No children for me, please

In a society that defines women by their marital status or ability to bear children, it is rare for a woman to declare that she isn’t interested in having children

Thursday May 20 2010

Dorothy Ooko. PHOTO/ PETERSON GITHAIGA

Dorothy Ooko. PHOTO/ PETERSON GITHAIGA 

By CAROLINE NJUNG’E

Chances are that you would like her almost instantly when you meet her. She has this bubbly personality that is infectious, and is the kind of person that you would not hesitate to leave your children with because, to use a cliché, you’re sure that they would get along like a house on fire.

In fact, she is god-mother to one of her friend’s children and even taught Sunday school at her church for a several years. That is why most people are taken aback when they learn that Dorothy Ooko is not keen on having children of her own.

There is nothing ‘wrong’ with her, if you’re wondering. In fact, she is happily married, is well-educated and has an enviable job that has her globe-trotting often.

She also has a healthy social life and boasts of friendships that go back to her childhood. She has four nieces and two nephews who she loves to spoil and all her friends’ children call her auntie. But she doesn’t want children of her own. Why’s that?

Here is her story.

When I turned 38 and still hadn’t found someone I wanted to settle down with, I sort of made peace with the fact that I might never get married or have children of my own. Then I met my husband the following year, and a year later, when I turned 40, we got married.

Nowadays, more and more women are getting children in their forties and I could have chosen to have one or more of my own, but by then, I wasn’t sure that it was a responsibility I was willing to take on.

Let’s face it, at 40, your energy levels are not what they used to be when you were, say, in your mid-twenties.

After a lot of soul-searching, I knew that I was at a stage in my life where getting children wasn’t the wisest choice to make. I pictured having a 10-year-old at 50, and then raising a teenager at 60 and the image that came to mind wasn’t appealing.

I also travel a lot because of my job and so does my husband – who would take care of our child or children if both of us were barely at home? I, of course, shared my feelings with him and when he said he too wasn’t keen on having children, I felt immensely relieved.

Unfortunately though, our society is unforgiving towards women like me who have dared go against the norm. I am comfortable with the decision I made four years ago especially after concluding that kids are not the definition of a good marriage.

The interesting fact, however, is that other people are uncomfortable with my decision. People I know have tried to get me to change my mind while others who assume that I am unable to have children of my own have encouraged me to adopt.

The other day, my gynecologist advised me to start trying for a child immediately if I intend to have one because time wasn’t on my side.

There are also others who have accused me of being “selfish” for not wanting children, and wondered who I was going to leave my property to.

Once I tried explaining that I had an extended family which included nephews and nieces, but someone retorted that they were not my children, so it wouldn’t be the same.

I have even had friends who have promised that they will help me look after my child when I do get one, insisting that it is not “too late” for me. I have since concluded that there will always be pressure to do something else.

Think about it, when you’re single, there’s pressure to get married, when you get married, there’s pressure to have children, when you do have children, there’s pressure to have a boy if you had a girl and if it is a girl, there’s pressure to have a boy so that you can achieve a gender balance…the pressure just never ends and as a result, there are many miserable women out there.

Don’t get me wrong though, I think that motherhood is wonderful…I practically raised the youngest two in our family. I was in my early twenties when they came along so I was more of a mother figure to them than I was their sister.

I actually enjoyed the experience of helping my mum raise them but the truth is that not all women want to have children. The sooner society accepts this, the better. Interestingly, my mother, who I am very close to, has never questioned why I don’t want to have children.

To be sincere though, there are times when doubts creep in and I ask myself whether my husband and I have missed something, especially when I watch my younger sister who got married at 21 with her children, or my close friends with their children.

At such times though, I look at my life and realise that I am living it to the full, that I am happy, that I feel fulfilled and quite comfortable in my own skin.

My advice to women who are not married yet and are in their thirties or forties, do not have children or don’t want them, is to be comfortable with their life just the way it is and save themselves unnecessary misery.

Your marital status should not define you and neither should your children or lack of them be a measure of your success or failure.

Prisca Waiyaki’s* story “I just cannot stand children, I find them annoying, I feel absolutely nothing for them, no emotional attachment whatsoever, nothing,” begins Prisca* who opened up to us on condition that we do not disclose her identity.

Prisca, an attractive, educated and successful fashion designer, is in her mid thirties, and says that her strong, unusual feelings are not tied to any psychological shortcoming.

“I had a normal upbringing – I grew up in a happy household but since I was a small girl, I knew that I did not want children of my own,” she explains.

She admits though, that she does feel protective towards children, but in the same way she does towards defenseless animals, such as cats and dogs.

She says the idea of walking through her front door to shouts of “mummy, mummy” does not appeal to her, stressing that a relaxed evening or weekend for her is one where she can turn off her phone and enjoy solitude with no human voice in the background.

“My house is somewhere I retreat to, to get away from everyone and everything; it is where I go when I want peace and sanity after a hard day’s work – this would be impossible with children all over the place.”

She admits that most people, especially those who have children, get offended when they find out about her dislike for children. But she is unapologetic, casually stating that she has no obligation to like your children.

Whenever she finds herself around children, she says, she simply ignores them, and they in turn, are happy to ignore her.

“You will never find me going like; “Hi sunshine; how was school?” with a fake smile plastered on my lips.

Children are intelligent and would see right through it,” she argues, adding even though she occasionally offers her nephews and nieces some attention, the slight attachment she feels towards them comes from the mere fact that they are her siblings’ children.

She is also not impressed by women who “think they’re something amazing just because they have given birth.”

“It’s not like you climbed Mt. Everest, you have just done something that other women have been doing since the beginning of time.”

Even though she is unimpressed by the intensity that accompanies childbearing, she does think that motherhood is the toughest job in the world and which does not receive the appreciation it deserves.

Why would a man, with children at home be in a pub watching football on a Sunday for instance? She wonders. She also wonders why any woman would want to have a child and then “dump them on the maid.” Motherhood, she feels, should be a continuous hands-on job.

“Maybe I am being holier than thou, but I feel I’m better than that woman who lets other people raise her children for her,” she states, adding that several people have tried to tell her that she would change her mind if she got children of her own. But she says that she knows herself inside out, and the one thing she is sure of is that she never wants to have children.

Society, she points out, has no right to make women who have expressed no desire to have children feel guilty. She, in fact, gets livid when she hears people saying that not wanting to have children is unAfrican.

“It is an individual choice whether you’re African or not,” she shoots.

Sheila Mwanyigha

“Kids are beautiful, but they can be a nightmare,” states Sheila, who admits that she is not sure whether she wants to have children or not. If anything, she adds, her biological clock is still silent.

“Children are a full-time responsibility and, to be honest, it is a responsibility that I am not entirely keen on right now – I’m focused on my job and satisfied with my life just the way it is at the moment,” she explains, observing that while anyone can be a parent, not everyone is capable of the full-time responsibility that comes with being a mum or a dad.

This, she feels, is why women should not be pressurised to get married or have children just because they have reached a certain age. According to her, not everyone is cut out to be a mother or father.

“Be honest about who you are and make no apologies for it - unless you’re sure that you want to go down that road, don’t bow to pressure.”

She also feels that if a person tells you from the onset that they don’t want to have children, and you do, the best thing to do is walk away, not go ahead and get married or stick in the relationship hoping that they’ll change their mind with time.

Her mother, she says, has never asked her for grandchildren, and has made it clear that she has her support whichever way she chooses to go.

“Contrary to what society wants women to believe, it is possible to have a fulfilled life, whether one has children or not,” she concludes.

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