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Opting out of motherhood is anything but selfish

By Annicca Albano Published Jul 02, 2021 6:00 am Updated Jul 02, 2021 3:09 pm

I grew up with mothers. My mother and her mom chose their children over everyone else. Lola sent my mom and her four siblings to college with money from her beauty parlor but never got to pursue her nursing dream. When Papa left for Saudi, Mama still managed to put me and my sister to bed each night without fail. They came from humble origins, but they did everything they could to give every child the best life possible.

And here I am years later — already graduated, earning, living comfortably — unsure if I want to be a mom. My lips purse and guilty feelings well up inside me every time I get asked in reunions when I’ll marry and have babies, just like my Lola, Mama, and more recently, my sister did.

Patriarchy has instilled in me that parenthood is life’s deepest meaning since the day I held my first toy doll. So when I expressed my desire to be voluntary childless, I was met with criticism and pity. Still, there are women like me who, despite the shame and stigma, stand strong in their unorthodox beliefs.

Pang, daughter of advocates for GABRIELA, an alliance advocating women’s issues, understood the challenges of domestic life from a young age. “I was floundering about whether my desire to be free emotionally and financially was enough of a reason to be childless,” she says now. “But when I got into sustainability work, I knew that preventing a population spike was the biggest thing I could do to live a sustainable life.”

God may have had the best intentions when He said “be fruitful and multiply,” but I’m not the only one who thinks a pandemic, political turmoil, and another recession don’t paint a great start to life.

Contrary to boomer belief, it has never been the earthly desires and distractions that have kept us 20- and 30-somethings from affording childcare. As soon as the glamor of ‘adulting’ faded, we realized the things we needed in life cost too much.

Danna, a journalist and former soc-med consultant for the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, echoed the same sentiment. “Without radical change, life will get more difficult, especially if you’re not blessed with hefty generational wealth,” she said. “When a person chooses to be child-free because they can't see themselves bringing a human into this world who may be burdened with prevalent struggles, it's fair to say that it is selfless.”

Contrary to boomer belief, it has never been the earthly desires and distractions that have kept us 20- and 30-somethings from affording childcare. As soon as the glamor of “adulting” faded, we realized the things we needed in life cost too much. It’s more sensible to spend savings on investments that don’t involve passing on retirement planning burdens to the unborn.

Even without a will-worthy inheritance, there are other things our potential offspring might unluckily inherit.

For Avery, it’s trauma and its triggers that are difficult — maybe impossible — to cure. “When I learned about my mental illness and witnessed my grandmother spend her final moments being suicidal, it made me hesitant to have children. I’m scared of passing down my illnesses or unwittingly using it as an excuse to hurt them.”

There’s also a growing fear of becoming horrible parents. People can’t help but intervene in every choice other mothers make — causing young ones to question if they’ll ever be ready for that kind of pressure and responsibility.

Ainna, part of the same Bible group I’m in, adores babies, and yet she worries, “I might fail to bring up someone loving and someone who holds the same ideals as me and, instead, I’ll impart the worst parts of myself. Any change in my decision would be if God calls me to be a mom.”

Others are inducted into parenthood early on in life. Lj recounted the time her parents’ marriage hit a rough patch. “I was left with my youngest sibling, who sort of rebelled then, and I had to play mom. It stressed the hell out of me, and I realized I don’t have the mental capacity for it,” she admitted, calling the experience a trial run that she vows not to sign onto for life.

I can only imagine how much harder the social stigma is for a community that already wrestles with acceptance. “I can’t even get married — and who knows when I’ll be able to. I don’t want to add that to the problems my child would have to carry,” Carla wrote. These days, the 28-year-old lesbian artist is nurturing her career instead. “A solo exhibit would be the next big thing for me,” she expressed with optimism.

Career ambitions taking top priority is not surprising. Having both a kickass job and a happy family seems unattainable in a hyper-demanding world — even more so for breadwinners. “My mom is an OFW and my father is out of work, so I have to share household expenses. Having kids may just add to the burden. I have dreams that I want to fulfill once my sister finishes school,” said Ari, who plans to take up her master’s abroad, to possibly bend fate in her favor.

Maybe we’ll regret it, maybe we won’t. What matters is that it is our choice, not one made by somebody else who won't have to deal with the consequences. I cling to the fact that if we have the courage of our convictions, happiness, in whatever form it may come, will find us. 

I worry about the future, too — such as what to do if my partner or I reconsider our childless choice. Jo assured me, “I constantly ask my husband if he has changed his mind about not wanting kids. I wouldn’t hold any ill feelings towards him if we end up getting a divorce so he could be a dad. I would hate to change my mind just because my partner wants a child, then end up miserable and potentially risking the child’s life and development.” There’s peace in her decision: she’s been happily married for two years and is a proud “mom” to Archie, a sweet black Labrador.

As for me, the lightbulb moment came when I got diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, a disease that, if untreated, can cause infertility. Living with it altered my perspective on what else women are capable of and where meaning can be found. Some women work to ensure a better future, some want to make the most of their younger years. Maybe we’ll regret it, maybe we won’t. What matters is that it is our choice, not one made by somebody else who won't have to deal with the consequences. I cling to the fact that if we have the courage of our convictions, happiness, in whatever form it may come, will find us. 

Concerned about me, Mama once asked, “What will happen when you’re old?” If or when I’ll ever embrace motherhood — only time will tell. At that time, I want to feel hopeful and sure, not obligated and selfish. But with egg freezing, surrogacy and adoption, I dare ask myself: what’s the rush?

Respect the fact that not everyone wants to be parents, but a lot of us make the best aunties. Be comfortable not knowing the reason behind others’ sincere decisions, whether they’re a “yes,” “no” or “maybe” on having kids. Lastly, just as pregnancies and births are rightfully celebrated, these next-generation women deserve to be recognized as the softhearted, strong, and selfless women that they also are.

Photo Art by Sam Bumanlag