We were seated at his kitchen table when he told me he didn’t see a future with me. He said that I wasn’t the right woman to mother his children. I hadn’t even wanted children in the first place – but somewhere between two years of him trying to coax me into changing my mind in front of his traditional French family and doing his laundry because I wanted to prove to him that I had domestic qualities, I started to believe that maybe one day I would.
I’d been through the hardest battle I’d faced to date against mental illness, and I was working towards slowly changing my health (the constant fatigue, overwhelming anxiety, and inability to support myself financially) but it wasn’t going to happen overnight. He was 27 and he had just bought a house from his cushy corporate job. I was 21 and just starting my adult life.
Hearing that my partner didn’t think I was fit to raise his children was an absolute blow to both my heart and self-esteem, but looking back on the relationship, he wasn’t exactly a saint either. Lots of people struggle with mental illness and raise healthy, happy children. A lot don’t. What makes the difference is making an effort to both work on yourself and work together with your partner, if you have one. He was too caught up in his career to be concerned with helping me work through my mental illness, and saw it as an obstacle towards his goal of procreating.
Breaking up was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever experienced, but it was also one of the best things I’ve gone through. It made me realize my full value as a person rather than a baby-maker, and the necessity of putting myself first so that I can become the person I need to before I can even look at the option of raising another life.
It’s strange to think that when I was younger, I thought by the time I was 25 I’d be settled down and on my way to having children because that’s what people did. But I’m nowhere near that mindset now. While I’m much more mentally and financially stable (I’ve moved cities, traveled and have had a number of relationships since that breakup) I still don’t have any desire to have children, just like I didn’t before I met him. My internal thought-process hasn’t changed despite the internal guilt society puts on you while getting older.
While I’m still young and aware of the fact that I might change my mind one day, seeing myself as a non-breeder suddenly limits my dating options as I’m nearing my mid-twenties. I’ve never been interested in the conventionality of the white picket fence, but a lot of people I’ve dated are, and most of them want children down the road. Besides my ex who told me I wasn’t the right woman to bear his children, most of my relationships weren’t road-blocked by the goal of settling down, getting married and having kids because my partners were focused on finishing school, starting their careers and getting hammered. But the older I become the more I see more people around me taking cues from society that they should settle down and start a family. I’m going to have to become more upfront when it comes to picking future partners, unless I want to go through another heartbreaking experience over the issue of children.
A guy I dated in the past told me that I’m selfish because all I want to focus on is myself. The more I go to parties where women sip their martinis and talk about wedding rings and getting pregnant, the more I mentally cringe and realize I don’t want those things in my life. Even if I was more financially stable and didn’t have mental health issues, I’d use my gained energy and mental clarity to concentrate further on my career and traveling the world rather than being constantly present to make sure the spawn I’ve birthed turn into well-adjusted adults. My idea of contributing to society is by publishing meaningful stories for people to relate and learn from them, not shaping young minds who are under my care for the majority of my life. I’m aware I could do both – and no, I don’t want to.
But I’d be lying if I said that dealing with mental illness isn’t a large factor into my decision. As a person who takes my life very seriously because of my health issues, I see parenting as a full time-commitment and not something to look at lightly through romanticized rose coloured glasses. With a history of mental illness in my family, the high risk of developing post-partum and the knowledge that the behaviour I’ve learned from my parents growing up could transfer to my parenting skills, I would be crazy to bring another child into the world, or even to adopt one. I never want to put another child through what I’ve experienced in this lifetime.
I’ve always been someone who loves taking care of people. I love cooking and doing chores for those who matter to me. I’ve been thinking about the possibility of volunteering with children, and I have a nephew back home who I adore and can’t wait to watch grow up, but this doesn’t mean I’m meant for the tall order that’s being a mother. Just because someone has the equipment or the skills to do something doesn’t mean they aren’t supposed to do something else instead. At work I oversee multiple people every day, and I’m good at it – but at the end of the day, those people aren’t my responsibility and I get to go to bed under the peace and quiet of a childfree home.
Who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind. Maybe I’ll become a step-parent to some lovely children who mean everything to me. Maybe I’ll be overlooking the crystal-clear ocean of Tahiti when I’m elderly, still without children and loving life. I’m not saying I don’t want to eventually settle down with a partner or that I don’t want to make a difference in the lives of others, but I don’t see myself bringing a child into this world so that someone else’s life can take priority over mine. I’ve fought too hard against mental illness to be able to enjoy my freedom, and if that’s selfish I’ll take it.
By Amanda Van Slyke. Originally posted at Flurt Magazine. Cross-posted with permission.
Art by François-Joseph Navez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons