Portrait By Kiva Bay

Dax Murray

Book reviews, coding thoughts, feminist rants, and occasional cats.

My reproductive choices are not referendum on yours


For a long time, in the United States, childbearing among white women and the rearing of them were compulsory, not mandated by law per se, but societal forces found ways to demonize, stigmatize, and criminalize those white women who did not contribute to the white race by producing enough children out outstrip the people of color. Meanwhile, women of color were forcibly sterilized, or had the children they did have removed from their care.

Due to numerous inequalities in wealth, privilege, and access, throughout history different groups of women had to make, coerced or by force, reproductive choices they did not want to make, or had the ability to choose taken away from them.

This trend continues today, where women of means can have access to the full spectrum of choices, ranging from a reliable form a birth control, to abortion, and into access to assisted reproductive technologies and pricey private adoptions. Women without means must scrimp and save to afford an abortion, often choose abortion out of necessity rather than it being a true choice, and low-income women who want children will never be able to afford ART or adoption. And the fear-mongering conservatives continue to hand-wring over whether white women are having enough babies, and fret that black women are having too many.

The point is, no one makes their reproductive choices in vacuums. Many people think long and hard when deciding how, and when, to reproduce. Many people try very hard to prevent a pregnancy that would not be welcome, and many people try very hard to plan a much wanted pregnancy. These are private choices that are made behind closed doors, often made with consultation of loved ones, doctors, and clergy. They are personal, and they are private.

But they come loaded with history, they come loaded with context. They will either reinforce a stereotype, or defy it. In the end, a person making a decision about becoming a parent or delaying parenthood, or forgoing parenthood altogether, will upset someone.

This is why the decision to be intentionally childfree by choice is so fraught. It gets at the very heart of gender norms, class, race, and wealth. For a white, married, middle class woman, she is eschewing her white duty to perpetuate the race, and she cannot claim resource scarcity as a reason for forgoing children, and she is taking a stab at the idea of what it means to be a white middle class woman.

For a person of color, being childfree can be construed as giving into the system white people set up to exterminate people of color through structural violence. Further, black women, according to stereotypes, are supposed to be super sexual, and very promiscuous, and therefore, have tons of children, all to different fathers. They are lazy, and use their uterus to get checks. Black women who are childfree, are sometimes, therefore, tokenized as the "good black person" by the white establishment, they are held out as models to those other, bad black people.

And of course, it is not just society one has to deal with when making private, personal decisions about when, how, and if to reproduce. There are your parents, your family, and your friends, all of whom think they are entitled to give you their opinion whether or not you ask for it.

The people I've encountered who have "tut-tutted" my choice to remain childfree have largely fallen into two distinct camps. Those who think I've left my place as a woman, and those who take my childfree-ness as a personal attack on their reproductive choices.

The former, I have no time for. These people will never learn, largely because they don't want to learn, that their worldview cannot be forced carte blanc on the masses. They would love to legislate us back to the 1950's when white men were people, and everyone else was property in all but name. They want to see women return to the home, to make babies and cook dinner, they want to see the hand full of token people of color in high powered positions forced back into the low-wage manual labor, they want to see gender and sexual minorities executed under sodomy laws or back in the closet. There is no arguing with them. So, for the most part, I try not to argue with them.

The latter, on the other hand, are largely my friends and family. (Not that members of my family don't belong to the former, too.) When I say "I don't want kids" they hear "Having kids is awful and I don't know why anyone does it, your kids are awful, and I hate them." They take my personal, private decision, that really only affects me, personally. They feel that I am holding a referendum on their reproductive choices, when, I am merely declaring my own choices. They get defensive, and so, they start "firing back" at me with probing questions, seeking to inflict the same harm to me that they think I intentionally caused to them. They couch these barbs in faux-concern over my decision making capabilities. They tell me I will "regret it later" or that I won't ever know "real love." Sometimes they are more pointed in telling me that I am being "selfish" or "self-centered" and that I am somehow denying my "womanhood" and that I will never be a "real woman."

My decision not to have children is not a referendum on your decision to have children. I believe that procreating is morally neutral. The act of giving birth has no moral weight to it. The only people that can attach morality to it are the people involved in that specific birth. Some people would identify black women who have "Too Many Children" (they are always vague about what that exact number is…) are procreating in a morally wrong way, while they might identify Michelle Duggar's reproductive choices as morally good. To me, they are individual choices individuals made based on their circumstances, and cannot and should not be judged. They are the only ones who can decide if their individual pregnancies and births were "good" or "bad" or if they even want to attach a value and morality to their pregnancies. My evaluation of my situation, personal history, medical history, emotional and physical resource ability, which lead me to make a reproductive decision does not lead me to pass judgement on your choices.

I trust that people are capable decision makers. I trust that the people I surround myself with, my friends and family, make informed decisions. I trust that people I don't know, strangers, people I will never meet, are capable of making informed decisions about their own bodies and their own reproduction. Part of that decision making involves deciding who to and not to ask for an opinion. If I was not consulted, I accept it. I still trust that they made the best decision possible for them. I do not get to have an opinion. I am not entitled to pass judgement. If a friend or relative decides to have a second child, I don't tut tut about their ability to raise it. I offer support. I ask them "would you like help? How can I support you?" If a friend or family member of mine is having their tenth child, I treat them the same way. If a friend or family member discloses to me that they don't want kids, I still support them, offering referrals to doctors specializing in long acting contraception.

I don't ask my friend with ten children if she can really afford another, and I don't ask my friend who wants no children if she is really sure about her decision. I trust that both of them have made informed decisions based on the context of their lived experiences and their inherited histories based on their situation.

Because I don't take their reproductive choices as referendums on my reproductive choices. Therefore, people who would pass judgement on others choices, know that they are not calling into question your choice, merely voicing theirs. My decision not to have children is not an attack on your decision to have a child, to have two children, or to have ten. If you are a person with three children, and you found out a friend was stopping after having two kids, would you sit there going "Why aren't you having three? Three is really a good number. You'll regret not having another. You'll change your mind, but by then it might be too late"?

No. You wouldn't. Or, at least, you really shouldn't. Just because not everyone has three kids doesn't mean there is something wrong with you for having three kids. Just because not everyone has three kids doesn't mean everyone is judging you for having three kids. There decision to stop after two children is not a referendum or your private and personal decision to have three. Same applies to people who choose not to have children at all. They aren't judging you for having three kids.

So stop judging those who choose not to have kids. Seriously. We don't care how many kids you have. At all. Not even a little.