I was holding my niece for the first time. My sister was sitting up in the hospital bed, a fresh blue nightgown wrapped around her body, her messy black hair pulled into a bun as high up on her head as it could go. The bags beneath her eyes screamed, “I’M TIRED!” but the brightness in her smile sang, “I’ve never felt more alive.” My mom lifted Isabelle carefully out of the crib and, once I sat down, placed her gently in my arms. I was twenty-four and klutzy as ever, so everyone kept telling me to watch her head, watch her neck, stay still. The warmth of her body sinking into mine was surreal to me. How could I suddenly be holding this tiny human after so many months of singing and talking to her in my sister’s stomach? I remember thinking about how perfect she was, how we would be the best of friends.
Not then, nor when my other niece was born, did I look at them and think, “I can’t wait to have children of my own.” I can honestly write that I have never had that thought. Not when they lived with my parents, not when they moved out and I realized how much I missed having them around, not when they’re being cuddly angels who love their Tia, or when they’re being tiny little terrors with big attitudes. My nieces are now six and four; they own some prime real estate in my heart, and I have no desire to push them out of their place.
In the six years that I’ve been an aunt, I’ve gotten married and turned thirty. I’ve witnessed many of my cousins, friends, and Instagram friends have children. Most of them find it baffling that after three years of marriage I haven’t decided to do the same.
About a month ago I was leaving my mother-in-law’s condo, when her neighbour stopped to chat in the hallway. He looked to be over eighty years old, with white hair, a curved back, and a been-there-done-that-I’m-wise-
“So you’re the daughter-in-law. Well, you’re kind of pretty,” he said.
I smiled awkwardly while my mother-in-law told him I’m beautiful.
He turned to face me. “How old are you? How long have you been married?”
“I just turned thirty and we’ve been married for three years,” my blood began to boil.
“Oh no! You’re getting old. You’re getting too old to have kids. You need to have them now.”
This conversation, or some rendition of it, happens at least once a month with my grandparents, aunts, strangers and sometimes even co-workers. Their questions are innocent on their end. It’s the natural progression of things: You buy a house, you get married, you have children. The decision to have children is a serious one to me. You can’t take it back. You have to be ready to have children, whatever “ready” means to you. It has to be something that you want. Having children is a choice, not a rite of passage. What’s more, it’s a decision to be made between the two people that are in the relationship. My husband and I do not want kids, definitely not right now and maybe not ever.
Cue gasps from mothers, soon-to-be-mothers, and young women who want to be mothers someday. “What do you mean you don’t want children? You’re going to regret this, you know. You have to be a mom, what else are you going to do with your life if you don’t have children? Why are you being so selfish?”
What I hear is this: “If you’re not a mother, you are nothing. Your time is useless if you are not procreating.” I’ve been told my entire life to follow my dreams, to work hard and learn as much as I can, to add happiness to the lives of others in whatever way I can, to be creative and write my heart out. What I didn’t notice was the asterisk beside these comments: *until you’re ready to have children, and make sure you have them while you’re young. Then you can go back and do whatever it is you think is worth your time.
Some might say, “Who cares what other people think! You do you, boo!” But it isn’t that easy. Now that I’m thirty I hear a clock ticking in the back of my mind telling me to decide already. I feel guilty and angry at myself for not desiring to have children. I feel guilty for feeling fulfilled and happy with the life that I’m creating with my husband. I feel terrible that for us this is enough right now, and maybe forever.
My heart is torn. Why isn’t my “enough” good enough for everyone else?