By Cynthia Burgess
Living as I do in the middle of suburbia I am as misplaced as a water lily in the Mojave Desert. I am a woman who has chosen to remain childless. In this land of daycare centers, mini-vans and soccer teams I find myself surrounded by mothers whose schedules revolve, quite naturally, around their children.
When people first hear of my deliberately childless status, it bewilders, dismays or offends them. They mistakenly conclude that I selfishly opted for Caribbean cruises and cocktail parties over the love of a child. Rarely do they understand my choice.
Inevitably, I'm asked to explain my decision. When I do, I'm eyed suspiciously then asked: "Do you hate children?" "Don't you have any maternal instinct?" "Is it a physical problem?" "Don't you want immortality through your kids?" Then they elaborate: "You'll live to regret that decision." "You'll realize your mistake in time, then you can have one or adopt."
I try not to sound like the selfish, unloving egoist they think I am as I explain: Though I like kids, motherhood is not a job I ever wanted, just as I didn't want to become an attorney or a grocery clerk. And no, there is nothing "wrong" with me or my husband, this is simply our decision.
I couldn't envision a child as someone to care for me in old age--a reason for making babies more popular than you might think. Neither could I see a child as a recipient of my worldly possessions or a guarantee of immortality. I believe immortality is more than a matter of biology; each individual must earn immortality in his or her own right.
Early on I knew I didn't want the responsibility or tedium of dragging kids out of bed every day for school, making lunches and chauffeuring them around town to birthday parties and dental appointments. The job description for motherhood did not suit my personality. I also recognized that in this deafening world, I require long stretches of solitude for happiness.
Since every choice in life is a tradeoff, I was aware that no matter which side of the fence I walked, there would be lost opportunities. Thirteen years later, I have no doubt I made the right personal decision.
Our culture values children and sees them as essential to the good life as a big screen TV or a ski vacation. Everyone, down to my best friend's mother, expected me to have kids. Society bombards us with the idea that children are a given. The message is everywhere--from Madison Avenue advertising to weekly television sitcoms, in film and magazines. It's so ingrained in our psyches that it's difficult to imagine other equally fulfilling alternatives.
The notion of remaining childless makes people uneasy. In part, that's because our sense of community is based on our sense of family. When you tell people that children aren't for you, they feel you're threatening society as a whole. It's not easy for them to see it as just a personal choice.
A childless life is seen as incomplete and unfulfilled. However, it is entirely possible for a childless woman to live as fulfilled a life as any mother. There are as many definitions and degrees of fulfillment as there are women, but very simply speaking, if you are satisfied with your life and have achieved happiness, then you are fulfilled.
Some childless women find gratification in a strong marriage. For others, this fullness of life is born of time and energy to pursue personal enthusiasms, achieve career goals or work within the larger family of community. Whatever the means, fulfillment comes with realizing our own human potential.
But fulfillment doesn't necessarily mean a life that's full. How gratified are mothers who juggle hectic family schedules, who run their children from swimming lessons to dance class to gymnastics? Their constant frustration and weariness make me wonder.
Though my daily schedule is radically different from any mother I know, the rest of my life isn't. Yet, I often feel like a social outsider since I'm culturally defined as odd and peripheral because of my divergent choice. I sense a marginality in social situations with other women; women I'm separated from only by the length of an umbilical cord.
Even so, why do I always find myself having to explain that children are not every woman's reason to be? Why must I always justify my life as meaningful when mothers aren't asked to do the same? I've resigned myself to the fact that for at least as long as I'm of childbearing age, I'll be asked to do so--but I suspect I'll be defending my choice for the rest of my life.