My husband and I used to have a cat named Hermes who didn’t get high from catnip. He’d watch our other cats go crazy, licking up and rolling in the herb. He’d often give in and take a taste. Sometimes he’d even halfheartedly roll in it. Eventually he stopped trying and just watched the other cats with a look of consternation on his face, probably wondering what all the fuss was about. An internet search informed us that around 30% or so of cats don’t possess the gene that allows them to attain euphoria from catnip. Obviously, Hermes didn’t have the catnip gene.
Lately, I’ve come to think that I don’t have the kid gene. My whole life I’ve watched adult women (and sometimes men) rhapsodize about babies and fight over who gets to hold them. They’re so cute! Babies smell so wonderful! I look at these people much like Hermes looked at our other cats rolling in catnip. I just don’t get it.
If I had to rank species based on cuteness, humans would not be anywhere near the top of my list. I’ve held and smelled a number of babies, and yes, babies do have a pleasant smell. So do all baby animals.* Nothing about this smell gives me any kind of euphoric feelings, nor does it make me want a baby, but based on how people talk, this baby smell seems to function a bit like catnip. I’m guessing it’s some sort of biological mechanism that lights up most adult brains and makes them want to take care of the helpless baby and maybe even is a mechanism to help propagate the species.
I got married when I was twenty. My husband knew going in that I didn’t want children, but back then I was keeping a very open mind. Who knew if my biological clock would kick in one day? Just about every adult I knew knowingly told me it would. I’m now 41, and I haven’t felt even a tick. I even recently experienced a pre-perimenopausal moment** where I started having hot flashes and weird menstruation. I thought for sure I must be going into early menopause. This triggered no sadness for the end of my fertile years, but I was looking forward to not dealing with periods anymore. Guess that will wait for some years yet, so I have awhile left to see if I just have a super-late biological clock. Honestly, I’d rather adopt if I were going to have a kid anyway. This planet already has way too many humans on it.
Most of my life I’ve sought reasons to explain why I don’t have kids. When I was in my 20s, I had the easy excuse of focusing on my career. In my mid 30s I became disabled, so I definitely wasn’t having biological kids. What most people didn’t know was that I got my tubes tied when I was 32 and decided I definitely would not be having biological kids. Also, birth control was really messing with my mental state.
I had other stories too: about my childhood trauma, my lifelong depression, my congenital health issues. All these things are factors, but mostly I perfected them to feel less judged by other people—and to convince myself there wasn’t something wrong with me. Why doesn’t baby smell evoke happiness in me? Why don’t my breasts ache when I hold a baby? Why don’t I feel like my life is incomplete without children? And while it’s becoming much more acceptable to choose not to have children, the overarching message in our society is that I am supposed to do all those things.
If you look at the media, it is generally OK for men to not want children or to be around children. In fact, when they do it’s like they’re the best man ever. Women who don’t want children are usually portrayed as villains at worst and as shallow and narcissistic at best. That’s crap. Right up there with the fact that overweight men are much often featured as lead roles than overweight women.
Today, I am taking a stop to acknowledge that all the stories I tell people are just that. Stories. The only reason I don’t want to have kids is because I don’t want to have kids. Period. End of story. The only times I’ve considered having kids (biologically or adopting) was based entirely on peer pressure, and that’s a really bad reason to take on such a difficult, important job as parenting.
One thing that has helped me just say no to peer pressure are the brave people, mostly women, who have admitted they regret having children. These people loved their children, but they viewed parenting the way most Americans view their jobs: they don’t particularly like it, some parts are enjoyable, and, if given the choice, they wouldn’t work doing what they did. None of them felt complete because they had kids. None thought being a parent was the best thing that ever happened to them. None felt that their life suddenly had meaning. In fact, the opposite was true.
I think these people also don’t have the kid gene, and they recognized I didn’t either. They knew I’d understand and wouldn’t judge. They also warned me to stay strong. One woman even cried, imploring me not make the mistake she did. They’d tried out the catnip due to peer pressure from spouses, family, friends, and/or society, and it didn’t work out so well. They wanted their old life back, but they were going to do their best for their kids’ sake.
To these brave people: I hope you read this so you know I didn’t cave. I stayed true to myself. To all those who don’t have the kid gene: I echo the advice given me. Stay strong. There isn’t something wrong with you. You aren’t a bad, morally-bankrupt person. You are a precious and worthy human being, and like all humans you have set preferences. It might be a whole lot easier to be the one person in the room who doesn’t care for chocolate or beach vacations, but the preference not to have children is no different than any other predilection any other human has.
I want to take a moment here to thank those of my family and friends who have NEVER made me feel lesser because I don’t want children and I’m not the kind of person who volunteers to babysit (I watch a lot of people’s animals for them and do other things to help and support them and their children). Sadly, that is only a fairly small subset of the people in my life. Of those who shame me, most don’t do so maliciously. They simply aren’t aware of how they make me feel. I could do a better job of telling them. I’m working on doing that, but it’s a lot of work to educate people about something they can’t truly understand because it is not in the realm of their experience. In the meantime, I try to use my experience to have more self-awareness when interacting with people who are different from me in ways that I tend to take for granted.
I’m also owning my choice without any stories or reasons why. No one needs anything more than this: I don’t want children. Period. End of Story.
You can find other A to Z Challenge blogs here.