“Do you want children?”
It’s a common question. I get it a lot, especially when I’m paneling or when I’m openly talking about my sexuality in a social setting. People are curious, especially because people tend to associate “children” with “committed romantic partnerships,” and I generally don’t fit into that mold. For me, the question is also a complicated one.
I actually try not to think too hard about whether I want children. For one thing, it’s not necessarily as simple as just deciding I want them one day and eventually arriving at that eventuality. Whether or not I decide that children are something I would like in my life, the reality remains that actually raising children would be extremely difficult for me to achieve.
See, I’m a woman. I’m a woman who is seriously planning on entering academia and who has career aspirations that skew towards the demanding and difficult even if I choose to do something different. I like demanding, interesting jobs that take a lot of time and work and stress. The question of children is a difficult one for most women with my career aspirations, and that complicates things a lot. Note I say women; this is very much a gendered issue, particularly given the complications that come with pregnancy and maternity leave.
It’s also a problem because I’m asexual. I’m still trying to figure out how things are going to work for me from a relationships standpoint. I’m a lot more optimistic than I used to be, but my default expectation about the world is always going to be that I’ll be effectively on my own. This is especially true given that my relationships are long distance and there isn’t a plan currently in the works to change this. Sure, that will hopefully change eventually, but I’ve never been disappointed by planning for the status quo.
It is not humanly possible for me to have the career I want and be a single parent. It is very difficult for straight women to achieve, in fact. It’s almost impossible to listen for long at a discussion of the issues women face in academia and particularly in science without hearing discussion of this topic and the difficulties involved. There are a lot of reasons that academia is not friendly to women taking the time to have children and become pregnant, let alone friendly to taking the time to actually raise the kids as the “primary” caregiver.
Now imagine trying to do it on your own, as a single parent, without much in the way of direct support from other adults. It’s not feasible.
And I decided a long time ago that in a conflict between my career and the possibility of children, the career is always going to come first. I love what I do right now, but it’s a deeper issue than that; I need work to be happy, and I get bored if I’m left to my own ends too long. I have watched my mother, whose career suffered because of needing to take care of her kids, and I’ve watched the impact that that had on her. I love her very much and I’m glad she made the choices she did, but they are not choices that I ever want to be in the position of making.
Of course, none of this makes children an actual impossibility. Things might work out eventually, or the situation might change in such a way that the possibility of having kids. We might be able to sort out the long-distance thing, for example. The general tenor of academia towards people who take time off for family might change. Childcare could become more accessible. It could happen.
It does, however, make the prospect of children look very unlikely for me, barring some pretty dramatic changes in my life and profession. It’s something that would take a lot of changes, most of which are not necessarily under my control, to achieve. It makes children look pretty unlikely, actually, because there are a lot of factors that mean that even if I decided to have kids, it would be really hard for me to do so.
None of this actually has an impact on whether I want children, you understand. I don’t actually know whether I want children or not at this point in my life. Sometimes I feel one way about the whole thing, and sometimes I feel another. My feelings change based on how I think about the situation and what I’m thinking at the moment. I haven’t made up my mind yet, and obviously at this point in my life I don’t need to; after all, I’m only twenty-one.
But it’s something I try not to think too hard about. I’m not in the business of working myself up over things I’m not sure are actually achievable, after all.