The Most Important Question I Ask Myself as a Childless Woman in Her 40's

Photo by Nynne Schrøder on Unsplash

Though I carry some grief about being childless-by-circumstance, I am very ambiguous about having children. People seem surprised when I say that. At my age, shouldn’t I be extra motivated to get on that before it’s too late?

I can remember how excited I was to become a mother when I was in my twenties. Thankfully, with age has come a sense of caution. Thoughtfulness. Care and consideration.

I find myself more hesitant about motherhood these days. Sometimes, unfairly so. For instance, in my twenties, I thought I was pretty amazing and that I’d be a kick-ass mom. As I’ve aged, I’ve come to realize that I’m actually just a normal human schlepping around a dozen suitcases full of emotional baggage. Now I know that my future children would end up carrying some of that. That gives me pause.

In some areas, I’ve become more patient. But in others, much less so. I can be quick to anger and judgment in ways I never was as a young woman. That gives me pause.

I struggle with my self-confidence, especially in my career. I’ve never been able to consistently make a good living. Is that fair to my future children who would rely on me to give them a good life? That gives me pause.

And yes, I lean in the other direction, too. I see mothers holding their kids on their lap and it makes me long for a child of my own. I’m addicted to the scent of my newborn nephew’s hair and wonder what it would be like to hold something that tiny that actually belonged to me. And I worry when I think about the future — that eventually, I will come to the end of the train tracks and biological motherhood won’t be a choice, anymore.

Despite all this, I still feel hesitant.

Yes, babies are a miracle. Yes, motherhood is amazing (or so they say). Yes, I always wanted to be a mom. But babies are also loud and demanding. Motherhood is also merciless and unrelenting (from what I’ve seen). And of course I wanted to be a mom — in the world in which I grew up, not being a mother wasn’t even a consideration.

That’s when I started wondering: Do I really want to be a mother or was that desire born from our cultural expectations about women?

I do not have an answer to this. I have a pretty strong maternal streak, it’s true, but does that have to translate into being someone’s mother? Would I have wanted to be a mom if, as a child, I had had more childless role models (or really, any at all?) who were content with their lives?

It’s the weight of the issue that makes me so suspicious. Can you think of anything heavier than the questions Do I want to be a mother? or How can I become a mother before it’s too late? Honestly, I feel that such questions are given more gravity in our culture than our questions surrounding mass shootings, racial profiling, and the imminent destruction of our planet caused by climate change.

Doesn’t that seem odd to you? Why on earth is my decision whether or not to procreate more important than these other topics? Personally, I’m not even sure it should get equal standing. What does it really matter if I (or anyone) has a child or not?

But already, I can hear the voices of doom. To this day, people love to trot out old classics like: You’ll never know love until you have a child, You’ll die alone in a nursing home if you don’t have kids, and Most people come to regret not having a family. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these gems, and many others.

Why aren’t we this worried about mass shootings, racism, and climate change? Seriously.

This is why I suspect there is more at play here. There’s such an imbalance, it’s almost comical to me.

Here’s what I really think: I think motherhood is really the most incredible, soul-transforming journey…and also not a big deal, at all. I think not having children is also a soul-transforming journey…and also not a big deal, at all.

In short, it doesn’t matter, either way, despite what our cultural beliefs tell us.

Yes, I want to take care of myself by pursuing the things I think will make me happy. But there are certain decisions in life you can’t remake. You can divorce your spouse, but you can’t pick a new kid (or return them, altogether). That’s why the argument that you might regret not having kids seems so absurd to me. I also might regret having them. I can imagine few regrets worse than becoming a mother and finding out you really don’t want kids. It seems completely backwards that we make the regret argument in favor of children — children who would suffer gravely from being born to an unhappy mother. If we’re going to have regret, let’s at least prevent the spread of collateral damage.

So for now, I will remain ambiguously childless, despite my advancing age. Back when I had all the time in the world, I ran toward motherhood with all the destructiveness and determination of a bull running through the streets of Pamplona. But the less time I have, the more time I take to consider: Do I really want this?

I wish I had been asking myself this question all along.