• May 2009
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My Secret Love Child

I am the proud mother of a 5 year old daughter.

If any of you are surprised by this birth announcement, you are not alone.  So am I.

I was unaware that five years ago I gave birth until recently when a student asked me (in the abrupt, slightly inappropriate manner common among 8th graders): “Miss, you got a baby?”  I was explaining the rules to a game of tag that a group of the girls wanted to play while we had a little down time; hence I was expecting questions along the line of: “So, what happens if the octopus tags you” as opposed to random inquiries into my parental status.  The inappropriate 8th grader was sitting out this round of octopus so I quickly called across the gym: “Uh…does that sound like a question you should be asking while I’m trying to explain something to your classmates…ponder that for a moment, why don’t you…”

She apologized immediately (not for being intrusive, mind you; only for interrupting).  She explained her reason for the inquiry with: “They said you have a daughter…and she’s five.”  For a brief second I wondered who ‘they’ was and why these kids kept listening to what ‘they’ said.  ‘They’ seem to always disseminate inaccurate half truths that normally result in some kid getting in trouble. Yet, the kids keep taking ‘they’ at their word.

I informed this gullible 13 year old that “Once again, ‘they’ have lied to you.  You should stop listening to ‘them.’  ‘They’ never know what they’re talking about.” And here is the truly hilarious part: The girl INSISTED that I did, indeed,  have a child.  She even went so far as to remember seeing a picture of my daughter.  “Remember,” she tried to remind me.  “Last year, when I would come into your classroom.  You had a picture of a baby on your desk.  That was your daughter, wasn’t it?”

When I explained that this ghost picture she remembered so vividly could have been a picture of my niece or one of my friends’ children, she looked perturbed.  “So, you don’t have a baby?”  I apologized for disappointing her, but assured her I would have remembered giving birth and raising a child.  “No baby.  I am certain of it.”

I teach in East Harlem.  At an all girls school.  Half of the girls are Latina.  The other half are Black.  I am a Black woman  in her mid 30’s who does not have children.  And does not seem to be concerned that she does not have children.  I am an enigma.

This is not news to me.  I have been quizzed by students, boyfriends, family members and the occasional friend on my lack of frenzied panic over my dwindling childbearing years.  While grown ups don’t interrogate you about a child that does not exist, they do seem to assume that you are preoccupied with thoughts of your non-existent children and plans to bring them to fruition.

There are many time-honored misconceptions about the modern-day single gal.  Out of all of them, my favorite, hands down, would have to be: We all secretly yearn to be mothers.  If Black single gals, particularly, manage to make it to their mid-30’s childfree, it is only because they are bizarrely committed to the concept of having a husband before having a baby.  So, in short, if you are single and childfree, it is most likely a circumstance in which you have happened to find yourself.  One which you dutifully accept until you finally meet HIM.  And speaking of meeting HIM…yeah, you better get on that because well…don’t you want to be a mother?  There’s only a very short window of time we have to work with, now don’t we?

Over the last few years, I have spoken openly about my genuine disinterest in giving birth and raising children.  The reaction I often get explains why my students naturally assume I either have children or eventually want them.  EVERYBODY assumes what the 8th graders do.  The look of relief that takes over a date’s face when I tell him I don’t have any kids usually morphs into one of disbelief when I eventually share that I have  no desire to have them either.  For those men who have managed to make it to their 30’s or 40’s without children, this news gives them pause.  And something from which to save me.  Myself.  They either brush off my lack of interest in motherhood as a sign that I have not met the right guy or pity me as a woman who will live my latter years in remorseful sorrow.  Either way, this denial of my maternal instincts can send an overly eager hero-type into rescue-this-confused-pretty-woman nirvana.

Men who already have children seem to hold the look of relief longer on their faces. I assume they are more relieved than their childless counterparts because my choice to remain childfree signifies one less thing to complicate things between us.  I will, hopefully, be an easy one to please.  A woman who is not ruled by a ticking biological clock, thank god, I imagine them saying to themselves.  Interestingly, though, they still seem a bit incredulous and question if I am avoiding having children because of other reasons.  “You don’t have to worry if you don’t feel maternal right off,” one of them told me.  “When you see your child and it hits you that you’re responsible for him, then that parental instinct kicks right in.”  (I chose not to mention that over the four years I have taught I have encountered at least a half dozen kids whose parents continually disprove this sweet little theory of his.)

If men refuse to accept that a woman is perfectly happy with her choice to be childfree, other women seem to be practically floored by it.  I have found that for many women, particularly those who have children, my not wanting children is not the peculiarity.  Apparently, what makes me odd is my not having a good enough reason for not wanting children.  From comments I’ve gotten over the years, it appears that a woman who actually voices disinterest in motherhood has to put that disinterest into context.  Her disinterest goes down smoother if she has a valid excuse for coming to this place of childfree joy.  She has to preface her assertion with a long history of dating mishaps and heartbreaks that she has dealt with in some form of therapy that has brought her to this difficult conclusion that perhaps, marriage and motherhood are not in the cards for her.  “And now, I have decided to make peace with it.”

Medical reasons also place high on the Acceptable Reasons to Reject Motherhood list. Fibroids.  Rare blood diseases.  Infertile husbands.  Those not only get you nods of approval, but they grant you one of those get-out-of-jail free cards.  Women who share their medical reasons for not having children are not obligated to defend their childlessness again.  They are no longer asked about it.  Nor are they ever again casually chided for still not sporting a baby bump.  They have a real reason.  A sad one at that.  They get a pass.

One friend spent a good 30 minutes trying to help me find the real reason why I was claiming to not want children.  She spoke tentatively about my childhood as one of five children.  She speculated that my parents’ divorce and my mother’s subsequent single motherhood status soured me on having children.  “You had a lot of responsibility for your little brother,” she inferred.  “I mean, maybe in  your subconscious you decided that you had already raised one child while you were still a child yourself so now you don’t want to do it as an adult.”    I had thought about this years before when I was in my 20s and confronted by all of my friends’ quests for future daddy material in their boyfriends.  Back then, I thought a lot like my 8th graders.  If I didn’t want children, something had to be wrong with me.  There had to be a much deeper reason behind my disinterest than I was willing to admit.  Something I had buried.  So, my friend was about 10 years behind me in this armchair pyschological analysis.

“Perhaps, you have a point,” I allowed her.  “But, what if my reason for not wanting children is much simpler.  Much healthier?  What if I realize that motherhood is a calling?  And just like every person who happens to have a Bible probably shouldn’t be in the pulpit, perhaps every person who happens to have a uterus shouldn’t just by default carry a baby in it?”  That’s what confuses me about this disbelief that women can choose childfreedom from a place of RESPECT for the role of motherhood.  Why is it so difficult to believe that a woman chooses not to be a mother because she looks honestly and objectively at what such a role means and makes the responsible choice not to sign up for the job?  Doesn’t such a decision make a woman…thoughtful, smart, SELFLESS?  Isn’t the I-have-a-uterus-so-I-might-as-well-do-something-with-it mentality really the one we should question?

I have won over more than a few adults with the afore-mentioned perspective on childfree by choice women.  However, my 8th graders, although very bright, are not yet capable of grasping such nuanced philosophies on life.  So, I am left to construct an acceptable response to their inquiries into my childfreedom.  After the young lady interrogated me on my ghost daughter, rumor spread around the 8th grade that the English teacher had a baby that for some strange reason she didn’t want to tell people about.  (13 year old students get really bored around May.)

So now when the question does reappear, I have a response.  The next time I am randomly asked, “Miss, you got a baby,”  I will look the inquirer in the eye and reply, “Yes, I do.  I keep Rose in the book closet.  Could you give her this pb&j, please?”

10 Responses

  1. I’ve had students ask me the same thing. They are truly confused when I say I’m not married and I don’t have children. However, over time, I realized that this was their way of showing that they cared for me. In their eyes, being married and having children is the way to achieve happiness. So, the fact that I don’t have kids means I’m not happy and they want me to be. As one student said to me after I revealed that I was childless and husbandless, “Don’t worry, Miss. You’ll find someone.” It was one of the sweetest things a student ever said to me.

  2. This was great! However, “Rose” deserves a roast beef poboy at least.

    There is one more “look” that you haven’t mentioned. That is from the dates who shake your hand and say thank you and goodbye because they are looking for someone to carry their child. That was a quick interview!

  3. Great post! This has and may continue to be an issue for women who decide to remain childless. Choice should be respected. When I was 20 I remember telling a guy I was seeing that I didn’t want to have kids. I distinctly remember him saying, “that’s a waste of woooman.” It was funny back then, even now it’s a bit funny. And while my decision not to have children has shifted over the last few years, I can totally understand and respect your decision not to have children. It is a calling. Teaching all those kids is perhaps blessing and handful enough.

    PS. Today, the movie guy that I passed in Harlem wished me a happy mothers day. I see him all the time. I explained to him I wasn’t a mother, in which case he asked how old I was. When I replied 28, he asked “So why don’t you have kids yet?”……..Geeez, the age to have kids seems to be dropping. I thought surely I had 5 years to go before people started sweating me.

  4. GURRLLLL!!!! I couldn’t have written this any better and I’m sending your link to all my single childless black friends. First of all you are NOT by yourself. Not that I even need to persuade you but honey I too do not have a need to be a parent. I am 37 and it is much more important for me to be a wife than a mother. I don’t mean to disrespect motherhood but the sh*t ain’t for everybody. Just like it’s not meant for everyone to wear spandex. It’s not meant for everyone to speak up when you have nothing to say. It is not meant for everyone who wants to lose weight to have gym membership. Everything is not always meant. I have 5 reasons my 37 year old self does not want to have children and it goes a lil’sum like this….

    * I don’t want to sacrifice like that. Every day. All day
    long. What if I want that bag of chips? If it comes
    between who will eat or not it would be me not
    eating. I like to eat.

    * I’m losing weight. Don’t want to grow folk inside me
    and rip up my whole 2 1/2 year effort to get the fat
    off in the first place.

    * I have vanity issues. I ain’t seen a woman YET that
    does not have some irrevocable body trauma after
    having babies…..stretch marks, butt spread, will
    never wear a size 12 anymore, droopy breasts, YUK.

    * I like having money. I could go on a vacation to Aruba
    for a week, get 12 new outfits, 5 new purses and
    diamonds for the same price as 2 weeks of daycare.

    and last but not least…..

    * There ain’t nothing sexy (JUDGEMENT ONLY
    FOR ME) about having babies with no husband.

    So girl gon’head and shine. Everybody does not have to have children and folk may think this is selfish but like I said I think it’s selfLESS because if you know how you feel about the situation there is no need to bring a child into the world just so you can use your uterus and have unspoken resentment. Go’head gurrl.

    • Ha! I love your reasons! However, I did get my size 6-8 back in a year (as a late 30-something working full time, I’m sure the only reason was because I worked out so much during pregnancy and right after! obsessed!). Pregnancy was terrible. Love my boy, but I will NEVER do that again!

  5. Well said, Keturah. Girl, just tell all those folks to fuck off. (Well, not the 8th graders). Kids are going to be kids (though mostly influenced by adults), but why do adults care? I never got that! Well, I know all the psychobabble reasons…but, honestly, in these days and times, who has time to care about what anybody else is doing or not doing with their individual body?

  6. When students (or adults who should know better) ask me why I don’t have kids I reply:
    1. I already have 450 of them (student population of my school)
    2. I know my limits, or
    3. I can’t. (If they pursue that response with an even ruder “Why?” I reply: “Because I would kill them.”)

  7. Love this!!!! Love the responses too, especially the commentor who’s not afraid to admit vanity! I. Feel. You. I’m struggling with lost right now and have Love this! Especially the commentor who’s not afraid to admit vanity. I’m struggling with weight loss and have been my entire adult life. I can’t imagine volunteering for more fat. And all the rest. And what about what it does to your, um, special parts? Ok. I’m kidding. A little. Truth is I’m not completely opposed to motherhood. I’m just not interested in single motherhood. And I’ve not managed to snare a regular Saturday night date, much less The One. And truth be told that concerns me much more. Luckily i’ve never gotten pressure from my family abt the babies, but being from the Deep South I hear the unspoken from others who ask why I’m not married with kids since I’m such a wonderful catch. Why aren’t they worried abt all the folks with babies who clearly have no business reproducing?!! Why?!?

  8. Keturah,
    You are right on the money, honey! As a 52-year-old with a 26-year-old daughter, I believe wholeheartedly in you and your right to remain childless. This is absolutely included in the whole “woman’s right to choose” thing (it’s isn’t just about to abort or not to abort, folks are SO confused). Nikki has also said that she will remain childless and family members are already having fits. I told her that I’ll be happy with ‘granddogs.’
    I also have gotten ‘the look’ from relatives because I only had one child. When in the past I have told my younger cousins (some with multiple chillren [sic] and no husband, not even a long-standing partner) that I didn’t have more children because I was divorced, they look at me as though I suddenly grew a horn in the middle of my forehead. And I always looked right back at them and said, “I don’t have children without a husband.”
    It’s your womb and it’s under your control. Bravo to you and other women who stand up to the pressure and do what is best for them.

  9. I love this! You should cross-post this on feministing.com, or even become a writer for them. Well done! Thank you for your words – you expressed my own frustration with my child-having-issues so well.

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