when i first heard of selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed, a collection of essays by 16 authors about their decision not to have children, i was stoked. super, super stoked. especially after i read this interview with the editor of the anthology, meghan daum, where she said:
I’m editing an anthology of essays about making the choice not to have children. It’s called Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed and it includes sixteen amazingly thoughtful and honest pieces by sixteen writers. I’d always wanted to do a project like this because I’ve long been convinced that voluntary childless people have some of the worst PR in the world. The stereotype is that we don’t want kids because we’re fundamentally selfish. But I’d like to see society get to a place where parents and non-parents are no longer pitted as adversaries and those who choose not to have kids aren’t just “accepted” but seen as vital to a well-rounded community. I can’t wait to get the book out into the world next spring.
i've never wanted children. not once. i've never warmed to babies or wanted one of my own, and, to be honest, the terror of getting pregnant adds a terrifying element to sex (ha, no need for religious admonishments here).
the inevitable side effect of being a woman who doesn't want children, though, is that everyone around you scoffs at that, writes it off as a "phase," never mind that you're on the cusp of turning thirty, which would make this a lifelong "phase." another side effect is that you have to deal with everyone's assumptions that, because you're a woman (and it is gendered), you must want children and that, once you have children, you will want to be home with your children. it's rather inconceivable that a woman might opt out of having children, might not want that life, might not aspire to it either and rather find it undesirable for herself -- instead, for a woman to "have it all," she must have a husband and children and a career, and, if she doesn't, then, well, she's missing something.
to the latter, i say, well, congratulations for your small-mindedness (and heteronormativity). to the first, okay, i do concede that, yes, sometimes, we do change our minds -- as humans, we change; it's part of this thing called life -- and, maybe, i will meet a man whom i will love to such degrees that i will want so badly to spawn with him. i'm open to that, and i'm aware that it could happen, but that isn't the point. the point isn't that we could change our minds, and the point isn't that there are plenty of people who thought for a long time that they didn't want children only to discover that they'd like to be parents later on. the point is that that isn't anyone's judgment to make.
and this is oftentimes also the problem with how people talk to teenagers and to the depressed/suicidal. there's a very condescending dismissal in the ways people approach them, like the problems or struggles they're facing in the moment aren't important enough to take seriously, to sit down with them and look them in the eye and acknowledge that, in this moment at least, their pain is real -- it's a living, breathing monster that needs to be and should be reckoned with. instead, people write them off, tell them, this is just a phase; this is temporary, when that's not the goddamn point. the point is that people shouldn't trivialize, shouldn't cast judgment, shouldn't simply dismiss something people can't even begin to understand. (though the irony is that we were all once teenagers, and yet ...)
instead, people stand on the pedestals of their own self-aggrandized wisdom and look down their nose and render them small and inconsequential, like they're foolish and immature and not worth engaging with on a human level. people scoff and tell them, tell us, that we'll "grow out of it," "everyone's like this when they're young," "it's just a phase, you'll see."
but here's this: sometimes, i think the difference between the suicidal mind and the non-suicidal one is that, to the suicidal mind, suicide is always an option. the suicidal mind isn't one that's always depressed, always down, always spiraling; it's one that considers suicide as a probable outcome, that comes up with a plan in every new situation, that accepts dying as something that can be done at any point; and, every time it hears this is just a phase, it shrinks back further and further, making open conversation about suicide more and more impossible because those five simple words are harsh enforcers of shame and taboo and fear.
and here's this: suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people aged 15-24 in the united states. it's the second leading cause of death for young people aged 25-34. this isn't counting the hundreds of thousands of suicide attempts made per year.*
so why aren't we talking about this? what kind of arrogance is it that perpetuates shame and guilt and brokenness? or is it also a kind of fear in and of itself that to look the problem in the eye and acknowledge that it exists is also acknowledging our own helplessness in its face, our own inability to "fix" it, to "cure" the suicidal people in our lives? but, then, what kind of arrogance is that, too, to assume the "savior" role when that isn't what is asked of us?
why can't we just stop and listen and engage genuinely with the people around us, no judgments, no preconceptions, no condescension? when something as small as that could start to make a world of difference, why can't we start with that?
* stats from the CDC; see the factsheet here.