"Confession: When strangers ask my husband and me if we’re having children (and they often do) we sometimes lie. I’d say that it’s mostly for their sake, but it’s really because we’ve come to dread the reaction. If we say that we’re undecided (lie), some people give us their best go at convincing us to join their team. If we tell the truth—that we’re childfree and happy—I often feel as if I’ve offended someone."
Fourteen years later, I still had no maternal instinct. Newly remarried and in no rush to make babies, I tried not to focus on this lack, fearing what it might say about me.
When I did focus on it, I couldn’t help but believe I suffered from some kind of psychopathology. Maybe struggling through my parents’ divorce when I was 10 had given me the impression that raising children was a marriage-killer. Maybe, as my therapist had theorized, my primal biological instincts were being overridden by low self-esteem, which led me to believe I didn’t deserve to have children.
I tentatively entered the birthing room, afraid that merely laying eyes on the baby would crush me. His mother was propped up slightly in bed, holding him.
“Can you take him for a while?” she said, lifting the baby toward Brian’s 20-something nephew. She winced with every micro-movement.
He scooped the baby up to his chest and proceeded to lose himself in what I imagined to be the all-consuming new-parent love I had always heard about.
I stared. He noticed me staring.
“You want to hold him?” he asked, extending his arms.
I was terrified. I hadn’t held many newborns. This one looked so fragile.
“Hmm,” I said, pretending to consider the offer. “I’m not sure I know how to hold him the right way.”
“It’s not that complicated,” he snapped. All-consuming love or no, he’d been up 36 hours and was clearly hoping I would give him a break.
I took a deep breath and stepped forward. I lifted my hands.
Then — pfffffft.
“Did he just pass gas?” I blurted, retreating almost involuntarily.
“He probably did a little more than that,” his father said.
“Do we need to change him again?” his mother said with a whine.
I was viscerally repelled and at the same time felt horrible about it. I didn’t know which was worse: how repelled I felt or how disgusted I was with myself for feeling that way. Regardless, I was governed by my overwhelming aversion to holding that gassy little creature.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I can’t do this.”
I cried again on the ride home.
Heading to the hospital, the triggering thought had been, “I’ll probably never have this.” Heading back, it was, “I’ll probably never want this,” and the sense it signaled something fundamentally wrong with me.
My gynecologist focused on my pain instead of our fertility. She sent me to see a few uterine specialists, who all agreed: I had adenomyosis, a condition in which the uterine lining penetrates other layers of the uterus. It usually develops in women over 35, and it’s benign, but can cause severe pain and intense bleeding during menstruation. It doesn’t mean a woman can’t get pregnant, but doctors say a hysterectomy is the only way to cure the pain completely.
Some part of me expected to fall apart when I heard those words. Instead, I felt myself relax. It was as if I had been granted a reprieve from some difficult, looming test, like the SAT. Or it was as if I had been given a doctor’s note: “Please excuse Sari from procreating, as she is in no way built for it.”
I probably didn’t have to ask Brian how he felt about it, because I recognized the look of relief that washed across his face the moment the doctor delivered the news. But I asked anyway. Often. Our script:
“So, you’re O.K. with us not having kids?”
“I’m so O.K. with it.”
“You’re not going to want to adopt?”
“No, this feels right. This is us.”
People sometimes commend me on how “brave” it was for us to not have children. I laugh, because to my mind, I arrived at it in just about the most cowardly way: I lucked into childlessness (if having a defective uterus can be considered luck). Deep down I didn’t want to have children, but I kept limping toward motherhood anyway, because I thought I should want them until, in the end, my anatomy dictated my destiny.
I wish it hadn’t taken a serious medical condition for me to feel permitted to embrace not wanting children. I hope that in future generations, more women will feel free to be childless without feeling they need a doctor’s note.