On Motherhood and Not Being a Mom and the Gift of Getting to Choose

*Photo of my nieces a few months ago. They’re amazing. And exhausting. And I adore them.

“Choose well. Your choice is brief, and yet endless.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I grew up in a culture that assumed motherhood would be a part of my future. Having kids wasn’t a choice I could one day make for myself, it was an obligation and a duty.

Being a mother was an expectation. And one I was supposed to wholeheartedly embrace.

Except the idea of motherhood never once sounded good to me. Or right for my life.

And the truth was, I never once felt compelled to have children.

Even as I entered my mid-20s and approached 30, I had still never felt any sort of “biological clock” ticking or experienced any desire to give birth or be a mom and raise kids.

I thought my sister’s first pregnancy and spending time with my nephew might flip the motherhood switch for me. After all, people had been telling me for years that I’d suddenly feel compelled to have children in my early 30s if the urge hadn’t hit me already by then.

But, honestly, watching my sister become a mother — now with a 3 year old son and twin 1 year old girls — has only made my desire to remain childless even stronger.

Even as I stand in awe of her every day for the mother she has become.

And it’s not because I don’t like kids. Because I do. Especially my sister’s kids. Who bring a joy and vitality and sweetness to my life for which I am exceedingly and forever grateful.

I love those kids with everything that I am. And I would jump in front of eight hundred buses for them.

But also:  I’m so thankful I’m their Auntie Cayly. Because being an aunt? Is pretty much the best job ever. It’s also a job for which I feel completely qualified. And a job that feels less like a job and more like a really amazing gift my sister gave me three times over.

(Thanks, Sis. I love you.)

Although I decided a long time ago that being a mom probably wasn’t in the cards for me, getting older has brought the question of motherhood back into my life. If only because the window for changing my mind about the answer is more rapidly closing at this point.

And so I occasionally ask myself if I’m sure about not wanting kids of my own. And I occasionally have this conversation with my boyfriend. And my answer is always, Yep. I’m sure.

Over the years I have endured many awkward — and sometimes insulting — conversations about the kids question. When I was younger I was repeatedly told, You’ll change your mind one day. And now it’s more often, You’ll regret not having kids when you’re older.

Well, I still haven’t changed my mind. And I miiight regret my decision when I’m older (I still highly doubt it), but it really isn’t anyone else’s business, is it?

A woman’s decision about motherhood is an extremely personal, complicated, emotional one.

For me, the question has gotten even more complicated and weighty and important to fully consider in the past few years. It has a profound impact on the trajectory of my life — both professionally and personally — and plays into who I’ve chosen as a partner (I am forever and always grateful for his support on this issue).

And yet, the answer for me is still: Nope. No to motherhood.

Let me be clear that answering this question is not as easy as I’ve made it sound. It never was.

My answer comes from what I know about myself, what I know about the world, what I know about my family of origin, what I know about my life at this moment, what I want for my future, and — most importantly — how I feel in my body when I contemplate the question.

And the specifics of this process — namely, deciding if I want to be responsible for another human being — are my choice to either share or not share.

No one else gets access to this information unless I grant them that right.

Which is true for every other woman who contemplates motherhood — regardless of what she ultimately decides for herself.

I have watched both friends and patients wrestle with the question of whether or not to have children.

And I have watched women struggle with infertility after giving motherhood a giant, Yes, please!

I have also met women who became pregnant after being told they were infertile, with absolutely no chance of conceiving naturally, if at all. And they are raising these children as little miracles, having never really stopped to formally decide if motherhood was something they wanted.

Every woman’s experience is different. And I certainly can’t pretend to understand what you or anyone else you know has been through when it comes to motherhood.

But I do know that other people’s questions and opinions and commentaries about why you or I or any other woman has chosen to either have children or not, are unnecessary and generally unwelcome and too often unkind.

Particularly because you just never know what’s really going on.

Having people assume that because I’m 33 and childless (can we come up with a different term for this, please?) I must somehow be disappointed, is hurtful.

And having someone else question my choices or think me selfish for not having kids or assume I must not know myself at all if I think I won’t regret this later, is insulting.

I still remember the day a few years ago when I had to break my own mother’s heart by explaining to her that I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have any children of my own and that I was fine with it.

That conversation was difficult, but it needed to happen.

Because even when the comments about our choices around mothering come from the kindest of hearts with the noblest of intentions, they can still hurt like hell.

And if this is how I feel, I can’t even imagine how it must feel to desire motherhood wholeheartedly and then find it challenging or impossible to conceive. And then face questions about why you haven’t yet had children and what’s taking you so long and you better get started because you’re not getting any younger.

I work with a lot of 30ish women in my acupuncture practice. And many of them are contemplating motherhood.

Some of them have come to me after struggling to conceive with conventional fertility treatments. Some are open to motherhood, but not set on it. And one patient just learned she’s unexpectedly pregnant after a few years of trying unsuccessfully to conceive.

The conversations we have are emotional. And the emotions are complex.

The last thing we need are unsolicited opinions from anybody. Or projected fears about future regrets or missing out on motherhood.

Or assumptions about just how selfish we might be or how we must hate kids or that there’s something else wrong with us that makes us not want to be mothers.

Or even that we’re not mothers because we don’t want to be.

Because, well, some of us actually don’t want to be mothers, it’s true.

But there are plenty of women who would absolutely embrace motherhood and just haven’t yet had the opportunity to do so. For various reasons. Which are nobody’s business but their own.

So be careful what you say on this topic.

And make zero assumptions.

And certainly don’t casually suggest that your 30-something daughter adopt a distant relative’s illegitimate child because it might be her only chance to have kids and she must be just so desperate at this point, right?*

When in doubt, stay silent. Keep your comments and your questions and your opinions to yourself.

Because, like I said before, you just never really know what’s actually going on.

And you never know the pain your words might inadvertently cause.

To a woman who isn’t childless by choice.

Or a woman whose choice was ultimately not motherhood, but who only came to this decision after a lot of soul searching and difficult conversations and grieving for things that would — as a result of this choice — never be true for her.


*This actually happened to a woman I know. Sigh, indeed.

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