The battle is raging.
Toss the phrase ‘childfree’ into a search engine and you’ll find no shortage of articles, communities and blogs devoted to defending a woman or couple’s right to a childfree life. Earlier this year, TIME Magazine devoted some serious page space to the issue, including an online poll that indicated that only 7% of respondents felt that people choosing to opt out of the ‘next comes baby in a baby carriage’ were selfish. And yet it’s the primary argument you’ll find in any rudimentary search.
“Let’s start with the facts: I’m 41,” Carolina A. Miranda starts her TIME article, “I’ve been happily married for 16 years. My reproductive organs are in good working order. Yet, I don’t have children — nor do I want them. And my intention is to keep things that way.”
In the online world, childfree intends to capture all those without children, whether by choice or by circumstance. They find life without children thoroughly satisfying and aren’t interested in having their minds changed. Unfortunately, childfree also includes those who use the label as an opportunity to rage against (what they consider) a child-centric world. These are the individuals who refer to parents as ‘breeders’ and children as ‘spawn’. (Those are the more polite of the available terms, by the way. I can’t possibly post the others here with also having a giant red ‘bleep’ button.)
Even in Christian circles, the use of the word ‘childfree’ usually leads to an unsolicited effort to persuade someone that they don’t know what they’re missing. I’m thinking of a recent article from Relevant magazine where the author got lambasted both in the blog comments and in the comments on Relevant’s Facebook page. A painful read. I quietly sat on my hands and prayed for the writer that was enduring this scathing response from the Christian community.
It’s a current reality in today’s society: there is additional value reserved for those who have children.
Within Christian circles there is a measure of spiritual worth attached to having children. (If you don’t believe me, feel free to read through the comments on the Relevant article linked above.) I don’t believe that it’s intentional, by any means, but it is most definitely there. In our early years of infertility, I remember being told that women get married to have babies, not a career. In visiting an older couple from church one Sunday, The Len and I were asked about children and when we responded (as jovially as we could) that we had cats, we were told quite seriously that cats are all well and good, but when would be the babies be coming?
We, the Church, assume that no one – given the choice – would choose childlessness over parenting.
So is it just semantics? Anyone who has read this blog for any period of time will know I predominantly refer to myself as childless. In many ways, we are childless by circumstance. And yet we chose to step off the road to parenthood when we did. We chose to stop praying for a miracle, chose to stop reading articles on adoption, chose to believe that there is fullness in this life without children, chose to embrace joy.
We could have chosen to pursue adoption (despite God’s prompting to leave it alone). We could have chosen to continue at the clinic (despite the physical and emotional trauma it presented to our family). We could have chosen to let infertility stand as a barred gate to the rest of our lives (despite the fact that the weight to carry that burden was heavier than letting it go).
Prompted by circumstance, we chose a life without children.
I understand it’s not everyone’s choice. Perhaps because God didn’t paint their path with broad, childless strokes, perhaps because some choose to believe that no one – given the choice – would choose a life without children.
There is social validation in having children. This is why the ‘selfish’ battles rages within childfree circles. This is why TIME Magazine can generate enough content for the childfree issue. This is why we lambaste young, female writers on a Christian site over speaking to a choice that has the ability to alienate. There is belonging in having children… there are MOPs groups and morning Bible studies and women’s church events and park play dates and clothing swaps and a child is the admission ticket to all of these.
And truthfully, I refer to myself as childless because I am afraid. I say it’s because I don’t want to be lumped with the people who call parents ‘breeders’ and children ‘spawn’ but that’s not true. I don’t want to get enmeshed in the you’re-too-selfish-to-making-the-parenting-sacrifice dialogue. I don’t want you to assume I don’t like kids or never truly wanted them. I, too, want some measure of social validation.
I shouldn’t need it. I know. It is so much more than semantics, more than just a choice of words. I love kids, I love parents. I have more friends who are parents than friends who are not. I love being Aunt Thelma and everything that affords me with awesome kids who aren’t mine. I love that my husband can rest when he needs to without feeling he’s a bad father for needing rest. I love sleeping in and eating popcorn for dinner.
We chose this. Inasmuch as other circumstances may have lead us down a different path, from these circumstances we chose this life.
Let’s end with the facts, then:
I’ve been happily married for 10 years.
My reproductive organs are dismally useless.
I don’t have children and won’t be pursuing adoption.
I am incredibly thankful for my life.
I choose this life – this joy – every.single.day.