Amy Blackstone is a sociologist and author of Childfree by Choice: The Movement Redefining Family and Creating a New Age of Independence. She (with her husband Lance) is also the creator of the website We’re Not Having a Baby.
I was privileged to be interviewed by Amy a while ago and am sharing that interview here. The original, posted on her own website, was lost there after a website crash.
AMY BLACKSTONE: Tell us about yourself, and The Age of the Child!
KRISTEN TSETSI: I would love to!
It all started with two divorces caused by my absolute NO to having children.
Men wanting kids honestly wasn’t something I’d ever thought would be a problem. I mean, I grew up on movies like She’s Having a Baby, in which a wife is ready for a baby and her husband isn’t, and when the husband (Kevin Bacon) learns his wife has secretly stopped taking the pill, he imagines himself strapped to a rail car that propels him into a brick wall, where he and the car explode.
The message I took from that was, “Men don’t want kids.” (Also, but on a less conscious level: Haha, totally funny and fine to trick a man into fatherhood! Which is bad, and I think this attitude persists today.)
There’d been no hint in popular media or magazines that it would be hard to find a male partner who didn’t want kids, but I learned during my first marriage that women are (that I was) expected to be a parent, and that men who don’t want kids aren’t actually the default.
The expectation that I’d reproduce resulted in a few years of really, really angry defensiveness and feelings of inadequacy and vague “wrongness.”
Katherine in the The Age of the Child was informed by that experience.
What motivated you to write The Age of the Child?
The story itself was born out of my past but also out of the anti-abortion crowd’s careless, thoughtless, and borderline cruel attitude toward people who don’t want kids – and toward the kids who won’t be wanted once they’re forced into the world.
After a period of being enraged by this, it finally occurred to me to ask:
“Wait — why would anyone who claims to love children want them to be born to someone who doesn’t want them? Is this even about the children?”Tweet
We use the word “pro-choice” to describe people who support the right to have an abortion, but pro-life people are also obviously pro-choice: they support their choice to have a child. They enjoy their choice and, I believe, take it for granted.
What if that choice were threatened? What if in order to protect the precious, innocent, vulnerable children only those who were qualified to give a child a safe, loving environment could have them?
Would “pro-life” people embrace limitations on their own reproductive freedom if it meant saving countless children from abuse, neglect, and murder at the hands of their parents?
pro-life people are also obviously pro-choice: they support their choice to have a childTweet
I thought a story about people living in a world in which parent licensing had been implemented would be exciting, because we don’t ever really think about restrictions on that choice.
But something had to happen in order to get the story to that point, and nothing made more sense to me than a ban on abortion and all forms of birth control. An overturn of Roe, essentially (plus additional slippery slope consequences). That was something I had no reason to think would be a reality when I was writing it.
Why this book? Why now?
When I started writing the novel in mid-2015, it was just time creatively. I’d been wanting to write it for years, and not to address politics and policies but to shine a light on what strikes me as the “pro-life” position’s staggering hypocrisy (love the fetus, ignore – or even hate, as in the case of being comfortable with forcing pregnant children to give birth – the child).
It was also a very strong desire – an insistence, really – to present childfree characters who defy stereotypes and who never “come around” to parenthood — no matter what. It’s a popular fantasy in this society that once a woman has children, she’ll learn to enjoy parenthood – or that she damn well better.
It’s a popular fantasy in this society that once a woman has children, she’ll learn to enjoy parenthood — or that she damn well better.Tweet
What’s been the response from the childfree community? And from folks who are not childfree?
The childfree community has been incredibly supportive/appreciative of the book, and that’s both rewarding and gratifying.
Those who aren’t childfree, and who do think there are too many cases of child abuse and neglect, have quietly said, “There should be something like [parent licensing]…”
Which is not to say they’d support parent licensing in the real world. There are too many ways it could go very wrong (one of which I explore in The Age of the Child).
I’m not sure anyone who’s staunchly anti-abortion rights or pro-creation has read it. If they have, I haven’t heard from them. I suspect they’d rather avoid it.
One interesting reaction I hadn’t counted on from parents is the greater likelihood to comment/focus on the idea of parent licensing than on what forced birth does to people. For example, there’s a fountain in the story where people leave their unwanted children in the middle of the night. There are babies there, toddlers, even a near-teen boy who’s trying to protect his baby brother from the shelter system by offering to sell him to the protagonist, Katherine, when she visits the fountain to drop her own baby there. This doesn’t seem to disturb readers nearly as much as the thought of being legally required to prove you really want, and can take care of, a child.
So, that was weird.
Any surprises writing about a childfree protagonist?
My protagonists have always either not wanted children (Mia in Pretty Much True is in full denial of her unwanted pregnancy) or have been ambivalent about them (as with my male protagonist in The Year of Dan Palace).
In the case of The Age of the Child’s Katherine, it was both fun (creatively) and disturbing on a personal level to explore how a committed childfree person might respond to being surrounded by forces that all but guarantee she’ll end up becoming a mother.
Parenting is not a life she wants. It’s not the life she planned, not the life she chose. So, how will she (and, will she?) avoid parenthood?
Is there reason to hope that we might see more fictional childfree characters in the future? Why, or why not?
My guess is that for a while we’ll continue to see representations of the fight, or the conflict…a struggle with pro-creation forces of one kind or another. Eventually, though, I think childfree women will simply exist in fiction because not having children won’t be such a big deal in real life. The storybook romance won’t end with a big, happy, wedding followed by an almost-immediate pregnant glow.
Kristen’s website: KristenJTsetsi.com