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My Full Answer to 'Why Don't You Have Children?' as a Childhood Abuse Survivor

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As a woman in her early 40s who has been married for over 20 years, I often get asked whether I have children. 

When I answer, “No,” that answer is often proceeded with a stink eye, a judgmental query as to why and usually a comment about what a great mom I would have been.

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Let me be clear: nobody should ever ask why you don’t have children. It’s nobody’s business whether or not you procreate and not having children does not make you less of a woman or some kind of heathen. Yet it’s so ubiquitous in our culture that not being a parent comes with a huge degree of stigma and shame.

When you add that shame to the shame of someone who has survived sexual and emotional abuse in childhood, it becomes even more excruciating. I have spent the better part of my life blaming myself for my abuse, trying to be perfect so that others will see me as enough. I take care of everyone around me at the expense of taking care of myself. I’m just now beginning to learn to put myself first and to let go of some of that shame, so when this subject comes up, which is almost weekly, it chips away at my already fragile ego.

To be honest, my husband and I discussed the possibility of a family many times, but always decided it wasn’t the right time. That answer alone should be enough to settle the matter. But it doesn’t seem to appease people that my childlessness was a choice. Heaven forbid I execute any kind of autonomy over my own body. That sounds selfish and sinful. 

But I don’t feel it necessary to share the full truth either, because frankly it’s multi-faceted and kind of painful. But if I’m honest, there are many reasons I didn’t want children.

First, like many survivors of sexual abuse, I struggled with reproductive health from a young age. It turned out I had endometriosis and was told I probably couldn’t conceive. After years of pain and suffering, at 36 years of age, I finally convinced my doctor to let me have a hysterectomy, which was quite a feat. He was convinced I’d change my mind about kids and regret the decision. I did not. 

Secondly, I have always been paranoid of being pregnant. As someone who struggled with anorexia on and off, the thought of gaining that much weight terrified me. I just couldn’t conceive of it. Pun intended. I figured enough children need good homes, and should my hormones tell me that I need children, I could adopt.

But most importantly, having children terrified me. I was afraid I’d do the same thing to my children that my parents did to me. I was afraid that I was too damaged to have a child. I was afraid my child would be abused. I was terrified of introducing a child into this dysfunctional family. The thought of my child having my mother as a grandmother scared me. My mother did, after all, harass me endlessly about “giving her grandchildren,” as if it was my duty in this life to procreate for her so she could show off and parade around a new generation of children as evidence of her greatness. No way was I going to subject an innocent being to that. The buck stopped with me. 

If that’s selfish, then I’m selfish. But I do not for one moment regret my decision. Having children is the most important decision anyone will ever make and the greatest responsibility anyone will ever have.

After hearing my mother tell me that I was an accident and that she decided the day she married my dad that she could get a divorce because all she wanted was a child anyway, I knew I needed to rectify a wrong by being mindful of my decision to procreate.

Children deserve parents who love them and can care for them and provide for them without treating them as though they are their property or their only reason for living. I know what a horrendous responsibility it is to be a child who feels as though she has to make her mother happy just to survive. I’ve only recently begun to understand how deeply this has impacted every aspect of my life and, in the process of doing so, I’m even more certain that not having children was the right choice for me.

So next time you are tempted to ask someone about their decision to have children, please take a couple of moments to consider how hurtful your question may be. Respect the fact that each individual has their reasons and nobody else is entitled to know what they are.

Getty image via Juliia Tochilina

Originally published: January 29, 2019
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