To breed or not to breed?
Yes, I am going to answer this question.
But first, let’s back up a bit.
Once we got married, I wanted to see how long it would take before someone asked us if we would have kids. Answer? Four days — about what I had expected. Any woman past the age of thirty must have a biological clock ticking loud enough for all to hear, right?
The truth is that we had decided to pursue a different path long before we got married.
But first, a note. It’s inevitable that someone reads this story — my story, our story — and takes offense or takes it as judgment on other paths. That can’t be further from the truth. Each person should decide if and/or how to become parents. Some people want to become parents, others don’t. Both are great because we need amazing humans to do both. If you are happy with your path, great! Keep walking!
The other assumption people sometimes hold is that I just need some encouragement to understand that I would be really good at this whole thing and if I just believed in myself more I would decide to follow the conventional path. Let me save you time and breath to say that we are confident in our decision and no amount of encouraging/badgering/shaming will change our direction. The best gift you can give anyone who has made a big life decision is non-judgment, if not acceptance. It’s completely fine to inquire to understand. It’s not fine to judge.
Here’s how we came to the decision of me not getting pregnant.
I never had a strong idea of exactly what my life would be when I was a little girl. I didn’t have a particular profession in mind — it changed from time to time. I can’t recall that I ever knew I wanted to be a mother, but it was something that I assumed was a part of my path. It seemed part of the natural path. One grew up, went to school, got married, and started a family. I never particularly rejected the feminine, so I had plenty of baby dolls to nurse and Barbie dolls to play with. I also had Matchbox cars and Lego, in case you’re wondering.
And things progressed in kind. I was a boy-crazy little girl, always crushing on that cute boy or another. After a failed college relationship, I started working and put more focus into my career. Then, in my mid-20s, I met Ex-Husband.
It felt like everything was progressing according to my plan. We did not date for very long before we got engaged. Less than a year after meeting we were planning a wedding. When I reflect, I thought everything was perfect and that I was in love. I walked down the aisle excited to start the next phase of my life — marriage and children.
It was not long into our marriage that I knew it wasn’t going to work, and we were shortly divorced. This marriage to Ex-Husband is my one regret. I was too focused on what came beyond to focus on what was in front of me. I did not slow down but instead pushed ahead into something I should not have chosen for myself. The dissolution of the marriage meant the loss of many things for me. However, when I look back on this time, it was the beginning of when I started to understand the changes I had to make in my own life to be happier and healthier.
Getting divorced before the age of thirty is not part of anyone’s bucket list. But this wrong-turn, in some strange way, made love possible — deep, lasting, and abiding love. In Sergio I’ve found a partner who is calm and stable, someone who encourages me to listen to my own voice first and not be so easily swayed by the beliefs of others.
What this opened for me was a world of possibilities. What would happen if I made choices that brought me happiness and success without so much care for how others perceived me? How could I find more peace in who I was by listening to what my head and my heart told me? Who cares about convention if you are miserable? Not I! I wanted to call from the rooftops that I knew something had changed. But day-by-day, it did, so I didn’t have to.
As Sergio and I continued to grow closer over the years, a niggling feeling in the back of my head grew clearer. While I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a parent or not, I knew that I did not want to get pregnant. This was brought into focus about three years ago, one year into Generalized Anxiety Disorder. But even as I continued to improve and reached my current steady state, that feeling didn’t go away. That helped me understand that I had finally come to a true understanding of what I wanted.
I want to share the reasons behind my decision to not get pregnant. This is mainly to provide a perspective that might be different than you have heard or considered. It is also to provide a point of connection for others who might struggle with this decision, feel shamed into something they don’t want, or want to explore all of the options. There is a massive path ground into the rock for women to follow, and this is to bear a child if you want to become a mother. I say that as women we have the right to choose if and how we have children!
For all intents and purpose, this list could simply have one item — Because I don’t want to. That is the truth, but it doesn’t get at some of the true concerns on my heart and doesn’t help people understand the complexity of my feelings and the things I have weighed on the way.
It also makes for a blog entry that is a bit too short.
It would be inadvisable for me to become pregnant while taking my anxiety medications. There is no question that this is the biggest driver for my decision, and my understanding of these challenges came through discussions with my physicians. If you’re not familiar with medication and fetal health, drugs are ranked from Class A (known to be safe during pregnancy) to Class D (known to be unsafe during pregnancy). Most of the medications I take are within Classes C or D. While Class D seems the scariest, I find Class C more disturbing. This is where research is inconclusive, possibly because the drugs are too new or there is noise in the data. In my case, the two that are most concerning are Fetzima (SNRIs as a class, save a few that I react poorly to, are risky for pregnant women) and the occasional benzodiazepine, used for panic attacks (currently I take lorazepam, commonly known as Ativan — also risky for pregnant women).
It’s possible to have an entirely healthy pregnancy with these medications. Some women do just fine. But there are significant risks, including miscarriage, hemorrhaging, low birth weights, and fetal/infant withdrawal. There are additional risks if you change medications during pregnancy, and having experienced withdrawal many times myself, it is not something I would ever consider putting a fetus or infant through.
Because it took a year to find a combination of medications that reduced my anxiety without severe side effects, I have no desire to change my medication. If I have shared this first point, the obvious question is this — why not just find some other (safer) medication? Unfortunately there are few medications that treat anxiety that are truly “safe.” Yes, no pregnancy of any sort is safe. It’s certainly possible to do everything “right” and still experience things that are beyond what you thought you could do.
Beyond that, I went through about twenty different meds/med combinations to find one that works well enough. When I had my last check-in with my psychiatrist a few weeks ago, he said he was reminded of how difficult it was for us to get it right. The withdrawals were incredibly painful and some of my darkest days. Not everyone has such strong responses to medication, but I certainly did. Experimenting with a now-stable brain chemistry is off the table.
But this is when I start to hear the gremlins and saboteurs in my head. “If you were only strong enough, you would be able to do it.” “Everyone else can get off meds and sacrifice for pregnancy — what makes you so special?” “If you’re not able to sacrifice in this way, what makes you feel qualified to be a parent?” I would never voice these to any other person, but they are trapped inside of my head. The truth is it’s possible that we will choose to remain childless, possibly for some of those reasons. At the heart of it, though, having a child is an incredibly difficult decision, and I want to treat it quite seriously.
I have never had the desire to be pregnant. In tenth grade our health teacher showed us a home video of her C-section as part of the unit on reproduction. I had to ask to be excused so I could sit on the porch of our portable classroom and breathe in cold air. Up until that point it was the closest I had come to fainting!
I’ve been a queasy person for much of my life. Even people talking about being ill or blood or medical procedures turns my stomach. My parents-in-law are a doctor and nurse, respectively, so sometimes I request that we do not discuss those sorts of matters at the dinner table. While I marvel that my body has the capability to grow another human, it’s never been something that I have desired for myself. My desire to become pregnant has actually decreased as I have aged because I observe that my entire system is very sensitive to changes and illness. While I rejoice for women who enjoy pregnancy (yay you! you’re a badass!), I know that is not me. And I know it is not something I will miss or regret.
There are costs beyond the physical. In a moment of cultural reckoning around gender, it’s important to recognize that it’s not just about pregnancy and birth, though these are both significant. The emotional and mental toll of pregnancy, birth, after-birth, and infancy are also significant. This reckoning comes with any child joining a family, but is especially true of a newborn.
There is also an aspect of this I consider — but only can consider because of privilege. Anyone who knows me well knows I love my work — it is both my profession and my calling, and an important part of who I am and why I start days with joy and anticipation. Even in the best of partnerships, the added professional toll to women who are new parents is greater than that of most men.
While I love The Company’s very generous maternity leave policies, it has been eye-opening to watch the career disruptions that occur with those leaves, especially for people who have more than one child. Bringing any child into your life, whether giving birth or by other means, is disruption. This just seems to be an extremely large and gender-imbalanced one. I am fortunate to have a feminist husband (more on that awesome guy in a bit)
There are other ways to become a parent. For some time we had talked about surrogacy. But of course there was a catch — back to point one. Not only is surrogacy expensive, it has the same downsides regarding medications (though it is thought that eggs are less impacted that a fetus in later stages of development). Due to my queasiness (see above), I’m not sure surrogacy is the road for me either.
It is something that we talked about and considered. People have commented to us, “Wow, it would be amazing to see what kind of kid you both have!” I’ve heard that both in the physical sense, as in, “When you shake up your mish-mash of genes, what comes out?” way, as well as the “Well you’re both smart/funny/cool people, so why not make a super-baby way?”
I’d be lying to say that it isn’t something I’ve considered. Of course I look into my husband’s eyes and think about what it would be like to have a child with eyes like those (score one point for breeding). When I look at pictures of him as a little boy, I wonder if I would be able to keep up with such a feral child (and minus one point for breeding). We marvel that we could have a child with blonde hair and blue eyes (me + Mama’s genes, as she is also a blond with blue eyes). How funny, we said, to have a little Rico that looked like that!
There was some sadness for both of us thinking about not passing along our literal genes. That’s something that we have moved past, though. I think children are lovable not because they share your genes but because they are funny, silly, complicated small humans who grow into their own people before your eyes! Genes aren’t the key part of that equation.
While we haven’t made any decisions, the conclusion might be clear to you by now — if we become parents, we will choose to do so by adoption. And I celebrated in the safest possible way — by getting the Nexplanon birth control implant in my arm. Lest you think that I’ll change my mind, it’s completely reversible, though I have considered other options to more permanently not be pregnant. At this point, I’m good with choosing non-pregnancy for the next three years, focusing on other aspects of our lives, and looking more seriously into adoption once our first year of marriage is complete.
Well, you have made it this far. Fantastic! Gold-star for you. Because there is one reason left, and it’s the most controversial and least socially-acceptable reason for my decision to not get pregnant. But it’s true, so it’s here too.
I have never really loved babies. I find it fascinating to watch people with babies — it’s like a moth drawn to a flame. For reasons beyond my full comprehension, I have never shared in this joy or love. I’m not sure that I’m wired that way, and I haven’t been socialized in that direction either. Let’s just get it out of the way that babies are odd little things that look like alien sea monkeys, though most of them grow into some cuteness over time.I don’t love the “baby smell” that I hear so many people talk about, and though I’m sure there is immense joy in hearing first words and watching babies roll over, there are many other milestones and achievements for people of all ages that I find equally exciting (this is why I love coaching, fwiw).
What I have learned about myself in the past five years is that I like kids, especially those that are a little older. I’ve accepted that I’m just not a baby person, and that’s okay! There are scores of people who go gaga for little ones. These should be the people who have infants, and great for them!
What does this mean for us? That means if we are to adopt, we won’t adopt an infant. We don’t have agreement across the two of us about what our desired age would be for adoption. We’re both familiarizing ourselves with the challenges of adoption in general and older-child adoption in particular (in case you are curious, there is no specific frame for “older-child” adoption, but a recent book I read defined it as children 4 or older, which is what feels right to me).
Adoption is a different blog entry for another day. The more I have learned about adoption the more I understand my own mistaken beliefs about what it is and isn’t. I also feel preemptive fear about the way that people might react, especially when I share that we are interested in a non-infant. This is a tender spot in my heart as I’m still learning and getting clear on what I desire. My only request is for understanding and support.
Lastly, let me tell you that I am thankful for a kind, caring, FEMINIST husband. Throughout our entire friendship and relationship he has treated me as an equal. He champions my career and my passions, not caring that I’m senior to him (and more promotion-oriented). He does his share or more than his share of work around the house. He never tries to make me feel less than him — not less smart, less strong, or less funny (but we all know the funny one is me, right? Riiiiight?).
I told him last night that I was going to end my post by writing about him. He’s like a golden retriever — when you tell him good things about himself, he goes into a full-body wag. “I’m going to write about how you were okay with me not getting pregnant, that you were respectful of my agency over my own body and never shamed me for not wanting to bear a child.”
“Of course not!” he said. “If the roles were reversed, I don’t think I’d want to be pregnant either, and I’d push back if you forced me into it.” That I don’t doubt — we are two stubborn people in love, and pushing the other to do something never ends well.
Speaking of ends, this post is coming to an end. Thanks for reading and challenging yourself to understand a point of view that might be different than your own.