The Childfree Choice
by Paige Wajda
It was May 16, 2019 at an outpatient clinic in Riverside, California. As I was waiting for the nurse to call me back into the pre-op room, the TV showed endless footage of the near-total abortion ban that had just been signed into law in Alabama. I sat at a respectable distance from the two other women who were also there for sterilization surgery, all of us whispering to our designated drivers. It was soon my turn and I was asked for my name and birthday. “Happy early birthday!” said the nurse as she read my ID card. I would turn 29 in three weeks.
At the pre-op appointment I’d had at Planned Parenthood a month prior, the doctor worried about how young I was and tried to get me to choose an IUD or implant rather than permanent sterilization. I had prepared a two-page letter detailing my decision to not have biological children and why I did not want a temporary form of hormonal birth control. The doctor was kind and open-minded; he explained that any surgery was invasive and could entail complications ‘including death.’ I decided that the benefits outweighed the potential risks, and ultimately, my rights in the state of California allowed me to choose sterilization even if I have never had any children. I was scheduled for surgery following a month-long waiting period. I’d no longer have to endure hormones, worry about accidentally skipping a pill or replacing a device every few years (and painfully so), and most of all, I’d have a permanent solution which would avail my debilitating fear of pregnancy, also known as tokophobia. For us tokophobics, pregnancy would be a nightmare. We don’t find childbirth beautiful, we find it nauseating. It interferes with our sexual health and happiness.
I’ve been tokophobic since I was a child, before I even knew there was a word to describe it. I remember being nine years old and forced to go to the doctor, and part of the check-up would entail a doctor palpating my stomach. I would get extremely tense and afraid that he’d somehow find a horrible living creature beneath my skin. When I had to go through the various presentations and lectures on puberty at the end of elementary school, I came away from them feeling anxious and repulsed. I didn’t want periods, didn’t want to have sex, didn’t want to go through the awful side effects of pregnancy. I didn’t want to be a woman. Worst of all, I felt like everyone else took the whole concept of puberty in stride, and I felt like I had nobody to talk to about it.
In addition, I have never liked children and I have never felt any warmth towards babies – which was exacerbated by the event of my half-brother being born when I was 10. My half-brother was foul-smelling and cried at an ear-grating volume, and I didn’t want to hold him or even touch him. His toddler years were even worse as he was incredibly ill-behaved (he used to bite other children at pre-school) and I grew to resent him even more. Our relationship didn’t really cement itself until he was about 10. Now that he’s an adult, we are closer and I enjoy his company, but I can’t deny that his birth made me realize that I never wanted to have kids of my own. I started telling my parents this, to which they would reply: “you’ll change your mind” – an old mantra that I’d hear an uncountable number of times over the next two decades of my life.
Dating was always awkward, even when I dated other women, as I discovered that having children was a non-negotiable life path for many people. Then, one day, I stumbled upon online forums of ‘childfree’ people who had chosen not to have kids, and had never regretted their decision. Reading through their testimonies, I knew this was the life I wanted. From that point on I made it clear to everyone who was a potential love interest that I was never going to have children – and that this was non-negotiable for me. While dating women, it felt like less of an issue as an accidental pregnancy was not possible, but in the end, I married a man, and thus the burden of birth control was once again brought into my sex life. My husband is a diabetic and has to deal with enough needles so I decided that I would go under the knife. Plus, what if he decides he wants kids one day? Then he can leave me and find someone else. I love my husband, but I’m not changing my ways for anyone.
Fast forward to the day of my surgery, and I’m sitting semi-covered in a paper gown and once again being explained the rates of regret. The doctor claimed that 20% of women regret their sterilizations, which, for the record, were somewhat different than the percentage I’d discovered. According to this study only 6.3% of nulliparous women like myself experience regret following sterilization. I was made to repeat out loud that I would not regret the surgery and that I understood all potential complications. The nurses hooked me up to an IV, wheeled me into a freezing operating room, and put what they called “happy juice” into my IV. Twenty minutes later and it was done. My Fallopian tubes were tied off with tiny silicone bands, which would deprive the tubes of oxygen and cause them to fall off after several days. I felt wretched when I woke up: nauseous from the anesthesia, bloated from the gas that they’d use to blow me up. I had two tiny incisions and was told that I could go back to work after two days, but not to lift anything over ten pounds for two weeks. And that was it. I was driven home and went straight to bed.
There’s no denying the sense of freedom I now feel. I can focus on things that matter to me: my work, my writing, my hobbies. I no longer have to take pills every day, I don’t have to worry about ending up in a country where my rights to an abortion are taken away. This is something I’m familiar with already – for four years, I taught English in Poland where abortion is illegal in nearly all cases. If I had needed one, (and I had known women who had) I would have had to travel to the Czech Republic or Germany.
There are also economic motivations behind my decision. I come from a lower-middle class family and don’t have a trust fund to fall back upon. Not only are children incredibly expensive, but many people of my generation also just don’t want to give up on the small luxuries that we cling to in spite of our massive amounts of debt – things like a quiet home, being able to sleep in late on weekends, having time to explore hobbies, being able to take short spontaneous trips, and having a bit more cash. What’s wrong with that?
I’m not alone, either. Despite the fact that we live in a pro-natalist society that wants us to replenish the system with good little taxpayers, we also severely lack social benefits that help parents to raise children. Birth rates in the US have been in decline for years now, and with no national form of parental leave benefits, no universal health coverage, absurdly expensive child care, outrageous rent, surprise medical bills, who would blame us for opting out? Thanks to the internet, we have a greater access to a wealth of information about the short-term and long-term painful effects that pregnancy can leave on the body and mind. Physically, pregnancy can lead to permanent issues such as incontinence and hemorrhoids, but postpartum depression or psychosis are even more terrifying concerns. Not only that, but there are dozens of articles and forums online where you can find parents giving testimony about how they regret having children.
I offer you my own story, even if my perspective might be different from yours. I’m certain of this — the right to choose whether or not to become a parent is absolutely inalienable. I donate to Planned Parenthood and the National Network of Abortion Funds when I can, because forced birth is grotesque and wrong. As a believer in bodily autonomy, I also believe that people who do choose to have children should be supported. It’s easy to dismiss the concerns of parents when somebody chooses to have children, and many from the online childfree community have a tendency to mock ‘breeders’ when they complain that parenting was harder than they had imagined. I still believe that all children should be educated for free and given free medical care, and that our broken safety net in the US should be strengthened to alleviate childhood poverty.
I also think that those of us who live childfree should not be afraid to be open about our lifestyle. It should not be considered ‘selfish’ or ‘unnatural’ to choose a childfree life, and people of all genders should not be scrutinized for choosing to become sterile. The childfree existence bafflingly offends a great number of people (such as the recent viral rant by the mother who claims that childfree millennials should be banned from Disney World), and you can also find a lot of unsavory articles written by the religious right which I won’t link to. In any case, you won’t find me apologizing for the life I chose. Instead, I’ll be here, on my couch in my quiet home, having a glass of wine while I play a bit of Mario Kart.
Paige Elizabeth Wajda is a Choctaw poet from the Mojave desert in Southern California. She spent four years teaching English in Poland before going on to earn her Master’s in Creative Writing from The University of Edinburgh, and has been Head of Poetry for The Selkie since its launch in 2018. Her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Star*Line Magazine, Shoreline of Infinity, From Arthur’s Seat 3, Dodging the Rain, Gravel, The Future Fire, Visual Verse, and The Passage Between, Infinite Rust, and Polu Texni. She specialises in science fiction and speculative poetry. In 2018, she was the recipient of The University of Edinburgh Grierson Verse Prize.