For me, it was the onset of my divorce. However, the arduous breakdown of my marriage did not change my mind, it opened my eyes. We got married when I was 25 and I thought my life was complete. I had told myself, and everyone else, that I would be married by 25, and have at least one kid by the age of 30. And I was on track…until my husband went to Afghanistan.
We had only lived together for a year and had been married for two. After a short engagement — only four months — we spent our first year states apart — DC and Texas — with visits anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks apart. Then we got orders to Italy. Neither of us could have been happier. He is half Italian, we had met at the age of 13 in Italy, and I was dying to return to Europe.
Our first year living together was as normal as it gets. We had a major adjustment period, like all newlyweds just moving in together, with the added strain of living in a foreign country. While I love Europe and learning foreign languages, I found it difficult to deal with the language barrier and I felt little support from my husband. So, I charged forth to learn the language on my own and eventually became fluent.
At the close of the first year in Italy, we decided to try for a baby. Looking back, I now realize that my desire for a baby felt more like desperation. My sister had already had one child and received unsolicited attention from our parents and my husband’s sister-in-law had secretly entrapped her husband into procreating (which luckily ended in happiness), providing my in-laws with their first grandchild.
We were unsuccessful, despite many trials with fertility treatments, and our efforts were cut short due to his tour in Afghanistan. In the eight months my husband was gone, I felt the need to refocus my life goals in order to stay sane and happy. I broke out of my shell of introversion, started going out, and developed close friendships with both Americans and Italians. I started to find happiness in myself and for the first time, that happiness wasn’t predicated upon another person or specific event.
Our marriage took a downward spiral shortly after my husband returned to Italy. During those eight months of separation, we had both changed. He would not share what he experienced, to the detriment of his personal happiness as well as mine, and I started to see that we never had a strong enough foundation in our marriage to survive. I pulled away to self-preserve and found myself attracted more and more to the single life.
In the last year or so that we lived in the same country, for he moved out before too long, we both changed our minds repeatedly, but never at the same time. We hurt each other equally over and over. Finally, I knew I had to make a decision to save us both, so I left Italy to start a new life.
And now that I’m on my own, for the first time since I was 16, I find that I have never known love, the kind that makes people feel safe. It’s only ever brought me anxiety. More importantly, my brief desire to have kids was rooted in the naive and cultivated belief that marriage + kids = success. Up until this point, I had only ever focused on how me and my life were perceived from the outside, and never thought to question whether it coincided with my personal happiness. I may have entered a marriage for happiness, but it wasn’t until I left it behind that my personal journey could begin.
As I’m starting over, I’m surprised at the diversity of opinions I’ve found regarding “to procreate or not to procreate.” I’ve met die-hard serial monogamists who still harbor those same thoughts I used to have about marrying and having children. I’ve also met those who are as equally certain as I am that kids just don’t fit into our futures. It’s refreshing to find perspectives that cross the entire spectrum and I make a point never to judge anyone’s belief system — even more so now that I am criticized practically everyday.
Consequently, I do tend to bite my tongue about not wanting kids, at least until I know who I’m talking to. I find that the traditional types don’t understand, call me selfish, or tell me it’s just a phase, that my biological clock will start ticking eventually. My mom certainly is of that sort. She doesn’t admit as much out loud to me, but I can tell what she’s thinking, the same way I can read people through their reactions after I allude to happiness sans children.
I hope that the decision to not have children, and being proud of it, is removed from the taboo list. Even if it never is, I will continue to stand by my decision. There are plenty of people who have children who want them, plenty that do that don’t want them, and certainly plenty of people who shouldn’t but do anyway. I’m of the mind that children should always be a choice. In hindsight, my desire to have a baby was never my choice and it brought me more anxiety than I could handle. Now, I know I don’t want my own kids because I feel that I’m only just starting to open my eyes to who I am, how I connect to the world, and what my definitions of love and happiness are.
Most of the times I feel out of sorts and lost, always searching for true happiness but never able to grasp it. And I wouldn’t want any child to have to cope with that.
[This was my submission to Slate for a blog specifically addressing the fact that women who decide not to have children are still not accepted by the majority of society.]