I am a woman with two wonky ovaries and no desire to make babies.
No part of that sentence renders the first four words untrue.
I have childfree friends and friends who have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). To my knowledge, I’m the only person I know of whom both can be said. But there’s one thing my childfree lady friends and my cyster friends sometimes say: “I feel broken.” Because society binds womanhood to maternity so strongly as to conflate the two. To be a woman is to be a mother, we’re told. You are the contents of your uterus. To fail to replicate your DNA is to fail as a woman.
Happily, I am free of that notion. I don’t feel broken at all, and I’ve never felt broken for not wanting children. I know plenty of older women who have led fulfilling lives without taking care of children, so I’ve always seen that as a valid option.
You get questions, though.
“So you want to adopt?” I used to skirt the babies question by mentioning my subfertility (NOTE: while PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility in women, it is not a reproductive death sentence. Many women with PCOS can get pregnant through medical interventions). This strategy backfired for a big reason: my ovaries aren’t the reason I don’t want kids. I don’t want kids because I’ve never been interested in having them.
But wanting kids is assumed to be the default, so people ask me if I’m ever going to adopt. Nope. I think adoption is a beautiful choice for those who have the resources and the emotional fortitude to navigate the system, but it’s not my choice. I don’t want to be responsible for a helpless human being. That crosses off both adoption and reproduction.
But there’s something interesting about being both childfree and subfertile, and to move between both communities. There’s a conclusion I’ve come to from being involved in these spaces:
The assumption that all women will have children hurts people.
It hurts the subfertile and the infertile because many of them want nothing more than to have children, but are being held back by their own bodies. It often makes them feel physically broken, inadequate, undesirable. I encounter these confessions on a frequent basis, being part of the PCOS community, and it’s heartbreaking.
It hurts the childfree because it invalidates our choices, making many women feel like they are socially “broken” or somehow flawed, inadequate. Many people, when they find out a person is childfree, will respond by saying, “But you would make a great parent,” and the implication behind that is that the childfree choice is one derived by inadequacy at parenthood. Maybe that’s the case — one of the many reasons I don’t want to parent is that my high anxiety would likely inflict damage not only upon my potential progeny, but upon myself — but childfreedom is a choice based on preferences, not an obligation based on inadequacy.
Here’s my Advanced Etiquette takeaway: don’t inquire about someone’s family plans unless they bring it up. It can be a painful topic for the subfertile, the infertile, and the childfree.
Of course, men are hurt by the expectation that they must reproduce, as well, but I’m writing from the lived experience of a woman with less-than-functional womanparts. I welcome any childfree or subfertile person — of any gender — to share their experiences in the comments!