1. Because one day I’ll be standing in line somewhere and some presumptive, baby-loving, beyond-middle-aged woman (the same sort you overhear asking people about their grandchildren and, when she hears there aren’t any, moans “Oh, I’m so sorry.”) will want to touch my belly. I could refuse and hurt her feelings, and she might look disgusted and change lines. Or I could let her touch it and she’d ask about its gender and name and due date and I’d have to decide between beginning a whole lie-based conversation and telling the truth. And because even if she didn’t touch me, or ask to touch me, she’d still look, and I don’t think I could deal with the looks of strangers who think that I got myself pregnant.
2. Because I get offended when people ask if I have kids. Just because I can doesn’t mean that I should. It’s not a tragedy that I haven’t had them, and there is no “yet” in that statement. I don’t want to hear about how I’ll change my mind or how my biological clock will magically start ticking or how I just haven’t met the right man yet, as if I’ll just wake up one day and want to put a baby in my belly.
3. Because of my tokophobia. I don’t like seeing pregnant women, thinking about giving birth, seeing babies—and that’s not even with my body. The thought of growing something inside of me, and feeling it move, kick, swim, for nearly a year, makes me nauseous. I don’t want a distended stomach and bulging boobs and inflated ankles. I don’t want to waddle around with one hand on my back and one on my belly. I don’t want to think about vaginal tearing or cutting or stretching that’s inevitable when someone tries to squeeze a living, squirming watermelon out of something a fist shouldn’t fit into, as they shit themselves and push against the worst pain of their life and something fights its way out of the neglected bush they haven’t been able to reach in months that is now open to a room full of strangers.
4. Because of my iatrophobia, especially concerning OBGYNs. I suffer through my ailments on my own, doctors be damned. You should know that by now. Broken bones, illnesses physical and mental, even recurrent issues keep me away from the office. And if I do have an appointment, I get anxious about it and reschedule, sometimes two or three times, before finally cancelling. I don’t want to be examined poked prodded biopsied cut sewn altered, reduced to a set of misfiring parts by nitrile hands. You were once so pissed off when I said I wanted to die before I got old; so mad that I wasn’t taking care of myself. I’m still deciding how much of my physical self I owe to you and how much of it is my own.
5. Because I like my body. Well, I don’t exactly like it, but I like it more now than I would like it after giving birth. I know you hated when I was a size two. And I wasn’t happy as a size eight. And I’ve just found the size in between unhealthy-small and uncomfortable-big and finally feel sexy again and how am I going to feel, and how am I going to get laid, when my size is “elastic waistband”? I don’t want the weight gain, the stretch marks, the leaking tits, and either a stretched out vagina or a Caesarean scar.
6. Because the birthrate will be something like four to one in the next few years, someone at work told me, but really we need a lot of babies to care for the growing elderly population, but what happens when all of these babies get old and need even more people to take care of them? And someone else at work said the only good reason to have kids is because you think the world is so wonderful that you want to bring another person into it. And actually I was thinking about joining the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement because I really don’t think more of us should be created. And besides, the more educated and successful you are, the less likely you are to even want kids, and I’d like to think I’m among those ranks—not that you’re not. And I’ve long been a fan of the Childfree By Choice movement, because they have more personal, less global reasons than the Human Extinction people. And the UN says the world population will be 9.6 billion by 2050, and we already hit 7 billion this year. And I go to cemeteries and see entire families of dead babies and think that that’s what survival of the fittest is all about and damned science and technology are keeping us around longer than we’re supposed to be and I wonder how many of us would have been dead babies if we’d been born in another time and about all the dead babies everywhere—no markers, no stones—millennia and millennia of them rolling ‘round in earth’s diurnal course, and the grieving mothers and surprised mothers and dread-filled mothers and unwilling mothers and how even now with all our science, we don’t and can’t control our birth at all, not entirely. Not in any way that’s meaningful on the whole.
7. Because it’s good to have a steady income before you consider having children. Not only am I in debt but I also live paycheck-to-paycheck. You’d think, after half a lifetime of stomach problems and pregnancy “jokes” and comments from coworkers, I wouldn’t care if I actually was sick with child, but I don’t want to miss work and be sick and have to have “bed rest” and my job at the bakery is really physical anyway—it’d slow me down too much to be pregnant, and the holidays are coming, and they’d have to hire someone else.
8. Because I don’t want to spend most of a year as a sober non-smoker. Nine months. Or more, if we’re talking breastfeeding. That’s nine months without a drink, a cigarette, a bowl. How am I supposed to feel even more sick all the time but never smoke any weed?
9. Because I have ulcers, chronic heartburn, GERD, nausea, IBS. I can’t imagine the severity of stomach problems if I were pregnant. I don’t need to add constipation, gas, frequent urination, backaches above and beyond what I already have. Expecting mothers should be exceptionally healthy. Not to mention my anxiety and depression and agoraphobia—I’m not mentally healthy either.
10. Because it’s more complicated than you think. Because all clinics require surrogate mothers to have had at least one prior successful pregnancy, something I wish you and Mom had known before you even considered mentioning this idea to me. It must be awful to want children and not be able to have them, and here I am probably fertile as the Crescent, but I’ve spent the last thirteen years telling my body not to get pregnant, threatening it with abortion, and then I get an email from my mother one day asking if I’ll consider having a baby for my sister? I bought you a card to congratulate you on your pregnancy the first time you had in vitro and I’d rather throw it out than give it to myself, and long ago I decided I was fine with being the last Housman, and I don’t understand why your marriage needs a baby or why Mom needs to know that her family will live on after she’s dead, but again, how much of my body do I owe to my family, and how much of it is really my own? And now, even if I do get pregnant, I’m going to panic more than I normally would, because now I know the baby is wanted, truly wanted, just not by me, and I’m sorry your in vitro didn’t work and that you can’t adopt through normal channels because you don’t want to get rid of your dogs and you feel like your biological clock is ticking, but you’ve got ten good years left in you and maybe now’s just not your time, or maybe you need time to realize that a baby is more important than nine dogs, or maybe the world is trying to spare us a cemetery full of dead Housmans by just cutting them all off at the pass, and maybe that’s really okay.