Kat Kinsman knew as a child that she didn't want to have children
"A married woman who chooses not to have children is highly suspect to some," she writes
Still, friends (and their beloved children, for those who have them) enrich her life, she writes
In marriage, friendships, career and life, she's content: "Everything I want is right here"
On Mother’s Day, no one is going to send me flowers or a card. I will not be awakened by sweet, giggling toddlers bearing a tray of breakfast in their chubby hands or receive an awkward but heartfelt hug from a gangly teenage son or end a phone call with a teary, dorm-bound daughter saying, “I love you, Mom.” I am no one’s mother, and I never will be.
This is not by accident, a case of insurmountable physical challenges, an unwilling partner or prioritizing career over children. At age 39, the window of my fertility is sliding shut, but I feel no sense of dread, panic or regret. I have known since I was a child myself that I didn’t want to have any of my own. It’s simply astonishing to me how frequently people – strangers, especially – have felt that I should answer to them for that.
A married woman who chooses not to have children is highly suspect to some, broken in some fundamental way. My friends know that I am not and that I support their parenthood in any way I can. I have offered solace while they grieved over infertility and miscarriage. I have wept with joy, staring into the faces of their children for the first time – seeing in them the undeniable imprint of their parents and loving them already and always, just for that. I have taken my friends’ sad and stumbling teens on long walks, under the auspices of their parents to whom they’d simply stopped talking.
When my best friend of nearly two decades asked me to be present at the birth of her child, I simply said yes. I did not know that it would entail kneeling aside a tub for hours, her head in one of my hands, and her knees locked into her husband’s and my elbows as she heaved and strained their son out into the world in a bloody, howling, miraculous mess. I watched her face as she held him to her chest and fell in lifelong love with him – as her heart grew extra chambers, as she metamorphosed into a mother.
I felt nothing but pure bliss for her budding family – and nothing but contentment for myself having been lucky enough to witness this momentous thing. Not a pang, not an emptiness, not a tick or a twinge. One of the concerns often levied at intentionally childless people is that we’ll never truly know love until it is reflected back to us by our own flesh and blood. I suppose I should be grateful for that level of solicitousness, but it tends to smack of pity and disdain. So do the allegations of selfishness.
I remember this as clear as day, being 10 years old and a friend telling me I’d be a bad mother. The children from her parents’ home day care had crawled up to the tip-top shelf where she’d stashed her social studies project and smashed it all to bits. She’d brought in the tattered remains to our unsympathetic teacher, who gave her a failing grade for the project. I was livid from the injustice of it all – from the cranky, burned-out educator who no longer had any business molding young minds, to her parents who made her live in a home that stank of diapers and was never silent, to the pint-sized savages who had laid waste to her lovely work.
“How do you stand it?” I asked. “All of it. The noise, the diaper changing, not having anything ever be private?”
She hissed at me, wounded, “You’re going to be a horrible mother!”
“No, I’m not,” I calmly replied. “I’m not going to be a mother at all.”
Somehow I understood it in my bones, as deeply and simply as know I have hazel eyes and cannot sing: I was never going to carry a child inside my body, and I was completely at peace with that. The need, want and drive are simply not there. Nearly three decades later, that hasn’t wavered, though it has hardly gone unassailed by others who have felt compelled to critique or to pry.
My family has always understood this about me and was content with my sister and me finding fulfillment in other arenas. On both sides, there were some aunts or uncles who never married or reproduced, and it wasn’t seen as a metric for happiness. When my husband and I married, he was 40, it was his second time, and the next generation (and their children) were well under way. I gather that being spared familial pressure is a rare and tremendous thing, and I am grateful for it.
To friends and strangers who ask, I say I just don’t want to. If they push further, “You two would make such great parents!” (Take THAT, childhood pal!), I tout the role of the fabulous New York City aunt – an Auntie Mame (minus the mansion) or Cousin Serena (minus the magical powers). Often, that stops the interrogation, but on occasion (or online), it gets hostile. How dare I? What’s wrong with me?
I toss aside the accusations of selfishness: Not having to care for children of our own makes my husband and me nimble with our assistance when it’s needed. We’re quick with a listening ear and a chilled cocktail for friends in need of company, share cash and volunteer time we might not have otherwise had and are fluent in cranky, misfit teen. As we often tell our friends and family, we may not be especially comfortable cradling babies, but when your kid hits puberty and decides they “hate” you and the rest of humanity, hand ‘em over. We’ll let them know how lucky they are to have you as parents.
Less easy to shake off is the assertion that a female who does not bear a child is somehow not a real woman. I’m secure in my choice but deeply disappointed that one woman would wield that as a slur against another. I’ve no right to mandate what a mother should teach her daughter, but I hope, deep down in my nullipara heart, that some of the lessons would be about personal freedom, the beauty of difference and the possibility that a person could be content and complete all on her own.
And I am not alone. In the world I’ve made for myself, I have a career I adore and friends who fill my head, heart and waking hours. They are in various stages of couple and singlehood, childlessness and large-brooded, and each illuminates my world in a different way. They make my heart larger, stronger and better.
At home, there is my family: the husband who I tell on a daily basis that he is my favorite person on Earth (I made sure on our second date that he didn’t want kids either; otherwise, there would not have been a third), a rabbit and our two dogs. They are not our children, as they are for some people, but they are our charges, and we fuss and spoil accordingly.
On Mother’s Day, I’ll come downstairs, rub the sleep out of my eyes, pour some coffee and cuddle in with my odd little pack on the couch. There might not be a greeting card for that, but I don’t need one. Everything I want is right here.