By Jennifer Richardson
I would like to be able to say I always knew I didn’t want to have kids, but the truth is a lot less clear. Sure, there were indications early on that this might be the case, like how as a teenager I used to stand in front of the microwave when it was on and proclaim I was radiating my uterus to prevent impregnation. (In retrospect, I’m pretty sure I did that because I enjoyed shocking my mother.) Then later, as my friends started to have babies, I was not blind to my uncanny ability to make infants cry instantly upon contact.
But still some part of me held out for the possibility that my biological clock would start ticking. This was what was supposed to happen, right? After all, I had grown up in the eighties when well-meaning feminists were still pushing the belief that women could and should do it all: husband, kids, and a glass-ceiling-breaking career where you got to wear jewel-colored power suits with linebacker-worthy shoulder pads. Convinced I, too, could and should want to do it all, in my late-twenties I even went as far as to threaten to break off my engagement to my anti-children fiancé if he wasn’t willing to leave open the possibility that one day we may have kids. He caved, and I was a married woman at twenty-nine.
Then, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, thirty-five arrived and there was still no sign of my biological clock. This state of affairs made me uneasy. I knew beyond that age I was entering into high-risk territory for a pregnancy, my parents were highly vocal about their desperation for grandchildren, and my husband—eager to know once and for all if his life was going to involve children or not—was becoming as vocal as my parents in expressing his desire for me to just make a decision already. I caved to the pressure and, that Christmas, my husband and I announced to my parents that we were going to “try” for a baby in the next year.
But even this game of chicken I had played with myself and my poor, unsuspecting family was not enough to kick start my biological clock. This became clear as the next year wore on and each month I somehow ended up at the pharmacy to pick up a refill of birth control. Despite the fact that it made me feel somehow less of a woman, I was finally starting to admit to myself that I didn’t really want to have kids.
Later that year I ended up in a neurologist’s office with what turned out to be symptoms of multiple sclerosis. It was a development that left my husband and parents as shocked as I was, and temporarily took the focus off the fact that I still hadn’t tried to get pregnant. As I grappled with the nature of that disease, which is unsettlingly mysterious in its cause, treatments, and prognosis, I tried desperately to get my neurologist to articulate something I could do that would lessen my chances of developing the full-blown ailment. After evading my previous attempts to pin him down, he finally caved at a follow-up appointment, half-heartedly mentioning a study that had shown some evidence pregnancy would reduce my risk. I couldn’t have been more shocked if he had said voodoo might help.
And that’s the moment when I realized I didn’t want to have kids. This was as good a reason as I was ever going to get to have a child, and yet my gut instantly said no. (Not to mention that as a strategy for lessening my chances of developing a chronic disease, pregnancy seemed at best risky and at worst unethical.) It’s been four years since that day, and, although I have since been diagnosed with MS—which in my case just means I have had a second bout of temporary and relatively benign symptoms—I can honestly say I have no regrets about my decision, other than the fact that I didn’t have the confidence to make it sooner.
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JENNIFER RICHARDSON is an American Anglophile who spent three years living in a Cotswold village populated straight out of English central casting by fumbling aristocrats, gentlemen farmers, and a village idiot. Her first book, Americashire: A Field Guide to a Marriage, is based on that experience in the Cotswolds and the coinciding decision-making process about having kids. She currently lives in Santa Monica, California along with her husband and her royal wedding tea towel collection. Americashire is out now from She Writes Press in May 2013, and you can find Jennifer online at: