When You’re a Black Woman Who Doesn’t Want to Have Children
I love babies. Always have. I love their chubby little cheeks, the way their little hands grasp around my fingers, and the bug-eyed, unblinking way they look at you when you make any sort of unexpected sound.
Kids seem to take to me pretty well and pretty easily too. I’m among the eldest of my cousins, with the youngest being eight years old. I also taught elementary students in the earlier stages of my career. Nothing about children mystifies or confuses me. I don’t find them strange or repulsive. Most of the time, they’re pretty funny. Sticky, but funny.
Yet I have absolutely no desire to be a mother.
Motherhood is a role that society pressures all women to play, but I believe even more so for Black women who are always expected to give so much of themselves to others.
In Ain’t I a Woman, bell hooks writes about the historical demand that White slaveholders made of enslaved Black women to reproduce as frequently as possible, giving no regard to their health or well-being. They would sometimes offer financial incentives or even the promise of freedom for women who birthed a certain number of children. Ironic, given the present-day stereotypes around Black women who are accused of giving birth just for welfare checks.
I once dated someone who wanted to know what I planned to name my children, to which I responded, “I dunno. Maybe I can just number them?”
Like many women, I grew up with the idea that children were an inevitable part of my future. Whenever I would have conversations with older women, they’d use the phrase “when you have kids” rather than “if.” I understood that baby dolls (and later, babysitting) were meant to be practice for parenting, and part of my early lessons in cooking and cleaning were in preparation to run a full household.
Despite my certainty that kids were a prescribed part of womanhood, I wasn’t very invested in the idea of a future with them. I once dated someone who wanted to know what I planned to name my children, to which I responded, “I dunno. Maybe I can just number them?”
In fact, I was more invested in my plans to get around the traditional aspects of raising kids. Even before I knew that I didn’t want kids at all, I knew I wasn’t keen on many of the things that came with them.
For example, I was planning to be a single mother. I never liked the idea of co-parenting and have never been convinced that marriage is something I want for myself. (I’m still not, and my partner and I are both pretty indifferent to the idea.) I also had plans to adopt. This was born out of a certainty that pregnancy and giving birth were not for me. My aversion to birthing existed well before I even learned that Black women in America are four times more likely to die in childbirth than White women. I knew from my own birth story, and that of other women in my family, that bringing children into the world can be a tricky and dangerous affair.
(It is here that I would like to formally apologize to my mother for, literally, tearing my way into the world. Can’t imagine what those stitches must have felt like. My bad.)
All of these plans were workarounds — my grasping attempts to find ways to have the children I thought were required of me without doing any of the traditional procreation methods I didn’t want.
It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that it occurred to me that children were not a mandatory part of my future. This happened on the heels of a visit with my OB/GYN about some concerning symptoms I was experiencing. After some testing, I was informed that my body wasn’t releasing a standard monthly egg.
I was told that if I wanted children, it would likely involve a far more complicated and less romantic process than the one most people use. To further drive home the universe’s infertility prognosis, last year I suffered from pulmonary emboli (blood clots in my lungs), a dangerous condition brought on by the increased estrogen levels caused by my birth control. During my first overnight stay in the hospital (since infancy, at least), I was told that pregnancy would similarly increase my risk of clotting again.
Yet another complication to an already unattractive prospect.
These revelations were conveyed to me by female doctors with pitying looks and soft, sympathetic tones. When I share this information with female family members, there’s often a moment of silence followed by an insistence on remaining hopeful. After all, plenty of women have miracle babies, right?
No one seems to have considered that maybe this is a miracle for me. I don’t want kids, and the powers that be seem to have taken every necessary step to inform me that motherhood is not destined to be in my future. Yet despite my insistence that I am unbothered by the diagnoses and don’t want to be a mom, I’m met with the implication that my life is destined to be less fulfilling or worthwhile if I don’t reproduce.
“You’ll change your mind one day.”
“You shouldn’t say that — your partner might want kids.”
“Children complete you. They give your life meaning.”
From other Black women especially, I’ve been met with a certain defensive tone. As if my decision is somehow a negative commentary on their motherhood. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. I admire the devotion of other Black women to their children and the fierceness with which they protect them. (Looking at you, Mom.)
The life I have and want to continue creating, the life in which I am no one’s mother, is just as rich and meaningful as anyone else’s. I’m not interested in changing who I am in order to be better suited for a role I don’t wish to play.
Yet I do believe there is a radicality that comes with choosing to be a Black woman that centers her own ambitions and desires for her future above anyone else’s. The life I have and want to continue creating, the life in which I am no one’s mother, is just as rich and meaningful as anyone else’s. I’m not interested in changing who I am in order to be better suited for a role I don’t wish to play.
One of my favorite activists, Rachel Cargle, has created an online space for women like me — Rich Auntie Supreme. She defines the space as celebratory and community-driven, having nothing to do with a dislike of children. It’s quite the opposite, according to the site: “The journey of being childfree was a choice we’ve made with joy and expectation. We recognize that not being a mother doesn’t mean that we can’t relish in being a nurturing part of the villages among us.”
My role within my own village will be defined on my own terms. For now, I’m more than happy to be the one to come by and spoil everyone else’s kids with gifts and surprise visits.
And then go home to a life of my own.
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