I’ve got some exciting news to share with y’all: I got my tubes tied last week! I haven’t exactly made it a secret that the childfree life is the one for me, but if I’m honest, I don’t think I’ve really hit on the feelings that make me look at pregnancy and childbirth and feel panic/rising tears/shortness of breath. I have a lot of practical reasons to not want to be a mother: my mental illness and autism already make independent living a challenge for me, and adding someone dependent upon me sounds awful. My husband and I don’t make enough money to support a child. I’m an incredibly busy person and don’t know how I could devote the appropriate amount of time to a kid.
But more than that, it feels antithetical to my basic identity to be a mother. I don’t know how else to explain it. Having reproductive organs isn’t something that I see in my gender identity, and motherhood isn’t something that makes sense to me in my self conception. There’s an emotional response when someone suggests that I could be a mother that is not what I’ve heard described by other childfree folks.
Imagine that you’re a cis woman who has never considered themself to be anything else and someone walks up to you and asks “when are you planning to grow a dick” in a tone that implies this is the most normal question in the world. That’s how I feel when people ask if I have children or when I plan to have children. I feel a level of disgust, fear, and confusion when I think about the literal possibility of having a child: not only does it seem like something I don’t want, it feels actively wrong and inappropriate in some way.
In my attempts to understand my gender identity of late, I’ve been noticing that the language of gender is the only language that I have that really seems to capture the emotional elements of my relationship with my reproductive system.
The biggest example that I can think of is gender dysphoria. I realize that dysphoria is something that can exist in other contexts: I’ve certainly experienced dysphoria in relation to my body (hello eating disorder). But the most basic description of dysphoria is simply unease or dissatisfaction, whereas most descriptions that I have heard of gender dysphoria focus on the idea that there is a mismatch between your physical self and your perceived self, and that element is an important part of how I relate to my reproductive system.
I think it’s also hard to talk about our relationships with reproduction without gender and sexuality getting muddied up in there. So for some reason, my decision not to have children feels wrapped up in how I see myself as a “woman”, or as not really a woman except that I don’t care enough to label myself anything else. But reproduction, sexuality, periods, all of the bits that come with having a uterus and ovaries and estrogen are things that make me feel awful.
It’s not that I dislike my breasts or my hips or the fact that my body gets coded as female. It’s that I dislike my reproductive system, and I don’t know what that means for my gender identity. Is neuter an option? What about a Barbie doll?
It’s possible that my choice to have or not have kids is completely unrelated to my gender. It’s possible that my choice to remove parts of my reproductive system is completely unrelated to my gender. It’s possible that my extreme discomfort with subsuming my identity to the role of “mother” is unrelated to my gender.
It’s possible but it sure as hell doesn’t seem likely.
I think part of what I’ve begun to balk against in the identity of “woman” is the expectation of women to fulfill roles (mother, wife). I will never have children because I will never make another person more important in my life than I am, and that is required of a parent. I feel like the more I explore what it actually means to be a “woman”, the further I’m moving away from being able to accept woman as my default just because I don’t car. Getting surgery to change my body feels a little bit like the first step towards being proactive in creating my own identity, whether it’s a gender identity or a sexual identity or something else entirely. It feels lovely, and I can’t help but wish we all had more opportunities to actively choose things about our bodies in this way.