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My Body, My (Complicated) Choice to be Childless

Written By: Michelle Mellon

“I’ll take two boys, and however many girls you want.”

There it was. At our wedding reception and my new father-in-law toasted us by placing an order for grandchildren like I was the drive-through window at a fast food franchise.

I looked at the man who had been my partner for the past four-and-a-half years and could immediately tell this wasn’t just his father being stubbornly boorish. My husband hadn’t told him about our decision not to have kids.

In his case, the decision was due to a childhood straight out of a fairytale, wicked stepmother and sisters included. Mine was a fairytale childhood but from the other side. I remembered it as so good that, as a perfectionist and people-pleaser, I was sure I couldn’t replicate it—let alone improve upon it—for any children we might have.

But, of course, things are rarely that straightforward.

The Talk

One day, one of my elementary school teachers sent me home with a note. It was a caution to my parents that I was “blossoming.” My normally affable mother went off on a rant about how insulting and racist the message was.

My crime? Being in a group of my friends and laughing with the most popular boy in fifth grade. But none of my (white) friends were sent home with a note.

It was the impetus for another Talk. My mother, the nurse, had already given me the detailed Birds-and-Bees Talk. The nerd in me found the science fascinating, but the reproductive process just seemed messy.

I had also been given the Talk about how my actions reflected on my father’s military career. That always meant best behavior and helping when our mother hosted other officers’ wives at our house. Although I understood it was a big deal, I didn’t fully understand why.

But this last Talk, the one reserved for Black and Brown children, tied it all together. Turns out it’s never about who you are, not at the start. It’s about what people see, and what their own beliefs and baggage tell them to expect from you.

There are rules. You’ll learn when it’s safe to speak and when it’s not. You’ll learn you must work harder and, as a female, harder still to prove yourself to be smart enough, responsible enough, and accommodating enough for other people’s comfort. You’ll learn that some people expect you to fail, which means when you don’t, they’ll expect more from you than what is fair, but you will give your all and sometimes a bit more just to survive.

The Fear

That’s a big burden for a child to carry, but there wasn’t a choice to waver—that’s just the way it was. It wasn’t until later, when I did have choices to make, that some fear started to creep in.

The rules of my life had centered on consequences. So naturally when I was a teenager, that’s where my thoughts about sex landed. And even though it was the era of AIDS, those consequences to me were all about pregnancy.

No thank you. Too cliché. I was still Black and my father was still a military officer. Even when I was a bit older there was still the ghost of those old expectations plus new obligations and objectives all wrapped up in the primordial stew of who I was becoming.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like children. I am, in fact, fiercely protective of them - which is why those close to me found it odd that I didn’t choose the expected route for my mothering tendencies. I gave a fleeting thought to it, but over the years I never felt the need to grow another person.

Unlike one of my best friends, who loves babies. I mean, really loves babies. I think it’s bizarre. The thought of having something so small and vulnerable utterly dependent on you is truly terrifying to me. I once told this friend if I could have a baby that popped out at the age of three, I’d consider it.

But that’s not the way it works. And even though adoption or fostering could work that way, the truth is the only expectations I wanted to meet were my own. I saw a mountain of reasons not to become a mother and other mountains I wanted to conquer instead.

The Caucacity

“But you two would have such beautiful babies.” Now, instead of a fast food drive-through, it felt more like an order for bespoke tchotchkes for the house. This, from prying acquaintances with unknown agendas.

It was already presumptuous to suggest that having multiracial/multicultural children (my husband is white and Canadian) would be an interesting enough reason to do it. Their protest completely ignored the added complexity of raising these hypothetical children in a southern state that had considered our relationship illegal only a few decades earlier.

“You’ll change your mind.”
“You still have time.”

These dictums were usually reserved just for me, from women who acted like they were soothing my troubled soul about (not) meeting some great expectation. Then I noticed no woman of color ever suggested these things to me. If they asked, I answered, and they left it at that.

The presumption to speak to someone’s personal decision without knowing anything about them or their situation seemed to come from a place of privilege. And it was infantilizing. It reminded me of the slave narratives I read in college.

Was I merely chattel whose sole purpose was to produce, with no mind of my own about what to do with my own body?

The Future

My mother was 19 when she married my father and 21 when she had me. At 21, I wasn’t sold on either marriage or the parent thing; I was trying to figure out who I wanted to be and how best to make and live in my choices.

My mother made her choice, and then she went back to school to earn her nursing degree, then her bachelor’s, then her master’s. Her journey inspired me, but not through the notion that women can have it all and all at the same time. It took her over ten years to get there.

Instead, it showed me there wasn’t just one path to find personal fulfillment. I appreciate that I have choices. I appreciate the Talks, the fears, the moments of doubt, the final sense of certainty, the hard work and sacrifices my parents made for me, and the working through the guilt of not giving them grandchildren.

I once told someone that maybe I was selfish because I liked my life and the things I’ve been able to do sans children. They kindly countered that perhaps I had a realistic view of what I wanted out of life and what I was willing and able to do to achieve it.

I could “justify” my decision to leave my writing as my legacy instead of having children. But I don’t have to. None of us has to justify the choice about whether to take on such an incredible responsibility.

Also, I’m not defined by my family, friends, spouse, or my decision not to be a parent. I’m me, and that’s enough. And that’s the only expectation I would want anyone to have for themself.


Meet the Author

Michelle Mellon

Michelle Mellon is a brand/marketing consultant and speculative fiction author who lives in southwestern New Mexico with her husband and two cats. An introvert and recovering people-pleaser, she enjoys helping give voice to others—particularly changemakers who are working toward the greater good.


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