'Tis the Reason

October 17, 2018
Jess Allen

Let me tell you—my Barbies made a lot of babies when I was a kid. Every time a boy Barbie, which was usually just a girl Barbie whose hair I’d cut short, proposed to a girl Barbie, they’d marry, and then have babies.

Plastic private parts aside, that’s what everyone did. I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t. 

Jess Allen

Photo via Jess Allen

I’d love to say it’s because I’m a true blue altruist: I don’t want to burden the planet with another human being because I care deeply about the environment, not to mention there are already so many children in the world who aren’t cared for.

 But I feel lukewarm about being a mother. And if what I hear is correct—that motherhood is the most important role of your lifetime—maybe it’s something you should go into really wanting. Like many of my friends, who’ve had their hearts and brains bruised struggling to conceive, who’ve spent their savings on fertility treatments, who’ve chosen to be a single parent: They really wanted it.

I’ve waited for the desire to kick in, checking in now and then on the wombs of people who are around the same age as me. Like Drew Barrymore. When she had her first baby at 37, I thought, ‘Well, I guess it’s still possible’, if all of a sudden the desire should present itself.

Then I started to wonder if the desire would ever show up. There’s certainly no pressure from my partner, who also doesn’t care about genetic continuity. But there is still pressure: Sure, Queen Elizabeth I, Jane Austen, Georgia O’Keeffe, Katharine Hepburn, Helen Mirren, and Cameron Diaz never had children, but Cameron Diaz has written two books! If I’m not going to include ‘have a baby’ on my checklist of life accomplishments, then I better buck up and do great things!

This would help me a lot when strangers ask me why I don’t have kids: “Oh, I was too busy reversing climate change,” I could say, instead of bumbling around in the back of a cab, like I did very recently, apologizing to the driver because it looked as if I had crushed his soul. “But they are the point of life!” he pleaded. “That’s why we are here!” 

That line of thinking—that I’m a biological anomaly; that I’m unnatural—always stings. But “from a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural,” Yuval Noah Harari writes in his bestseller, Sapiens. “There is little sense, then, in arguing that the natural function of women is to give birth, or that homosexuality is unnatural. Most of the laws, norms, rights and obligations that define manhood and womanhood reflect human imagination more than biological reality.”

I wish I’d had that line memorized. “See?” I’d tell the driver casually, while pulling a tenner or two from my wallet. “Science!”  

Or, I could speak from the heart: “There are plenty of things I’d like to do in this life. But being a mother isn’t one of them. Sometimes this makes me sad, that it’s not a strong enough feeling to stir me to do something about it, but that doesn’t make it any less true,” I’d say, handing over the fare. “Thanks for the ride—and keep the change.”