“I hope I don’t see you back here, when you’re 30, telling me that you have regrets.”
These words were spoken by my doctor when I was 20. He was the fifth obstetrician-gynecologist I had seen as I sought to become permanently sterilized via tubal ligation — a procedure commonly known as “having your tubes tied.” Doctors 1, 2 and 3 had turned me down, saying I was far too young to make this decision. Then came Doctor 4, a middle-aged woman who, amazingly, approved my surgery without much fuss. The only reason I was seeing Doctor 5 was because Doctor 4 had to take an unexpected leave of absence. Doctor 5 was willing to perform my surgery only because Doctor 4 had okayed it, and he made no secret of his belief that I would regret my decision — specifically, the day I turned 30.
Since elementary school I had been sure of my desire to remain child-free. Every doctor I’d seen, with the exception of Doctor 4, had mentioned 30 as the exact age when I would begin to feel regret and crave motherhood.
I understood the reasoning, in principle. It’s generally expected that a person’s 30s will be wildly different from their 20s. The thing I couldn’t seem to get my doctors — even the one who ended up performing my surgery — to understand is that most people’s 30s are wildly different from their 20s because most people raise kids during their 30s. With no kids? Not a whole lot changes.
There is a common joke, among child-free people: Without children, your 30s are just like your 20s, but with money. In most respects, that’s accurate, especially for someone like myself, who was never particularly into partying or clubbing. Though I have many creative projects and travel plans that I’m looking forward to, my 30s are not exceptionally different from my 20s — but they would be if I had chosen to pursue motherhood. So far I’ve been focused on continuation — building on the career and relationships I established in my 20s — than on starting anything from scratch. And while there is more “fun money” to go around than when my husband and I were in our 20s, it’s also frustrating when people infer that money must be the reason that I chose to seek sterilization.
And infer they do. I’ve been asked if my yearly vacations are “really worth the price” of never raising a family. More than one person has gone so far as to tell me that child-free millennials like myself are “what’s wrong with the world today,” because we value money over family.
Money had nothing to do with my decision to not have kids. In fact, there was no easily digestible reason for my decision to remain child-free. This seems to frustrate many people, as they try to wrap their heads around my choice. People frequently ask questions such as: Do you want to focus on your career instead? Do you want to travel instead? Do you have a genetic condition that you don’t want to pass on? Do you just hate kids?
Like many of my child-free friends, I just wasn’t interested in parenthood. It’s hard to explain. Why do I hate the taste of green onions, when most other people find them delicious? I can’t tell you the reason … I can only say that they’ve ruined my loaded baked potato. Most people do experience the urge to have children — since the vast majority of people choose to become parents. But as someone who has never felt that urge, how can I explain myself?
I have no interest in law, architecture or parenthood. It’s just that I only get questioned about one of those decisions. I do wish that I had a more satisfying explanation for the people who question my child-free status. But I’ve yet to find one.
Compared with 2009, when I had my tubes tied, there’s more cultural acceptance for adults who don’t have children. This may be partly because the number of child-free women has been rising in the United States since the early 2000s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of voluntarily child-free women rose from 6.2 percent in 2002 to 7.4 percent (or just over 1 in 14 women) by 2015. Between 2007 and 2012, the birthrate for women in their 20s fell 15 percent. And the United States’ overall fertility rate — a figure that estimates the number of births a woman will have in her lifetime — is at an all-time low.
While these things don’t necessarily add up to a better public image for child-free people (and certainly won’t protect against invasive questions from well-meaning relatives) they seem like a step in the right direction — toward a world where everyone can make the reproductive choices that are best for them with less judgment from others.
As for me, I doubt I’ll ever look back on the decision I made at 20 — to end my fertility at what was considered a wildly young age — as an act of youthful recklessness.
I had chosen my field of study by then. I had begun to pursue a career. Unbeknown to me, I had even chosen my life partner. The boyfriend who held my hand as I was put under anesthetic for tubal ligation is now my husband of seven years.
My husband and I are the same age. We can’t reminisce about the beginning of our relationship without remembering our first discussions about being child-free. Our shared desire for that life helped attract us to one another from the start.