You don’t know what love is!
… or so I was told by a stranger in a tiny farm shop somewhere near the Cotswolds. By the time she’d finished with me she’d made it clear that, in her view, I’m a selfish, child-hating excuse for a woman, who has no idea what love is and who’ll be lonely in old age. All said with a sympathetic smile, of course.
I’ve encountered people like her before, many times. Apparently, the fact that I’ve chosen not to have a child makes women (in my experience it’s only been women) feel they have the right to question my choices in public, just loud enough for women with babies hanging off their hips to eye me warily.
I don’t go round telling people I don’t have or want children, incidentally; the conversation usually kicks off with them asking how many children I have, as if that’s somehow a mark of my worth as a woman. When I merrily tell them that I don’t have children, their faces show grave concern and I become the target of the usual baseless assumptions:
“Oh, I’m so sorry – can’t you have children?”
Er … yeeeees. I just don’t want any.
“Why don’t you want any?”
I’ve no idea. I just don’t.
“That’ll change when you’re older.”
I’m older now. It won’t.
“It’ll change when you meet the right man.”
I met him 15 years ago actually.
“Oh, I’m so sorry – can’t he give you children?”
Good grief. Can you hear yourself? And stop tilting your head like that.
“Have you thought about adopting?”
No … because that would mean having children, wouldn’t it?
“But you’d make such a good mother!”
I would … yet I don’t want to be one.
“When that clock starts ticking you’ll realise what you’re missing.”
I’ll be 46 soon. The clock has ticked.
“Don’t you like children?”
Why on earth wouldn’t I like children?!
“What’s wrong with you?”
What’s wrong with you?
“It’s against nature.”
Clearly not. It’s in my nature not to want children.
“Well, I think you’re selfish.”
Then it’s best I stay childless, surely.
“You’ll have nobody to look after you when you’re old.”
If that’s your reason for having children, I’d say you’re the selfish one.
“You don’t know what love is until you’ve had a child.”
Now that just pisses me off.
It may come as a surprise to you but I don’t spend my days wondering if I’ve made the right decision, just because I’m a woman and women are ‘supposed’ to be maternal. Not all of us are. I don’t stare after mothers and children with longing. I’m not someone who gets all misty-eyed over baby adverts. I don’t pass school playgrounds and feel a knot in my stomach. I don’t think about what life would be like if only I’d given birth.
Nor do I spend my days rubbing my hands with glee because I’m childless.
It’s not enough of an issue for me to give it any thought at all. In fact, I never think about it until someone like that woman takes it upon themselves to force their opinions onto me and try to shame me for a decision I’m perfectly entitled to have made. And when I do think about it, I feel nothing but relief that I listened to my heart. There is no part of me that wants children. None. But just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I have to justify why I don’t want children, just as you shouldn’t have to justify why you do.
I’m no more in control of how I feel than you are of how you feel …