On being 36 and childless

On being 36 and childless

I finally tackled the dishes in the kitchen this morning. It was a pitiful pile. Nothing more than a few side plates with toast crumbs on, the remnants of a solo eater’s culinary adventures these last few days while the other half is playing away in a golf tournament. As I scraped the crumbs off the third little plate, I was gripped by a deep sense of loss so sudden that I felt like I was falling into a void that I hadn’t realised until that moment was even there. I didn’t want to be scraping toast crumbs off lone side plates anymore! I wanted to be cleaning out platters of food that I’d fed my family the previous night. Out of nowhere, I felt like there was supposed to be a little girl there watching me do this as she ate her corn flakes for breakfast, kicking the table leg while she told me what she wanted to do on this beautiful Sunday. My little girl. Our little girl. The one we haven’t had.

I don’t want to have children. I have never wanted to have children. I would have those words tattooed on my forehead in an attempt to stop all the questions if not for the fact that it’s not that simple. I might not want to have children, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want children. I’ve just never stared into a frilly pink pram, or watched a nappy bottomed little boy toddle over to his toys, and felt an overwhelming urge to start procreating as soon as my temperature next spikes. So I was more than a little surprised this morning when I plonked myself down on the kitchen stairs and just wept for the void left by this child that isn’t here. While I have always felt, dreamt at times even, that there is a little girl who is still supposed to be a part of us, she has always been a peripheral thought, pushed down as soon as it starts rising and not allowed to surface. It makes sense I suppose. Bush man is home for a few weeks. We have dinner together. Dinners that don’t involve toast. Or little plates. We make plans with friends, and watch movies with big bowls of popcorn and walk around the house deciding which odd jobs should get done (or at least what should go to the top of the list of jobs that will never get done). I have a plus one at social events. He’s picking up weight again. It’s almost… normal. I’m sure it’s natural to start thinking hey, this family thing is actually kinda cool. We should make it bigger! I suddenly have that “okay, what’s next?” urge I’m always hearing about and I’ve only ever felt that once, when Bush Man had a contract in our hometown for a couple of years and we were Settled for a while. But come October he will be gone again and I will be so grateful that it still hasn’t happened for us. Because I know, I KNOW, that I could not watch him say goodbye to his child every time he had to leave. And we will be without him. And we won’t be a family. Not like we’re supposed to be. You’d think I’d be used to this by now. My own family stopped being a family when I was four years old. At least, not a family in the traditional sense of the word. I haven’t had a Christmas with both my parents in 32 years, and it hasn’t scarred me for life. But I just don’t want to do it. I don’t want to bring a child into a world where her parents don’t know where they’re going to be next month or whether they will be there together. I don’t want to bring a child into a world where she will have to be reintroduced to her dad every few months because she can’t remember who he is. I don’t want to bring a child into a world where I can’t guarantee her that there will be water for everyone to drink or fish for everyone to eat or polar bears in the wild in twenty years time because her parent’s generation stripped the earth of all its natural resources and overburdened it with a population that it could no longer sustain before she even got here. We are already consuming more resources than the earth can sustain. I don’t want to bring a child into a world where I cannot guarantee her safety in a country that I love so much that I would rather die here with a panga splitting my skull open than call anywhere else home. How could I bring her into a world like this when she has no choice in the matter?

You’re probably reading this and thinking, who gives a shit? Well, apparently, a great many people do. It has just astounded me how everyone seems to have an opinion on what I should do with my uterus, and they’re not afraid to voice it. I have been told I am selfish countless times. Often by total strangers or people who don’t even know why there aren’t children yet. They just assume. I have been told that I have gotten so used to being alone that I am too selfish to make space for another person. Yes, I have gotten used to being on my own. But what is the alternative? Cry myself to sleep every night because I’ve gone to bed alone again? I have felt the chasm between my girlfriends and I slowly widen as they become mothers and I don’t. Many of them have nothing much to say to me anymore, unless it’s “Oh come on now! Time for you to have your own!”. I have had to hear from someone that a mutual friend had said I “don’t do kids” when asked whether he’d be bringing his along for a lunch. Well that was like a kick in the face with an ice skate, considering I love all my friend’s kids and have always tried to make them feel welcome at my home. I have read an article about how fit Jennifer Aniston is, and been astonished at the vitriol spewed by other women because she has never had children and therefore was not a real woman. I’m not a real woman because my body hasn’t bourn children? My cellulite riddled ass would beg to differ. I’ve read insults hurled at a Time journalist who had said she had chosen not to have children that were so venomous that I actually had to read the article again to make sure she hadn’t actually said she wanted to EAT all the babies. I’ve had a woman I had known for all of five hours tell me that I would one day regret the life I live now. Yes, a virtual stranger had an opinion on the invalidity of my childless existence, and casually voiced it in front of a table full of people at a baby shower. Up to that point, “You’re in danger of being happy with the way your life is now.” was the most audacious thing anyone had said to me regarding the issue. I have quietly listened to these opinions about myself and others like me based on this one aspect of our lives for years, and I’d seldom say anything or try to defend myself, mostly because the sheer cheek of it has rendered me speechless most of the time. And then a couple of weeks ago, I made the mistake of telling a pregnant woman who had felt it was her duty to advise me on what I need to do to get pregnant that thanks, but we hadn’t really decided whether we would have our own children or adopt. Holy shit. You’d swear I had pulled out a sock and said “You see this sock? I’m going to sew some buttons for eyes onto it and sprout wheat grass on its head for hair and I am going to call him George and George is going to be my child and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him and pat him.” for the incredulity with which my comment was received. “You can’t adopt! You have to feel what it feels like to be pregnant! Don’t you want to be pregnant?? Don’t you want to feel that?? You can’t adopt!”. Um. Yeah. No, that’s not selfish at all. And is it just because I live in a small town that being a heterosexual couple with 2.5 biological children is still considered the only acceptable normal?

I don’t want to have children, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want a child. It doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes wish our lives were different and that your telling me how it should be doesn’t feel like a punch to the gut. It doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t want to see a small part of my husband in a child so much sometimes that my heart physically hurts when I think it might not happen. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard for me to sit with a group of women and feel like I don’t belong, because I am the only one who isn’t a mother. And I know there are countless parents out there who have to go it alone, or who have to be the one saying goodbye too often. I know that people who are poorer / less secure / in war torn countries / totally incompetent have made the decision to bring another person into this world. But this is our journey and you don’t know where our roads have led us. So if you’ve been blessed with a child, please stop asking me why I haven’t. Stop assuming. Stop offering unsolicited advice. I mean, I’ll try a restaurant because you’ve told me I would love it and simply must try it, but I’m probably not going to base my decision on whether to be a mother on your recommendation. I have a niece that I knew I would quite literally kill someone with my bare hands for the minute I first saw her, so your telling me how a little being will change my life irrevocably is not news to me. I know. So just support me on my road as much as I have supported you on yours. It’s not always as easy to walk down as you might think.


Elke mens het ’n plig. Party teel, party neem aan en ander kweek awareness – en dis my job.

                                                                                                                                                                        – Nataniël

29 Responses »

  1. wow. i LOVE everything about this post, which i arrived at via another one of yours, on shanghai’s french concession (i will follow your walk in total confidence when i’m in town!).

    i’m 53, into travellibg, and i also never wanted children. the judgment out there is a thing, people. even coming from those you’d never think would concern themselves with your “situation”.

    it’s a real relief to read your words.

    • Thank you Elise! The great thing about turning 40 is that “Why don’t you have children?” is no longer followed up by “Don’t worry, you’ve still got lots of time!”. Four years later, currently travelling in Singapore, and still not regretting my decision for a single day. It’s great to hear from others like us that I won’t wake up when I’m older and regret anything. Enjoy Shanghai! If it’s your first time there eat Yang’s dumplings until you’re sick or you’ll crave them on a regular basis.

  2. You might consider helping out at an orphanage to fill the emotional void you’re feeling, while still maintaining your desire to not have children of your own. Just an idea.

  3. 36, without a kid, without job, and newbie to SH. “French Concession” on google led me to your blog. And 10 seconds later, I am reading this page instead. Catchy title. Had to read it. Read it and feels good to know I am not the only one.

    I have four nieces. Love them to death. Love my friend’s kids. Love my neighbour’s kids. I love kids. But not wanting to have my own. That’s when people think I am crazy.

    People make their decisions, I do not judge them. So I feel they should not judge others.

    Thanks for being loud.

    • Thanks for leaving a reply Ana! I am now at that stage where I’ve heard I’m wrong so many times that I’m questioning what I’m missing out on. But I’ve come to realise that kids are like iPhones. Yes, once I had it it was the best thing that ever happened to me and I couldn’t imagine my life without it now. But if I’d never gotten it in the first place, I would still have been happy with a Nokia 3310 that can do nothing but call and sms, because I wouldn’t know what I was missing. And I’d have a lot more time to read… Enjoy Shanghai! Very jealous.

  4. Beautifully written. I just got married recently, and everyone is asking when we will have kids. It’s like people have grown tired of saying, “congratulations” on getting married, and need something else equally plutonic and mundane to say. Well done on not just going with the crowd, and actually thinking about your own thoughts on having kids or not.

  5. I loved your post, cheer you on your journey, and cherish a wonderful soul. What’s important is you – the individual, and in this regard –

    “Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.” Eleanor Roosevelt

    “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” Friedrich Nietzsche

    Continue owning yourself – it’s what makes you the extraordinarily enchanting person you are.
    JBH has a blog too! Read more here: On being 36 and childless

  6. Hi Liezl, ek kies om nie kinders te he nie. Dalk mis ek iets, maar ek ervaar ook n ander lewe wat geen van my vriende kan ervaar nie. Ek is die bevooregde een, ek is die een wat my vriende jammer kry….. Embrace life, leef JOU lewe en weet dat jy geseend en bevooreg is in jou eie spesiale manier, uniek van enige iemand anders……

  7. What a heart-touching, achingly honest post. You know we share the same boat at times and it felt like looking in a mirror. You’ve expressed some of my feelings on this matter in a way I don’t have the talent to, thank you!
    Ps: you are probably one of my favourite writers! And that means something cause you know I read … allot!

  8. This made me feel so sad because I would give anything to be able to help you and “Bush Man” to have a little one. I have seen you with your niece and it has touched my heart to see what wonderful parents you would make. Whether you have your own or whether you do adopt you will one day have your own little family and it is going to be a wonderful one. Ignore what other mothers say – most of the time it is pure jealousy because they no longer have your freedom to choose.

  9. Very moving. I can’t express all the thoughts in my head. Such a complex issue. I wish you and “Bush Man” all that is best for you ♥

  10. Stem Liezl. Net julle besluit en julle besluit alleen. Wens meer mense verstaan dit so en dat julle ook gevoelens het. Somtyds klink dit my mense neem net aan dat julle nie daaroor dink en droom nie, maar julle doen en julle is slim genoeg om wyse besluite te neem oor sulke goed maar op julle manier en op julle tyd…..soos dit hoort. Ok genoeg nou van die ernstige goed. Wanneer kuier ons?

  11. Darling girl. Never asked. Never judged. Never will. The only thing I have ever wished in relation to you and Adam re children, and continue to do so, is that Luke turns into a loving, strong, carng man just like his godfather Adam. Much love to you both x

  12. Beautiful, honest, a little sad, but so true. My friend, favourite girl cousin by marriage and most extraordinary person, wow! Xxxx

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