some women are childfree, some are childless, some are mothers.
All are equal.