Yes Your Baby Is Cute, and No I Don't Want One of My Own
Every Christmas and Thanksgiving, between fighting off my cousins for the sweet potatoes and listening to the patriarchs of the family play Spades, I always somehow end up with a baby in my arms. This year, as I look down at her itty bitty face, I'm not as annoyed as I usually am to have the baby thrusted onto me. I'm extra careful not to squish her as people surround me to ooh and aah at her in her little onesie. I coddle the newest addition to our family, proud that she seems to be content with me.
From the corner of my eye I see the approach of The Aunties and you know exactly which ones I'm referring to. The ones who quiz you nonstop about your future, quietly judge you if you answer incorrectly, and give unsolicited advice about any and everything.
“So, Yani,” they emphasize my childhood nickname. “When are we going to be seeing you with a baby of your own?”
As I hand the baby back to its mother my body tenses, as I was expecting this conversation, just not in front of a majority of our family.
I’ve known since I was a child that having children of my own was not in the cards. While the other girls wanted to play house, carefully cradling their baby dolls as though they were as fragile as glass, I was busy skinning my knees in the backyard and racing on scooters. And even when I did decide to play house, instead of gently braiding the doll’s hair like the other girls, I was recklessly throwing her like a basketball around the house. The natural instinct of taking care of someone else just wasn’t there.
So as I look into the expectant eyes of the Aunties, I try to come up with the right response.
The first instinct is to scream at the top of my lungs “fuck them kids”. Children, at least to me, are literally a punishment to adults, forcing us to suffer until they can handle life on their own. Ear piercing crying, no sleep, constant stress, unwarranted advice about how you need to raise them. The rest of my life would basically be at the will of someone who couldn't feed themselves, effectively communicate with me except through crying, I'd have to clean up after, and still would grow up to ungrateful for all my effort. That sounds exactly like having a cat. And guess what? I already have a cat. But I know that this answer would be an affront to them, the women who had already suffered through this.
My second thought is “But what about my life?” What if the life I have planned for myself has nothing to do with children? I see myself (someday) living in other countries. Meeting lots of people and not speaking to anyone from my hometown for months. That’s not feasible with what’s been granted the grace of “good parenting”. How is it at the ripe age of 23, the productivity of my life has been reduced to having babies? Aren't there other things that I should be focusing on that are just as important like a career that I love, or finding fulfilling life experiences? Why is it that with barely any of my life lived, I'm already supposed to be giving it up to a person that isn't here? Are there no other options?
Standing in that living room, I look around at my mother, my Aunties, my cousins and all of the other women I get to call family. Some went the traditional route and have been married with kids since they were 21. Others, newfound mothers who are just getting their footing and trying to understand how they will define motherhood. And some, have no children at all, and play happily with their nieces at the dinner table and going home to be with their partners, or even alone. All of them deserve respect for the way they've chosen to live their lives. The mothers who give up so much to raise a new generation in this world, and the women who decided that they were better off without children. That is the life that they chose, and we should all be proud of each other, regardless of which choice we make.
When the words "I don't want any children of my own" finally leave my mouth, The Aunties all stare at me quietly. I know I've said something that doesn’t fit into the script they’ve prepared for my life. I can see their dreams of chasing their bundle of great-grandchildren across my backyard crumbling with each word I say. And it hurts to disappoint them. I understand the appeal of having a big family, but I just won't be the one to give it to them. But after a moment that feels like it stretched a lifetime, one nods her head and walks away.
To say that I don't want children isn't selfish. It's not a phase I'm going through. And I'm very willing to bet that my mind won't change as I get older. It just isn't a part of the plan I have for my life, and that's okay. My life is my own, and no expectation placed on me, whether it be by society or The Aunties themselves is going to convince me of which road I should take.
Besides, that just means that one I'm going to make one kick ass Auntie myself someday.