CN/TW: This post contains graphic descriptions of childbirth.
I’m nearly 30. As is the custom, I’m at that age where older family members and some older friends start asking me questions that are not only intrusive but are actually really annoying. “When are you going to get married?” “Do you want to have children? When are you going to have them?” If I’m lucky, I might get away with just that. If not, I’ll hear some dreaded reference to my biological clock, and I’ll have to try really hard not to kiss my teeth – this time not solely out of annoyance but also out of resignation, because I know exactly how the conversation is going to go once I give my response.
The fact is, when people ask these questions, nine times out of ten they have an expected or desired answer. They expect you to tell them that having children is part of your life plan. They want you to tell them that the babies are coming soon and honestly you can’t wait to be a mum. Somehow, in 2018, it is still considered odd for a woman not to want to be a mother. If I had a pound for every time over the last seven years that I’ve registered shock/disappointment in someone’s tone or expression – or sometimes an outright verbal challenge (“what do you think you were put on God’s earth for?”) – when I’ve expressed doubt about even wanting children, I reckon I’d be looking at early retirement.
Having children is something I have always flip-flopped about. Sometimes I think I want to, then other times I don’t. The truth is, as I’ve gotten older, the idea of pregnancy and childbirth has become less and less attractive to me, and I find it highly frustrating that people romanticise it so much. While I appreciate that it is amazing what the human body can do, ultimately childbirth is still a life-threatening endeavour. This is especially true for Black women. In the US, Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than their white counterparts. In the UK, evidence has been found to suggest that the care given to women from ethnic minorities is substandard. And while many Black women have given birth without complications, it’s still not a decision to be taken lightly, and definitely not one to be taken because society and your family demand that you should.
However, one way of having children I have always considered and always said would be the route I would be most likely to take – even in secondary school – is via adoption. I can’t necessarily articulate why, but I’ve always thought that there are so many children in the world who need loving homes and I don’t have to have my own child physically in order to provide a loving home for a child or to have a family. Many people don’t seem to see adoption in this way, and this is where me trying not to kiss my teeth in resignation comes in. Whenever I say that I actually want to adopt a child the response seems to be along the lines of “yeah that’s really good, but you should have your own first.” Or there’ll be some comment about a man wanting his kids to be his own, or a question (asked in a tone of sheer incredulity) as to why I don’t want my own.
Errrr, excuse me?! Notwithstanding the fact that a child is not some random piece of furniture or a china vase that you “own”, an adopted child would be just as much mine as if I’d pushed it out of my vagina while screaming in pain, and I don’t see why I should consider this in any other way. As for a man wanting his own kids…good for him. He can go and find a woman who wants to have her organs moved around, to sleep uncomfortably for at least six months, to go through the horrendous pain of labour, to have her vagina split open so wide it has to be stitched back together or, failing that (God forbid), have her stomach sliced open to give birth. There are many women who desire that, and that is okay, just as it is okay for women to want to take a different path.
Secondly, adopting a child is not an act of charity or pity, so giving me this faux praise by saying things like “that’s good” or “fair play” like I’ve just announced that I’m doing the Race for Life is highly patronising; furthermore it makes it seem like adopting a child is some kind of one off gimmick. The adoption process takes much longer than having a child naturally and you have to go through so many more checks and balances. It is not – by any means – a gimmick, and it is a decision that should be respected just as much as naturally giving birth.
I’m not saying that I will never, ever give birth to a child naturally, nor am I demonising women who do. What I am saying is that right now I’ve made the choice that is right for me, and if you can’t respect people’s reproductive choices then maybe you shouldn’t ask about them.