By now, many people have seen Jonathan and Ivory's very cute, She & Him-esque breakup video, where the World's Most Adorable Couple announce the demise of their adorable long-term relationship. It's not that they don't get along-they do! It's that Jonathan is all, "I wanna have babies," and Ivory is all, "I don't wanna." And as this Yale study points out, developed nations across the globe are in the midst of experiencing decreases in reproduction, which is a fancy way of saying that more people, like Ivory, are choosing to remain child-free.
I, too, am one of those people. I'm 30, and I've known since I was a teenager that I don't want children; not now, not ever. How do I know? Like some things in life, it's instinctive-I just do. I've dealt with excruciating periods (the result of sensitivity to hormone fluctuations and endometriosis) ever since I started menstruating at the ripe age of 11-the kind of periods that have landed me in the emergency room hooked up to pain medication normally given to cancer patients-that causes me to cringe at the thought of ever putting my body through a pregnancy. I've had nightmares about positive e.p.t.'s; considered a tubal ligation for about a year; and despite having a stable full of newly-minted mommy friends with cherubic babies that could cause a cynic to have second thoughts, I'm more than happy to hand them back when auntie time is up (usually, when drooling grins turn to blood-curdling screams). Even as a kid, my saucy Barbies were too busy having whirlwind romantic weekends with the Ken du jour than to be planning dream weddings or tucking Skipper into bed.
Knowing you don't want children is one thing. Telling people the same is an entirely different song and dance, the equivalent of tango-ing across a social minefield that will unearth opinions from everyone you know. Even those you don't know-like, the media-will happily share their opinions with you, too, ingraining a certain, "Girl is you crazy?!" fear in the intentionally child-free women among us that we'd better be quiet in order to be wanted. So why tell anyone, when it's so uncomfortable to do?
Because this is 2012, y'all. We're living in one of the most progressive eras of our time, and I'll be damned if my decision to stay child-free is a sentence for my selfish uterus and I to head into the golden sunset with a Subaru station wagon full of cats. You don't need to wait five years, or star in a pithy YouTube clip, to tell a boyfriend-or anyone-that your decision is yours and yours alone. I've become immune to the raised eyebrows and sympathetic whispers over time; perhaps you're not-yet. Here's how I've dropped the "No Babies" bomb, from my well-intentioned aunt who warned me that a "career in the boardroom is meaningless without children at home" (ouch!), to guys who might make it to the third date, but not the final cut. It's not about shock value; it's about honesty. (But be warned: there will be plenty of people convinced that you are, indeed, batshit crazy.)
Depending on the kind of relationship you have with them, this will probably be the hardest group to handle, so tread lightly. In fact, you might not want to bring it up at all, unless Great Aunt Mildred corners you at a family picnic and you've got nowhere to turn except into a tray of potato salad. You can white lie with these folks, if you need to-saying things like, "I'm thinking about it!" or "It's not happening right now" can stave off questions about your reproductive clock for at least an hour, if not until the next gathering. Of course, if you feast on enough potato salad you'll produce a small food baby bump that can stunt double for the real thing, which will halt any interrogation for a year, minimum. I'm thankful that my mom hasn't preemptively purchased any "World's Best Grandma" memorabilia; then again, I've got a married sister to bear the brunt of not-so-subtle hints for the time being.
Hopefully, you've chosen wisely, and your friends are not only supportive of your decision, but they're not surprised, because you've already talked about your hopes, fears, and dreams-and those gut-wrenching nightmares I mentioned earlier. Friends with babies of their own will probably fall into one of two categories: the kind that will drape a supportive arm around your shoulder and tell you that you just haven't met "the right guy," secretly hopeful that you'll change your mind so that they'll have someone to enjoy a pre-noon glass of wine with; and the kind who are secretly relieved to have someone whose friendship isn't dependent upon a previously-scheduled playdate. You'll want to keep the peace with your pals, of course-but more in the agree-to-disagree way if you don't see eye to eye.
Men are exempt from having to defend their bachelorhood (save for this dude, who seems to relish his self-ascribed "spinster" label)-for ticking biological clocks they have not-which leaves us with the Jonathans: the baby-hungry types who will likely make great fathers one day, just not with you in the passenger seat as Queen Baby Momma. This is another tricky group, because talking reproduction with a guy whose middle name you aren't even sure of can feel downright awkward. But consider, for a moment, the other items we keep on our mental checklists as we navigate the murky waters of romance-whether it's political views, religious beliefs or things like height and age-that help us determine whether a guy's worth a second glance. It's much easier to dump someone whose morals don't align with our own in the budding stages of a relationship than it is to break up with them months or years down the line, putting emotional attachment, mutual friends and potentially a rent-controlled apartment at stake. (Disclaimer: I live in Boston, where rent-controlled apartments went the way of wearing overalls with one strap unhinged sometime in the mid-90s, but I've heard tales of their unicorn-like existence in New York City.)
You'll want to pay attention to timing here-maybe the waiting area of a tiny French bistro isn't the best place to ask if he'd consider a vasectomy, mademoiselle-but don't put it off if it really matters to you (which I'd assume it does if you're still reading). I usually wait until the third date, unless we've fast-forwarded straight to vomit-inducing PDA reminiscent of a Tiffany commercial. Most guys I've gone out with have been surprisingly open to discussing kids early on, save for the few who looked at me as if I'd asked to borrow a tampon when I casually dropped it into conversation. And that's the thing: it's not so much about vetting someone for marriage material or quashing mystery; it's that I'd personally not live in a fantasy world, secretly hoping a prototypical Jonathan might want all-white furniture free of little chocolate fingerprints as much as I do-only to find out he's cut from the white-picket fence variety.
You'd think that the servicer of your lady parts would have your best interests at heart, right? Unfortunately, that's not always the case. For years, I'd boldly declared my intentions of remaining child-free at each of my annual check-ups, which my doctor often brushed off with a skeptical wave of his prescription pad. The line was drawn when he refused-refused!-to even discuss the pros and cons of a tubal ligation, saying that I was "too young" to know what I wanted, and that until I was married, the conversation was closed. I was 28 then, and I knew enough to get the hell out of that office and to find a provider who'd take my health-and not his personal credo-seriously.
You don't need to take drastic measures, like sterilization or stomping out your doctor's office, to make a statement about your choice. But you shouldn't have to make a statement; when it comes to your healthcare providers, they should be on your team, rooting for you no matter what. Any other attitude is a red flag in my book. Places like Planned Parenthood, for example, are staffed with providers who are just as happy if you're rolling solo for the rest of your days, or if one of those days will involve you plus 2.5 children.
Voicing your opinion to stay child-free has its risks, but it's mostly a matter of getting used to protests that you'd one day make an excellent mother. And to those people, I say: if you liked it, then you shoulda put a NuvaRing on it.
Karyn Polewaczyk lives and writes in Boston. Her work has appeared in Jezebel, xoJane, More.com and Boston's Weekly Dig, among others, and she's slated to pen Boston.com's "Let's Go Out" column. Follow her on Twitter: @KarynPolewaczyk.
Image by Jim Cooke