By Catherine Savini

If Not Kids, then Something Substantial: Interview with Melissa

Melissa is a 42-year-old middle-school math teacher with two dogs. She regularly takes her husky, Takoda, to a youth detention center to provide pet therapy, and she spends her summers traveling.

MS: Do you want kids?

Melissa: So, I never say “no,” but I guess I never say “yes, definitely.”  I always thought that I would.

I never thought, “I’m never going to have kids” until recently. I said it out loud for the first time the other day to my friend.  I was surprised that it came out so naturally.

I just had a birthday, and you hear all the time that after a certain age, don’t even think about it. Even if I met someone tomorrow, having kids would still be years off.

MS: What do you think made you say it out loud? Do you think it was turning 42?

Melissa: I don’t know if it was the age or the thought that I’m never meeting anyone. Never. Ever.

MS: Can you separate having kids from meeting someone?

Melissa:

I thought about having one on my own, but I just think my life would change too much, and I don’t know if I have the support system for it.

So much of my time is spent making money, and I would have to give that up plus put money in. Kids cost a lot when you don’t have a built in baby sitter.

MS: You have a lot of time to meet someone. Do you feel like you are not going to meet anyone because you are past childbearing years?

Melissa: I think when I meet people casually, as soon as they find out how old I am, it changes their point of view. There are men who have an idea what a good age is for a mate, whether they want kids or not. That’s my experience.

Men don’t have to worry about running out of time.

The other thing is: I don’t feel like I can’t have a baby.  I don’t feel like my body is old. I feel healthy and young. But my body inside could tell me something totally different.

MS: What about when you see celebrities having children in their late forties?

Melissa: Then, I think, “Oh, maybe I can.”

MS: Would you consider adoption?

Melissa: I’ve thought about fostering. So much would have to change. I don’t think my brain has fully wrapped around time for me to rush into doing anything.

MS:  Do you think you could be happy if you met someone and didn’t have kids?

Melissa: Yeah, I definitely think so. That’s the only time I get upset. I just teared up a little bit. What if I do meet someone, and he really wants kids and it can’t happen. Or, if I really want kids because I love the person that much.

MS: When you were little did you envision yourself having kids?

Melissa: Yes, I’ve always said. “when I have kids…”

MS: If you fell in love with a guy who didn’t want kids, would you pursue a relationship with him?

Melissa: If he told me right off the bat, I would still date him. And if I fell in love with him, and he said let’s go travel all the time, that would be fine with me. I would need something of substance to take that space other than the normal get up have breakfast, go to work, then have dinner.

I would need something to take the place of kids.

We could buy a bigger house with a lot of land to foster dogs. Do something more giving. I foster dogs. Not only do I have my own two dogs, but I hold dogs and take care of them until they can be adopted. That would fill that need.

MS: What do you think are the advantages of not having kids?

Melissa: I can do anything, for the most part. I have to make sure someone can come and let my dogs out. So, I can’ be totally spontaneous.

Little things: my house doesn’t have to be spotless all the time. I can nap in the middle of the day. I napped yesterday, and I thought, so many people can’t do this because they have kids. I don’t have to think about being frivolous with my money. I can spend it on whatever I want to. I suppose these are little things compared to being a mom.

But, sometimes I listen to the radio in the morning and all the people do is complain about their kids. I see the misery that my parents went through, and I don’t know. I know there are so many good things, but there’s so much sacrifice. And you’re glad to do it once you become a mother, or at least you do it.

My friend has fertility issues, and she was at a party and a woman with three kids turned to her and said, “you are so lucky you don’t have kids.” My friend said to me when she was telling me the story: “lucky” is when you have a healthy child. If you don’t have kids, you either chose not to or you are unlucky.

MS: If you could tell moms how to be more sensitive and kind to people who are not moms, what would you tell us?

Melissa: Being a mother requires sacrifice but for most people who are mothers it’s something they chose to do. Don’t judge me because I didn’t follow the same path as you.

MS: Has anyone said anything insensitive?

Melissa: If people ask if I have kids when they meet me and I say “no,” they respond “Oh” and say something to the effect of: “What do you do with your time then? What makes your life important?”

I also hear it from my students, “Oh, you don’t have kids. Oh. Really?” I say, “no, I have fur babies.”

melissa's dogsMS: Do you feel like having dogs scratches the mom itch at all?

Melissa: A little bit. I have to nurture them. I have to make sure they are good dogs for their society. But I can leave them home for hours without someone taking care of them. When I’m working I have to make sure someone comes and walks them and lets them out. And the financial part of taking care of dogs is a fraction of taking care of kids but it is still vets and good food. When my dog had one little rash, we were in for hundreds of dollars. I guess I get worried and nervous. They are like babies because they can’t take care of themselves. So it helps it a little bit.

MS: What about teaching?

Melissa: Teaching makes me understand why I’m okay not having kids.

MS: Are there things you’d have to give up if you had kids that you’d be sad to give up?

Melissa: Well, I go out all the time. But, then I ask myself: if I had a significant other, would I want to stay out so late?

MS: If you could give your 22-year-old self a message what would it be?

Melissa: I’ve had so many relationships that I didn’t fully commit to thinking there’s something better, and  I don’t think I ever let myself see if the relationship was working. I would tell myself to be more open minded and give the relationship a chance to work.

MS: If you could give advice to a 30-year-old woman who didn’t know if she wanted kids, what would you say?

Melissa: I would advise someone to not have kids just because society tells them to. That’s the wrong reason. You need to do it because you want to and because you think you’ll be able to give the best life possible. I see it all the time: house, marriage, kids. Sometimes I don’t think people actually sit back and think, maybe we don’t want kids, and if we don’t it’s okay.

I never made up my mind either way.

I Just Want Love with a Person: Interview with Maggie

Blonde-haired, blue-eyed Maggie is an award-winning high school math teacher and Zumba instructor in Massachusetts. Maggie is not her real name because as a high school teacher she likes to keep herself off the internet. Maggie is the name she uses when she is out; her friends dubbed her Maggie because she is magnetic.

MS: How old are you?

Maggie: I’m going to be 42 on Monday.

MS: Do you want kids?

Maggie: Yes, I think so, I don’t know. I love kids.

MS: You said a fast “yes” and then “I think so,”  and then “I don’t know…”

Maggie: I think I would love to have kids and be a good mother and then I took it back because I don’t know if I’m going to have them. I still would want them. Or I would want someone else’s kids. Yeah, I want to be with kids. I would rather be with kids than not. That’s my answer. (Laughs)

I don’t know if I’m going to have them.

MS: You would rather be with kids even if they are someone else’s kids and you got into a relationship with that person…

Maggie: or foster or adoption…

MS: So, do you think about adoption?

Maggie: I don’t think I’m strong enough to do adoption yet. If I felt that strongly about it I think I would have already started looking into it. Now, it’s just thinking about mentoring, Big Brother, Big Sister, fostering.

MS: Do you have a plan to foster or is it just in the back of your head?

Maggie: No plan, it’s just a possibility.

MS: Do you feel any sense of urgency when it comes to getting kids into your life?

Maggie: No, I might have thought that in the past, like six or seven years ago.

MS: Why do you think it doesn’t feel as urgent now that you are turning 42? Why is it less urgent now that you are older?

Maggie: Maybe because you have no control over having your own children, and I thought I did before, and I’m just realizing I don’t.

MS: What are your reservations about fostering?

Maggie: Committing 100% of my life to it and not being able to afford it, but I think they help you. But I would love it. I would want an older kid. Not under 5. Older than 5.

MS:  Why?

Maggie:  I think that part of raising children sucks. (laughs) It appears to from every single person I know. It just seems really hard until they can do things on their own and function with other people.

MS:  Not that the teenage years are easy.

Maggie: No, but I love them. I am with them all day and I love them.

MS: Does being a teacher scratch the mom itch at all?

Maggie: You definitely get to give all of your love to kids. Maybe you don’t get all the love back.

Someone told me: don’t have kids to have love. That’s not really fair to the kid. I am 50/50 on that because that is unconditional love.

MS: Do you think that’s a part of why you want to have a kid?

Maggie: I thought it was, but

I think I really just want love with a person and not a kid. I would like to have kids but I think I really want love more. Love.

MS: Do you think there will be a point, if you have not met anybody, that you will take action and try to foster a kid or adopt a kid or are you just not going to think about that until you have to think about that? Read more

Why MotherShould? Making the Decision

I was taken off guard when my friends started announcing that they were pregnant.  Before they got married off, we discussed guys all the time, in detail, but we didn’t have any conversations about babies. I was not privy to any deliberations. Suddenly, my friends were just pregnant, as if it were a foregone conclusion that after you get married, you procreate and that’s that. It never felt like a foregone conclusion for me, so with each baby shower, I felt more and more frustrated and a little bit angry. Why did the proliferation of babies make me mad? I felt abandoned and left out, but mostly I felt troubled that I didn’t feel any urge to have a child.

The common wisdom is that people who are not sure about whether or not they should have kids, should not have kids. A person, really a woman, needs to really, really want kids to be a mother, preferably from the moment they are little girls. (Fathers, on the other hand, can decide at any moment.) A fence sitter might feel inclined to keep it to herself for fear that revealing her indecisiveness might actually put her in the not-a-mother camp whether or not she’s ready to make that decision. Essentially, indecision tends to equal not ready for motherhood.

In my thirties, I came out of the closet as indecisive and started asking the people around me: why have kids? Here are the answers I got:

  • “Don’t have kids.” –my friend from first grade who has two rambunctious boys. How can she tell me not to have kids if she decided to have two? Is she doubting my ability to mother because of my uncertainty?
  • “You have good boobs, don’t have kids and ruin them. Mine are like half-filled pastry bags now.” –a friend of a friend tells me in complete seriousness. After she doles out this advice, she has a second kid, presumably because here boobs are already ruined.
  • “Your life is full enough that you don’t need to have kids.” —a friend from graduate school. Another friend thinks I can’t hack motherhood?
  • “You really have to have kids, Catherine. Don’t worry. You will like them so much more than you like other people’s kids.” —my cousin who swore she would not have kids so she and her husband could travel the world; she has three.

The advice I got was always short on evidence.

This site is the forum I wanted in my mid-thirties when I was trying to figure out if I wanted to have a kid. I didn’t want advice so much as I wanted a glimpse backstage to see what makes motherhood so challenging and so joyous and how childfree women experienced life in a world where women are expected to be mothers or to at least want to be mothers.

I believe our culture is moving toward making motherhood a choice rather than a foregone conclusion, particularly as more and more women wait until they are over the “high-risk” age of 35 to have their first child or opt not to have children at all, as fertility treatments become more advanced, and as single motherhood by choice becomes more socially acceptable.

Although I’ve made my choice—one and done!—I’m still hungry for the stories, the particulars of what happens backstage, of women who choose from the array of options available to us now.