Why I Don't Want Children as a Woman With Mental Illness
If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
One day, I decided to do some research on women who don’t want children, and I discovered the childfree movement. They’re a community of people who don’t want children, and when I found the movement, I finally felt like I had found my tribe.
As the oldest of eight siblings, I helped my mom raise my siblings. While she did not require me to help her, I gravitated toward helping since I’m the oldest. At 9 years old, I changed my first diaper. I remember taking my little cousin who lived with me shopping at 12 years old — all by myself. In high school, we had the option of taking care of an egg or a doll for one week, and the doll was the type that acted like a real baby and cried. I was one of the few students who chose to care for an egg because there were five children in my house, ranging from newborn to 7 years old. I also worked at a daycare in high school, so I quickly learned that parenting involved far more than dressing children up in cute clothing.
I’ve also struggled with my mental health — specifically suicidal ideation — since I was 12 years old. As I became older, my mental health worsened, leading to a suicide attempt. Throughout my recovery, I realized having children was probably not the best idea for me. However, I did not think being childfree was an option.
I’m a woman. Aren’t I supposed to have children? Is something “wrong” with me for not wanting them?
I decided to talk to my therapist about it, and I told her I was about 95 percent sure children were not in the cards for me. She told me my life is mine, and I do not need the approval of others or society. After my therapy session, I wrote a list of reasons to have children and not have children. Guess what? I came up with nine reasons for not wanting children, and I had zero reasons for having them.
The first reason on the list was my mental health. As someone with bipolar disorder, sometimes I struggle to get out of bed, eat, engage with others, work, clean, and take care of my hygiene. I know having a child would likely cause me to struggle with my highly fragile mental health. I still struggle with suicidal ideation frequently too. I will also have to stop taking my medication when I am pregnant and risk being depressed during pregnancy and afterward. I know women with mental health diagnoses who are great mothers; however, I do not think motherhood is the best decision for me. I told this to my OB-GYN during my appointment, and she mentioned she has never had a patient consider their mental health before having children. Many joys come with being a parent, but it can also come with stress.
Does this mean I don’t like children? Absolutely not! That is the mindset of some childfree people — but not me. I am a big sister and a cousin, a godmother, a mentor, and a soon-to-be-aunt. I watch children on weekends occasionally and enjoy my time; however, I do not think I can manage that responsibility 24/7.
A friend once asked me, “Who is going to care for you when you’re old?” Ideally, parents prefer their children to care for them when they age, and many children do care for their aging parents. However, I also realize children are not obligated to care for their parents. I do not need to have children to care for me when I am old. I have poured love into so many children and have a big family, and I also plan to get married, so I doubt I will be left alone when I’m on my deathbed. I plan to make a will and discuss my desires with those close to me before I pass as well.
I enjoy time with family and friends and also love speaking publicly about my mental health recovery, allowing me to meet hundreds of people who are inspired by my story. Still, I thoroughly enjoy having a lot of time to myself, so I travel alone often. I am happy by myself most of the time, and when I feel the need to be around people, I make plans.
My values are also different from some others.’ The idea of starting a family does not excite me as it does for other women, and that is OK. I prefer to spend most of my time traveling, and I also want a fulfilling career that supports my mental wellbeing. Because of my mental health challenges, I am incredibly passionate about mental health advocacy, education, and policy. To help end the stigma around mental health, I teach mental health training, host events part-time for my business, volunteer with mental health organizations, and am the director of communications and programs for a mental health non-profit in Washington, D.C. I also plan to start a scholarship fund for black students who want to work in the mental health field and raise money for low-income children to access therapy.
Traveling allows me to experience different cultures, have fun, take a break from my daily responsibilities, and practice self-care. Does this mean women with children can’t travel, participate in charity events, and have great careers? No, it does not. However, children are also a huge responsibility. Good parents often make sacrifices to ensure they raise responsible children. They typically do not have the flexibility to take a spontaneous trip without impacting their children. Some women are OK with making those sacrifices, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, I do not think I want to make those sacrifices and put someone else’s needs before mine all the time. I prefer to choose when to put my needs on hold for the sake of others. I don’t think “rolling the dice” by having children to see if my mental health can handle it is worth the risk.
I also have more flexibility with my finances. As the oldest child, a god-mom, and a cousin, I can do a lot more for my family when I have the mental capacity to handle it. For instance, I am taking my mother and sister to Puerto Rico to celebrate their birthdays. As a parent, I may not have that freedom, and the children in my life can get what they want from me most of the time because I don’t have my own children who would need my finances. I feel extremely fulfilled doing things for others.
I have seen many mothers judge other women for deciding not to have children. We are often called “selfish,” “bitter,” and “old cat ladies” and are sometimes told we will never know true love. Hearing those things can feel hurtful, but I also see stories online of women who regret having children. I would rather regret not having children than have it impact my parenting. Women should respect other women’s choices, whether that includes having children or not. One choice is not better than the other. Our values, health, and reasons for not having children are as unique as we are. Being childfree allows me to have the flexibility and freedom to manage my time how I see fit, making it easier to prioritize my mental health. Therefore, I am leaning toward not having children — and that’s OK.
Getty image by Maskot.