Dear Because I Said So,
I want to have kids, but "want" doesn't seem like a good enough reason, given that we're heading towards nuclear war with North Korea, our president is a serial sexual harasser, and our planet is basically doomed. Sometimes I tell myself it's important to raise a new generation of kind, compassionate humans, but I could just as easily do that with adoptive kids or mentoring. Am I allowed to want children of my own? Is it okay to be that selfish in a crumbling world?
When my daughter was born, I remember holding her tiny, beautiful body, and thinking, Oh, shit. I realized in that moment that I had brought a girl into a world that hates women. A world that abuses and takes everything from them. That holds girls up to impossible standards and then mocks them when they fail.
The world is a pile of stinking feces, and fear is a completely reasonable response to the “should I or shouldn’t I procreate?” debate. But here is the thing: The world is no more or less composed of crap than it has ever been. Imagine having a child during the early 1800s — your infant had a pretty good chance of dying of disease or hunger. There were no vaccines. The Civil War was nigh. I mean, even in the early 1900s, you still had Spanish Flu, two World Wars, and polio coming for your kids.
But we keep having children anyway. Maybe we are a stupid species. Maybe we are selfish and horrible to procreate when we cannot guarantee a good life for our children. But I don’t think so — I believe having children is an act of hope and promise. Raising a good kid, committing to loving them with all the small cells of your body, is an act of resistance against the darkness that lies just outside our doors. And it’s hopeful because having a child is an attempt to make something better than ourselves and, in that way, contribute to making the world better. It's an added bonus that they can make the world better for us, too.
Having a child is an attempt to make something better than ourselves and, in that way, contribute to making the world better.
I find redemptive grace in watching my DNA in action, and realizing all those things I hated in myself are beautiful when given new life. But it's not all profound enlightenment. Parenting is hard, and it involves a lot of wiping poop off of surprising surfaces and catching vomit in your hands. Sometimes it’s boring. It’s lying on the floor wondering why you have a master’s degree, while someone who smells like a fart runs a train over your face and yells, “I WIKE DADDY BETTER DAN YOU!”
It’s interesting that you differentiate between having a biological child and adopting or fostering, as if the latter two weren’t actually parenting. Maybe choosing to adopt or foster isn't adding another body to our planet's population, but the job requirements ultimately are the same: When you have a kid, you have to help them thrive in the midst of the chaos of the world. First decide if you want to sign up for all that. Next, think about how. It sounds like you want to make a bio kid.
Is it selfish to want to do that? Well, pull up a chair and hear this: Your uterus, like the rest of your body, is not a tool for fulfilling other people’s desires and expectations. The fact that women have been taught that it’s selfish to seek, keep, or terminate a pregnancy is simply a failure of the system — not of any woman who doesn’t live up to whatever it’s asking of her on any given day.
If we don’t want children, or want to wait until we’ve ascended to certain professional levels, we are selfish for prizing our own success (even temporarily!). If we do want kids, we are selfish for carelessly contributing to global warming, overpopulation, or just because it’s greedy to want to see your smile reflected in someone else's. Great party trick by the patriarchy.
So we have to just let go of the whole "selfishness" narrative. It doesn't track. It is not selfish to create for yourself the life that you want.
If that life, for you, involves kids, have them. And have them in the way that makes the most sense to you and your body. Love them. Blow raspberries on their cheeks, play pirates, feed them ice cream and watch it dribble down their chubby chins. Breathe in their hair at bedtime. Laugh-cry when they feed you regurgitated chicken nuggets. Find all those tiny pieces of light and cherish them and share them — let them flash brightly in this dark hole. They are a wonder. They are an exhausting horror of love.
But if this doom-and-gloom nihilism is really a way to convince yourself that you're "right" for not wanting kids, then dispatch with the justifications. Just don't have kids. I mean, sure, it's not just that easy when your grandma is asking you why you don’t have kids already, and your sister-in-law is talking about how being a mom is “so hard, but so worth it, you know?” But honestly, I have two kids and my family still wants to know why I won’t have another. I have relatives who have three and four kids who tell me in condescending voices that “life is so much better with more.”
And of course there’s the upper limit — a number of kids that suddenly causes people to look at your family like some kind of unfortunate accident or sideshow. (In New York City, that number is three, by the way.) This is a game you can’t win. Even if you use your uterus to make people happy they will just want more and more, until it’s too much and they are horrified at the mere thought of the morning bathroom schedule in your house.
Bottom line: It’s never selfish to wring a scrap of happiness out of this garbage world, no matter how that looks — solo or surrounded by a personal mafia made up entirely of mini-yous.
And that's final.
Because I Said So