Thank You For Not Asking

Subjectivity. Personal preference. Different strokes for different folks. Our perspectives are inherently built upon the fabric of our character, circumstances, and choices in life. There are many lifestyle preferences that may be questioned by family, friends, and acquaintances throughout our lives, but there is one question people won’t seem to stop asking:

Are you going to have children?

It’s a simple question, really, and a relatively fair one to ask while getting to know someone better. But at age 37, I can tell you I’m tired of hearing it from those I already know – which is why I’d like to take this opportunity to say, Thank you for not asking.

Thank you for not asking if I’m going to have kids for the umpteenth time. I don’t mind the occasional check in, but when it becomes as regular as morning coffee, it starts getting old. Thank you for not reminding me that, at age 37, my fertility is declining each menstrual cycle. Thank you for not assuming that I must be incomplete with my life since I don’t have children of my own. Thank you, most of all, for not looking down on me in pity as you wonder how I could be married and not yet have kids.

Because I’m out here having the time of my life, thank you very much.

Since you asked, however, I’ll take the time to answer your question thoroughly.

My first serious thoughts about whether I would reproduce began as a Senior at Acalanes High School in Lafayette, California, in 1998. The world was approaching a population of six billion people, and I was learning about a myriad of environmental issues from my passionate, informative teachers. I was concerned about overpopulation, and humans nearing our carrying capacity. If it weren’t for all the people demanding so much from the planet at once, we may not be having the same plight of problems. What if there were a way to reduce the population to a more sustainable size? What if some three billion of us were to all of the sudden just die?

Disregarding the morbidity of thinking about billions of people dying en masse, it was a simplistic, fleeting idea I thought about one day in my U.S. Government class. While I soon moved on from that idea, what stuck with me was the real problem of overpopulation. From my Netscape browser in our new computer lab at school, I researched Zero Population Growth, the simple premise that if every couple had two children or less, Earth’s population either plateaus or declines over time. It seemed like a logical solution to an overtaxed, overburdened planet that was bleeding resources faster than it could replenish itself. If I were to have kids, I would stop at two, I decided at the young age of seventeen.

I understood why and how families could have more than two children, certainly; as the youngest of three sisters myself, I am the increase in population from my parents. My two older sisters negate their lives in the longrun, while I am the additional resource-sucking human; the growth in population.

Then I majored in Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz. It was a phenomenal, rich four years surrounded by constant information, inquiry, and mental aerobics that fired me up to do something about all the problems I was upset about. I graduated feeling a mix of informed, enraged, and inspired to change that which bothered me so much. Yet I still felt like overpopulation was at the root of many of our problems.

Today, there are some 7.6 billion people on Earth. I worry about overpopulation, and a heartwrenching laundry list of environmental issues. I vacillate between feeling faithful about the future, and completely despondent. Sometimes I feel like I don’t want to bring children into the Earth we live in today.

Then there are days when a student says something so inspiring that you wonder how you couldn’t have known it all along; or you see your niece and nephew laughing with pure abandon in a hammock on a Summer day. These moments give me some faith in the future, and definitely tug at my heartstrings to have kids.

But do I want to bring children into the world?
I have a blog and share my life pretty openly; I have nothing to hide. I don’t take myself too seriously. It’s possible no one will read this, anyway. I firmly believe that none of this will matter in a hundred years, so might as well share my authentic, imperfect self. That includes when I’m ambivalent about something.

After all these years, I still am not 100% sure if I want to have children of my own. My husband Ron feels closely the same. Every time we are out having fun on a mountain bike ride, snowboarding trip, or playing at the beach, we both feel grateful for that time together. We are living out the most passionate, greatest romance we’ve ever known, growing stronger after twelve years together. Despite everyone’s advice that you can still do all the things you love with kids, I’m sure there is some sacrifice of this time, especially in the early years. It’s hard to just give it up.

It can be challenging to feel so unsettled on the topic. Most of the time, I know exactly what I want, and go for it. This is a decision that has sat on the shelf without a clear directive for years. Deciding whether to procreate isn’t like changing the paint color in your bedroom, of course. The philosophical ramifications of adding a human into your life have definitely kept me up a night or two. And yes, I know I’m running out of time, which adds to my growing sensitivity from those who keep asking…so thank you for not asking.

Again, it all comes back to whether we want to or not.

It’s okay not to know the answer. And it should be okay with everyone else in my life, too. I’d like to think most people couldn’t give two cents about the issue, and would like to extend a warm thank you to all of you who haven’t continually asked me about the subject. I appreciate it beyond measure.

Then there are those who ask, with worry in their eyes, if I am ever going to have children?!
I feel like I’ve disappointed them before I even answer. I understand their curiosity on the subject, especially since Ron and I are both getting older. I’m not angry they’re asking; it’s a fair topic. But at this point, my answer hasn’t changed.

You know we’re still not sure about that, I shrug.

It’s like they’ve just watched a mother bird lose her baby chick. They look at me with a quizzical, let down, mildly sad look in their eye as I scramble to offer more justification.

We’re so happy as it is. It’s wonderful having freedom, you know, I try to overcompensate.

Don’t you know you’re over the age of thirty-five? they counter, terror in their eyes at uttering such a statement. Worse, they’ll question my athleticism. All those bikerides can’t be helping…

And this is where I’m over it.

I’m not sorry if my lack of children makes me not good enough for you. That’s on you, not me. If you look at me and see an incomplete, unhappy spinster, then fine. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter if you don’t see me, because I do. The joke’s on you if you think I’m missing out. While you’re wasting breath judging me, I’m laughing on the way to my next adventure.

It carries a little more weight when it comes to my family asking about kids. Though they hide it well, I know my sisters are hoping I have children to add to their brood. They have been undyingly supportive of me as I ponder this decision. It is hard, though, when I see them sharing experiences only two mothers can share; when I see their children play together, creating memories only they will remember. They’re in the Mom’s Club, and I’m not. Sure, it makes me want to have kids more when I see them with their own.

My parents are, understandably, so proud of them and their families. There are times when I question how proud they are of me, despite their love toward me over the years. I know it must be hard as a mother to want your own daughter to become a mother herself, to join that “club” that only mothers can be in. I see the genuine love she has with her five beautiful grandchildren; I see my Dad beam as he plays with them. When I see my parents light up talking about their daughters, I know they would be as proud if I had children, too. And who wouldn’t want more grandkids? I wouldn’t have kids just to please my family, of course, nor would I because I thought I was supposed to.

I can’t control what other people think, and it doesn’t change my life if someone thinks I have a perfect life or not because I don’t have kids. But I am human, and there are moments when I feel unrecognized for who I am today, like I’m not truly seen. When someone doesn’t seem to care about what I’m up to, except for the fact that I’m not having kids anytime soon, I can feel passed over – ignored, with a hint of not being good enough.

Anyone care to hear about my latest adventure in the mountains? Sometimes, I wonder, do you see this badass mountain biking nature girl, cultivating a blooming garden on the property she bought? Do you see the peace of mind that I have, the contentment I have to just sit in stillness with myself, free of stress and worry? Do you see the books I read, the quiet miles I run through the forest, or the compassion I show to others in my daily actions?

Do you see that I am happy? Though I may seem “selfish” in your eyes spending all this time doing what I love, I’m actually spending most of that time getting outside of myself. I’m not trying to focus on myself so much as I’m trying to use myself as an instrument to experience and learn new things. Can you see that? Do you see me?

While some may assume I’m living an incomplete life without kids, I’m busy building my life – carving out my own path, following my passions, and becoming a fuller, better human being in the process. I’m improving myself, growing into a wiser, stronger woman in the process. Someday, should I decide to take on that sacred journey of Motherhood, I will be that much more interesting of a Mother, that much more experienced of a guide, and beat with that much stronger of a heart to love with. And I’ll have a lot of damn good stories to tell.

There is so much to do in life, but it’s impossible to travel every single path. Including motherhood. I can never know what it would be like to not ever have kids, and become a mother. I will have to choose, or biology will choose for me.

So why stress about the one path I cannot take? I only have this one life to leave my footprints in the sand, washed away by the tides as soon as I’m gone. What I know for sure is it’ll be okay whether I have kids or not. Once I’m gone, I won’t know otherwise. The world will keep on, and these words will fade away into the ether.

So thank you for not asking. Surely you weren’t expecting to read all of this for the answer.

Which is, of course, it doesn’t really matter.