The Novelty of Being Child-Free

Last night my husband dreamt we had a child. A boy. With glasses. “I held him in my arms and wept,” he said. It was funny to hear my husband say that. For one, he is not a weeper. For two, he and I do not have children and are happy about that. It was a choice we made when we fell in love at the age of 44.  Nevertheless, I was touched by his dream – by the fact that he was so moved.

I always knew I’d have kids. I was certain of it. A boy, then a girl.  I even had the names picked out and a small collection of vintage baby clothes carefully stored for the future. However, when I turned 39, everything changed.  Forty was looming and I assumed I would be married with kids by then. But I didn’t even have a boyfriend. How would the grand vision of my life as a mother ever materialize?

For one brief moment, I allowed myself to consider the possibility that I might not have kids in this lifetime. I was so shocked, I slammed the door hard on that thought. It took another six months before the forbidden idea crept back and took root.  I reluctantly mulled it over.  And I soon became fascinated by the possibility that despite my certainty, this might indeed be a lifetime where I would not be a mother.

While I wrestled with disappointment and a semblance of grief, I also asked what benefits might occur as a consequence. I’m an optimistic person by nature, so I’m always looking for the “good news” in just about any situation.  Soon enough, I found my answer: Being child-free gave me permission to enjoy my life on my own terms without having to sacrifice or care for someone else whose life literally depended on me. Being child-free meant I was as liberated as I could possibly be to live the adventurous, creative life I wanted.

I believe we get to live through many lifetimes. One life is not enough to experience the breadth of human experience, and the fact that we’re here even once is just as mind-boggling as being here multiple times. They are equally miraculous realities.

So it was in the context of believing I had past lives and future lives that I made peace with being child-free in this lifetime.  Because I’ve definitely been a mother before.  Many times.  And yet, in this life, I was able to make a choice to experience womanhood under different terms.  That’s because never before in history have large numbers of women been able to be financially independent, socially empowered, and allowed to be single and/or child-free while living wonderful lives.

I’m outspoken about this because there seems to be a stigma attached to people – especially women – who don’t have kids.  “You’re being selfish by not having kids,” they might say indignantly. “She must be infertile,” people surmise discreetly.  “Don’t ask,” others whisper.  And while it’s true that there are many couples and individuals who are desperately trying to have children, and feel bereft at the absence of children in their lives, that is not the story I chose for myself though I could have.  I struggled for a year and a half to accept that I might not have kids, and it was not fun. But I had a choice about my attitude. And I chose to see the bright side to the situation and affirm the positive consequences.

Had Drew and I met five years earlier when we were 38, we would have had kids.  And we would have loved being parents, I’m sure.  But that’s not what happened.  Drew and I met when we met.  We made a decision to not have kids, and now that we’re older and fulfilling our vision of doing what we want without having to sacrifice for our children, we are both SO grateful we get to be child-free in this lifetime, even if we would have had a really cute boy.  With glasses.