I never saw myself as “mother material.” I never fantasized or dreamt of it when I was younger. It was always the furthest thought from my mind. I suppose it just never occurred to me to have kids, or that I would. Nobody expected me to. Nobody expects me to get married either — I don’t expect myself to, but you never know. I did, after all, have a child when no one thought I would.
By the time I had the tubal ligation surgery, I had been pregnant a total of four times, two pregnancies from two different men: one live birth, the other three ended. The first one happened almost a year before I got pregnant with my daughter; the last two happened five years later and a mere two months apart — a miscarriage (on my mother’s birthday, no less) and another a few months later, respectively. The dread when both of those tests turned positive was overwhelming. I can still remember how it felt — like I could sink into the floor where nothing else existed. I was horrified even though I knew what the result would be. The relief I felt when I miscarried was overwhelming, but in a completely different way. It was those last two that sealed the deal — I just did not want any more children or to be pregnant again.
I was in a relationship that had just barely begun when the third and fourth pregnancies happened. I did not want to have another kid that would possibly end up fatherless. I can hear the chorus of indignant voices: “What of the fathers?? Didn’t they have a say in this??” My daughter’s father and I have a rather contentious relationship and we don’t see much of each other these days, thus resulting in her not knowing him. It’s probably for the best. However, he was supportive in my decision with the first pregnancy. The second-he wanted both, but was supportive of the situation. We are still together at this point.
I had the option of birth control and I used it in my decision to get the procedure. It was a conscious choice and one I don’t regret. Yet, I have struggled with the decision in this way: everything happened so close together…too close. The last two pregnancies were barely two months apart and then the surgery another month afterwards. That is a lot for your body to go through in such a short time. Ironically, I was actually a few weeks pregnant when I went for my first consultation concerning the surgery. It had to be postponed. It seems as if someone had a questionable sense of humor.
Another reason I chose the surgery was the issue of my own health. I have a form of epilepsy that is mostly controlled with medication. For the last several years, it increasingly became harder to control. The medicine I had been on for fifteen years just wasn’t working anymore. I was not going to put myself, or any child I would possibly carry, at risk for any kind of injury resulting from the epilepsy. I was lucky when my daughter was born — she is a perfectly healthy and normal eight-year-old. My seizures were also very well controlled when I was pregnant with her. A few years ago, I suffered from excruciating back pain from two slipped discs. It was so bad that I could not walk upright. To this day, I still have problems with my lower back. I have my suspicions that this particular episode had to do with being on anticonvulsants. In the summer of 2012, I gradually changed medications. It appears to be doing its job.
My family dynamic is completely different from my daughter’s. I grew up with an extended family on both sides: plenty of cousins, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, great-grandparents for a bit. That’s not the case with my daughter. She has a tight, loving- if limited-family circle: uncles, grandma, myself. Sometimes my daughter says she wishes she had a brother or sister. Lauren Sandler’s introduction in her book “One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One,” mentions parents of “onlies” getting used to “a nagging feeling that we are choosing for our own children something they can never undo.” I often think about this with my daughter. She will never have a sibling, at least biologically. This is something I cannot undo. But that’s just how it is; how everything worked out. She appears to be well-adjusted, despite the prevalent single-child stereotypes.
When people see I have only one child, I get the inevitable questions: “When’s the next one coming along?”, “Don’t you want your daughter to have a brother or sister?”, “Don’t you want another?” And then the funny, quizzical looks when I reply, “One is enough for me,” or the more direct “No, I don’t want anymore.” I enjoyed being pregnant with my daughter and I love being her mother. I’d just rather not do it again.
Society expects a woman to have more than a few children, to build a family. If there are no children, or just one, there is the assumption that “something is wrong.” Women don’t need that kind of judgment. Does not wanting children make me or others less of a woman? No. There is nothing wrong with making the choice not to have any (or more) children. I made the decision not to have any more and I don’t regret it.
Guest contributor Kris Underwood is a poet, writer and mother. Currently, she is the Social Media Editor for Hunger Mountain, journal of the arts at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her poetry has appeared in Literary Mama, Poetry Midwest and The Barefoot Review. Other writing has been featured at the Hunger Mountain blog, the VCFA blog: 36 College St. and the Ploughshares blog. She specializes in creative writing, but sometimes the political slips in. Visit her blog to find out more. Follow her on Twitter: @krisunderwood
Image via Joanne Bamberger with permission