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OCTOBER 17, 2017

“Baby, what will you do if mommy dies?”

When I was eight years old, my mother developed an autoimmune disease similar to lupus, where the body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs.

“You’re not going to die, mom.” I had said, comforting her as much as a child could.

At the time, my father was pursuing his dream of starting up his own company in China. My mother and I were still living in the United States. Consequently, during the transitional months before our move, I became my mother’s caretaker. In the morning, I would help her put on her bra and get dressed for work, because her fingers were so swollen she couldn’t reach behind her back. They had swelled to the point where her wedding band warped.

This reversal of the mother-child role had a profound impact on my perceptions of how many responsibilities parenthood bears.

It also reinforced my desire to never have kids.

My mother’s chronic disease subsided after a few years. My father is now a successful CEO of his own company, and my mother is now a three-times published Chinese literature author, her childhood aspiration.

But my parents had to cope with many factors out of their control. I sometimes wonder what would’ve happened if my dad put his dreams on hold. I would never want that, however. Even if they are mom and dad, they are people too. I have nothing but respect for those who raise their kids in addition to pursuing their careers and other passions.  

There’s this notion that when a woman has a baby, it will “activate” her natural maternal instincts, which is not true. The time, attention and care one truly needs to raise a child properly comes from a conscious, active effort which demands a lifelong commitment.

Remember when balls were still called babymakers? Sex distilled to its biological function is all about furthering one’s bloodline. While nowadays, we recognize kid creation isn’t the sole function of sex, it’s still an assumed end result. After all, our current existence is all thanks to our ancestors, who got it on for the greater good of the family. It’s an intimidating line to break.

More and more people, however, are willing to postpone crossing or even breaking this line, as demonstrated by the statistic of the “childless millennial;” birthrates among 20-somethings have declined by 15 percent. In China, a shift from having children to a childless lifestyle is demonstrated by the emergence of the acronym DINK, short for “double income, no kids.”

Even after the development of an ostensibly more open culture toward a no-child life, as the only woman in my family’s generation, I still feel those centuries of pressure to continue my lineage. Even though I am lucky enough to have a mother who reassures me that she would be fine if I didn’t have kids, I still want to leave something permanent behind.  

When a family member, a friend, or even a stranger, tells me that my (future) child would be lucky to have a mother like me, I feel conflicted. Whenever I am told I would be a great parent, the reasons are always associated with admirable features, like my thick hair, baking prowess and perseverance. Women rarely receive consistently positive feedback on roles we take, but hypothetical motherhood invariably focuses on our excellency. When regular praise of my admirable qualities is rooted in motherhood, I fear losing this dependable source of collective approval.

My lingering inclination towards motherhood comes from a desire to meet social expectations, when it should focus on the desire to raise a child to the best of my ability. My child should not serve as an object on which to project my insecurities.

Many people will be glad I’m weeding myself out of the gene pool for my “negatives,” like my open promiscuity, which somehow translates to being an unfit mother. My complex relationship with the idea of motherhood won’t matter to them I’m simply a whore who shouldn’t have kids. The fact that I’ve had sex with many people besides my one and only “daddy” shouldn’t be the litmus test for parenthood.

Outside of my experiences with my mother, I have other mental health issues which further bolster my resolute decision to lead a childless life. Nevertheless, many who have experienced traumas greater than mine still have a genuine passion for kids.

But even if people don’t have any experience that has put them off children, they shouldn’t feel this suffocating pressure from society to pop out babies either. There’s no need for some great significance behind an individual’s decision to lead a childless future.

This summer, I got a stomach tattoo. During the entire four hours, the tattoo artist never once brought up the consequences of pregnancy to my belly skin, instead talking to me about his recent marriage and my open relationship. When I was getting a touch-up for a separate leg tattoo, my other artist saw my fresh tummy tat and absently asked me if I wanted any kids. I said that I never wanted to have any, and she said, “Me neither. I love my dog, and she’s enough.”

While there’s so much gravitas around the permanence of getting a tattoo, the same doesn’t hold for the permanence of kids. For me, if I get a messed up tattoo or regret something on my body, it’s isolated to me, and if I truly want to, I can get it removed or covered up for a price. Mess up a kid, and there’s only so much that I can do to resolve it. I don’t have the energy to give my full attention to anyone non-stop for 18 years at minimum, and a child deserves that at the absolute least.

I don’t want a baby. I’ll just stick to the trying part.

Michelle Zheng writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @thezhenger.

OCTOBER 17, 2017