You’ll Change Your Mind

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One thing people love telling me when they find out that I don’t want to have children is that I’ll change my mind. I remember when I was living in Shanghai, when I was 23; I was with an American friend, his Spanish girlfriend, and another American guy. All three of them kept insisting that I was going to change my mind, and that I should “never say never” and a bunch of other clichéd expressions. I was a woman, after all, and all women want to have children. Even the ones who are absolutely certain that they don’t want children will change their minds, because women are too stupid and fickle to know what they want. Clearly.

I told them that I didn’t appreciate being patronized, which set off another round of patronizing drivel. My friend said it wasn’t patronizing, because did I believe the same things now that I believed when I was five? No? Well then, I shouldn’t be so sure that I would never have children, because I would change my mind someday.

A Ghanaian and American friend of mine (as in, same person who is both Ghanaian and American) kept insisting that I would change my mind. A few years ago, I was going through an awful break up and trying to find a way to convince myself to have children (because I certainly didn’t want to have them). She said “you’re never going to change your mind, so why bother?” I was really confused, and said “Aren’t you the one who kept insisting that I’d change my mind?” She said that she had been convinced that I was on the fence, but now she realized I wasn’t.

Why would you think I was on the fence? Why does anyone ever think that I’m not sure about what I want? I never say anything that even comes close to implying that I might change my mind about wanting children. I have always been 100% certain and clear about the fact that I absolutely do not want and will not have children.

One of my best friends who is a mother, but still supportive of childfree people “That’s like telling someone that you’ve gotten engaged, and that person saying ‘oh, don’t worry, you’ll change your mind.’” Interesting analogy, but she has a point. Why is it that one’s personal decisions need to be met with condescension if they’re not the same choice you’ve made for yourself? I’m the one living with my own mind, I’m fairly certain of what’s inside it. I will not change my fucking mind.

Do any childfree African men or women have people keep insisting that they will change their minds? How do you respond? Have you ever had anyone not insist that you’ll change your mind and just accept your decision?

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I’m African and I’m Never Having Kids

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It is not African to not have children.

People use culture a lot to justify social pressure. “Culture” is what says that women should not wear short skirts or dresses, and if they do, men have the right to rape them. “Culture” also says that women mustn’t wear trousers, if they do, men can assault them. “Culture” condemns people for having subaltern sexual orientations or not following a mainstream religion. The same “culture” is used as a basis for the expectation of childbearing.

So, let me rephrase what I said before: it is seen as simply “unAfrican” to not have children: Part of your responsibility as a member of an African family, tribe, society is to reproduce. In my experience, it is seen as selfish, unnatural, or abnormal to not have the desire to have children. I keep hearing that all women have the desire to grow life- I have never, ever felt that desire. Not even a mild curiosity.

The burden of stigma is doubly felt by women: Although men are almost as likely to be infertile as women, most cultures place all of the blame on women if a couple doesn’t have children— and I don’t even believe that “blame” is something that belongs in a discussion about something like reproductive function.

In my experience, the justification for the expectation that I must reproduce is that it is African to have children. Whatever they do “outside” is because it’s “outside.” However, growing childlessness in the United States, Japan, and Germany is evidence of the opposite: That the decision to have or not to have children has nothing to do with your location, nationality, or race. These countries with widely differing cultures, traditions, and expectations all have an increasing number of people who are choosing not to breed. Just because you live in one of these countries, that doesn’t mean that the entire culture supports the choice not to become a parent. However, it hopefully reflect a growing acceptance for people to exercise control over their own bodies and lives; and hopefully a growing acceptance for people who for whatever reason are unable to have children.

For some people, raising a child does not rank highly on their priorities list, and there is nothing inherently incorrect or unAfrican about it. After all, people from all countries are able to reproduce, as are every animal and every species. The difference between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom is that we are able to make conscious decisions about what is the best path for each of us to take.  For some of us, not having children is the best path.

While those who are childfree are constantly castigated as being selfish, it seems to me that marks a lack of the understanding of the word. If it means “chiefly concerned with one’s own interest, advantage, etc. esp to the total exclusion of the interest of others,” how is it not selfish to try to force people to use their bodies in ways that they don’t want? The only person on earth whose body you have the right to control is your own— how is trying to take that right away from others not selfish? How is the decision to reproduce  for your own advantage – you can’t be doing it for the wellbeing of an egg or a sperm— inherently more selfish than not creating a human being that doesn’t already exist?

It’s not about hating children— although if one does hate children it seems that’s a pretty good reason for them not to have them. Some children are awesome, and some of them are not, just like every other type of person in the world. Most are probably somewhere in between. I don’t hate children, and that makes me all the more aware that I shouldn’t become a mother—why would anyone want someone who doesn’t want to be a mother to become one?

I realize Africa is a huge continent with 54 countries, but there are certain expectations consistent across all of them. That’s why I’ve created this blog — as a space for Africans without children to talk about what it means to be both childfree and African, no matter where you are. If you have a story about being childfree and African, please share it in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you.