I think the nicest mean thing I have been called is “selfish.”
When I tell people that I don’t want to have children, they usually look at me with disapproval before asking, “Why?” — with more disbelief than curiosity. Sometimes, if I’m really lucky, they will tell me how and why all childfree people are wrong. They won’t refer to me specifically, as in why I (Isabel) am wrong. No, instead they will generalize. It’s more polite that way.
All of the reasons we’re “wrong” boil down to one general argument: human beings have to procreate. It’s our mandate (some will argue it’s because God said so).
We also get called a lot of very colorful names. I have read in several pieces that childfree people, in general, are stupid, decadent, immature, moronic, anarchist, and “a waste of human life.” I have heard that other people who, like me, don’t want any progeny have been written out of their parents’ Last Will and Testaments or have been shunned by their family, friends, and/or community. In some extreme cases, some have even been outright told to kill themselves.
Most of my thoughts about the above are unprintable, so I’ll just focus on the S word: Selfish.
Childfree people are called selfish for a myriad of reasons. The most common ones used to explain why we, the selfish, don’t want to parent are that we don’t want to share our time or our money, or we only think about ourselves and not about the people we are affecting by not reproducing (potential grandparents, our future partners, humanity in general in case we might birth a genius who will find the cure for cancer, among others).
But instead of trying to prove why childfree people are not selfish, I will explain why people who decide not to have children, for whatever reason, are instead self-aware.
I’ll start by contrasting two situations I recently witnessed.
The first scenario occurred in Diagnosis, a series currently on Netflix that is based on a New York Times Magazine column written by Dr. Lisa Sanders. In Episode 1, “Detective Work,” a young woman named Angel suffers from an illness that no doctor has been able to correctly diagnose. She endures painful episodes of muscle spams that had already, by the time she meets with Dr. Sanders, cost her job. Her mother has a similar ailment, but it’s not as crippling as Angel’s. However, this is a sign that this young woman’s illness could have been inherited.
In one scene, Angel is talking to her parents about her affliction, and the conversation goes like this:
ANGEL: You know, if it’s genetic, I’m not having children.
DAD: No, I want some grandbabies.
ANGEL: If it’s inherited, I’m not — I can’t — I won’t give my child this.
DAD: I know that. I know that, Angel. So that’s what I’m saying…
ANGEL: I’m hoping it’s not genetic, either.
MOM: Sometimes it skips a generation.
ANGEL: Then am I setting up my kids for failure, for them not to be able to have kids, and me never be a grandma? I’m not going to do that to my children! I grew up wanting a family –
DAD: BUT YOU’LL DO IT TO ME?!
Angel, a young woman who desires to have kids, tells her parents that if her illness is genetic, she will not have children because she doesn’t want them to go through the same suffering she has gone through. She is being self-aware by considering what the quality of life of her unborn children would be if they have to endure the same things she has had to endure.
Her father, on the other hand, is the epitome of what a pronatalist sounds like. He has had to witness first-hand what his daughter has suffered due to her illness. He is angry at the doctors because they haven’t found a diagnosis. He is actually very close to giving up hope on the health system because of everything Angel has had to endure with exams, medical appointments, hospitalizations, legal issues, the financial burden, etc. Yet, the man becomes completely unaware of all of this when the subject of babies comes up, because God forbid any of the issues they have faced becomes a deterrent to his daughter giving him grandkids.
Lacking consideration for other people because it gets in the way of your personal demands, or being willfully ignorant to attain that what will only benefit you — aren’t these the definitions of selfishness?
The second situation was a post published on December 11, 2019 in one of the Facebook groups I’m a part of. I cannot disclose the name of the group due to its rules, but I’m willing to privately share a redacted (to protect the original poster’s identity) screen grab with anyone who is interested in confirming the source.
The section of the post I’d like to address reads as follows:
I’m having surgery on the 23rd of this month. […] My obgyn has no idea what is wrong thus why I’m having a “exploratory surgery.” […]
Worst case scenario my thoughts are correct and i cant have children. Even though my partner says he wouldn’t leave me if this were the case I’m terrified he would over time. Both of us want nothing more than to start a family together. Because of my mental health problems I am unavailable to adopt and would probably never have the money nor the trust to do a Surrogate. Idk what to do…. all I want to do is cry….
I felt sick after reading this.
I know what it is to live with mental health issues. I believe that if she is unable to adopt due to her illness, then she might be suffering from an ailment she cannot easily manage.
I suffer from clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder. On my best days, which fortunately are the vast majority of them, I’m a fully functioning human being. On my worse days, I have panic attacks or I feel so tired I lose the will to live. My issues are not the main reason I’m childfree, but I am fully aware that if sometimes I can barely take care of myself, how am I supposed to take care of another human being?
I dare anyone tell me that the woman who wrote the above post is not being selfish.
A few years ago, a now former friend of mine had just had her first child. She kept telling me how wonderful motherhood was, how much she wanted me to experience it. I was single at the time, and I was definitely not thinking about “settling down.” I was traveling, I was partying, I was climbing the corporate ladder, and I was having fun.
One day we had a conversation that went like this:
HER (excited): You should have a baby. It’s the best thing ever. We could do play dates! Oh, yes, please!
ME (not excited at all): I’m not even in a relationship, so that’s not happening anytime soon.
HER (matter-of-factly): You don’t need to be in a relationship to have a baby. You should just go out, find a good-looking guy, sleep with him, and get pregnant. There isn’t even any need for you to tell him when you do. Just have the baby by yourself. I’m sure your mom will be able to help you raise him.
ME (horrified): And I should just raise this kid without him/her knowing who their father is? Do you know what this kind of situation can do to a person in terms of their mental and emotional health?
HER (annoyed): There are psychologist for that, you know. Just take the kid to a shrink. He’ll be fine.”
I wish I could say I shut her down from the beginning by saying “I’m CHILDFREE! Kids will never, ever happen!”, but this was a time when I still thought I wanted kids. Well, more than thinking I wanted kids, I was almost resigned to having them. It was one of the necessary steps in the social evolutionary ladder: I was to find a suitable husband and have my first child in the next five years, or so.
However, even with the surmounting societal pressure, even with the growing amount of people around me announcing pregnancies and births on my social feeds on a regular basis, and even with comments like these, I was self-aware enough to know that had I followed up on this, it would’ve been the most terrible, cruel, self-centered and selfish act that I could’ve ever done in my life up until that moment.
By making the decision not to procreate, childfree people are indeed thinking about themselves, but not in the way the people who are pointing their fingers toward us think we are. When humans, in general, think about themselves it could indeed be out of selfishness or self-interest if said person is lacking consideration for others and seeking only personal benefits. It’s actually a quite common practice, in my experience. And then there’s thinking about oneself by reflecting consciously on one’s character and feelings. Self-aware is a much better word to describe the childfree, because it represents our need or want to consider the welfare not only of the self, but others.
Isabel is the founder and firebrand of The Uprising Spark, a platform designed to help modern, childfree women define and reach their life goals. Pragmatic, no-nonsense life coach and host of The Honest Uproar podcast. One of the three Founding Non-Mothers of Childfree Girls. World traveler, avid kitesurfer, and passionate about dogs.
*This post originally published at Medium