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?
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.”
MS: 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.