When I was very young and other girls would talk about wanting to get married and have children, I couldn't ever understand why. As a highly intelligent overachiever, I thought about adulthood in terms of "when I'm a doctor/scientist" rather than "when I get married and have children". Then when I got to puberty, I found other girls talking about when they wanted children - and I really couldn't understand why. As everyone kept telling me that I would want children eventually, I figured they must be right, so decided to plan my life around my career and just fit children in somewhere. I had the nagging thought "but what if having children means I lose 5 years off my career?", but because the question was always asked: when do you want children, not do you want children, it didn't occur to me that there was an option to say "I don't". By university I still didn't have any particular desire to reproduce (and especially not once I'd got rid of the Good Little Christian idea that any man I dated was a future husband), but some of my other friends were getting actively broody, and putting dates on when they wanted to have children by - which utterly made my head explode. It wasn't until I was 21 and first reading alt.polyamory that I heard the term "childfree by choice" and made the connection THAT's what I am! And suddenly a lot of things made sense.
The older I get, the more certain I am that I'm childfree. My belief is that I'm 99.9% unlikely to have children at all, and 100% unlikely to have children of my body. I remain utterly boggled by stories in the paper about women who have spent upwards of £10,000 going through cycle after cycle after cycle of IVF, putting their bodies through months of excessively high artificial hormone levels and maybe even risking ovarian cancer in the process, when adoption is - if not easy, at least possible. I think that in itself says a lot about me. I wish it was possible for me to donate my fertility to someone who could use it, because it's just a pain in the arse for me (TMI - My inability to use most forms of contraception affects my sex drive, because I'm paranoid about accidental conception). And yet, outside of my immediate family and circle of acquaintances, the idea of a woman who does not want to have children is still regarded as somewhat freakish - and people who don't know me feel free to patronise me and tell me how I'll change my mind someday.
The thing that bugs me most is how difficult it is for a woman under some vaguely specified age (25? 30? 35?) who has no children to get sterilised. Yes, I understand how difficult it is to reverse the sterilisation if you suddenly change your mind - but this isn't a snap decision. My doctor tells me that Richard could get a vasectomy tomorrow if he wanted - the idea of a man who doesn't want children has been long understood - but women have to be treated like children incapable of making a rational decision. Why?!
I'm not even going to start on religions which imply that having children is the main reason for marriage. Let's Not Go There.
Anyway. While I was once childfree in the sense of "I don't even want to be around children", I'm now happy to spend time with kids as long as I can give them back at the end of the day. I actively like spending time with bright or stimulated kids, even, and would be happy to be an aunt or godmother or cool weird adult around the place to any of my friends who wanted to put me in that role for their children. And, while I don't think I'll ever understand it emotionally, I understand intellectually that some people actively want to have children, and I support those people in their decision.
And this is, in part, why I thought my mum would have trouble understanding it. Because she really wanted me. It took her several months to become pregnant after she started trying, and she wanted to have a large family. But she was so ill during her pregnancy that the doctors advised her never to have any more children, at risk of death. She thought about adopting more children, but my dad was against it and it was difficult back then to adopt children if you already had one of "your own", and then I turned out to be a hyperactive far-too-intelligent child that could get by on 3 hours sleep a night (yeah, I'm still catching up on it now), so it seemed like a bad idea to throw more kids into the mix. So I figured that she might well be one of those people who really wants grandchildren.
But my mum surprised me. She declared that deciding to have children is a personal choice - you're the one who has to look after them for 18+ years of their life, and it's none of the potential grandparents' business. Wow.
The really quite amusing thing is that we talked about H & D's commitment ceremony the other week. It was an amazing day - really special and beautiful - and yet Richard & I said to each other afterwards "We're never doing this!". Just the thought of having to invite all kinds of relatives I never speak to makes my stomach hurt, let alone the thought of actually exchanging vows that are honest rather than what's in the official Church of England marriage ceremony. (H & D made frequent, if not explicit, references to "supporting your relationships with others"; one of the best men was another of H's partners; and the formal photos included the happy couple surrounded by their chosen family. Anything less than that at a ceremony of mine would be lying, imo.)
Well, apparently several of my aunts and uncles have been asking my mum when Richard & I are going to get married, and my mum has been busy telling them that we're not - we don't see any need to. I'm just amused and also surprised and pleased that my mum understands my lack of desire to get married when marriage isn't available to everyone, and also understands my lack of desire to have a non-legally-binding commitment ceremony if it involved having pretty much any of my relatives.
My mum utterly gets on my nerves at times, and my parents' inability to actually sort their lives out has been driving me mad for a long time - but all that being said, she's hella cool.