Figuring out whether or not you want to have kids is the weirdest thing.
I have gone through about three distinct periods: When I was a kid, and I assumed I would have kids; when I was an adolescent and young adult, and I was sure I never wanted to have kids; and now, when I’m still a young adult, and I’ve decided I most likely do want to have kids but definitely not soon. To pass the time until “not soon” comes, I devote my progeny-oriented attentions to forming firm beliefs about how I want to raise my hypothetical future children and devising strategies to obtain them.
Which leads to another thing I, as a person with a uterus, have to figure out: Do I ever want to be pregnant?
For many people (or so I have to assume, given the high rate of failure to consider or account for other methods in mainstream media, educational materials, and so forth), having children automatically entails getting pregnant or getting somebody else pregnant. But wanting to have kids with someone who can’t get me pregnant (or get pregnant by me, for that matter) without the aid of at least one other person has helped open my mind to other possibilities.
Which is not to say I won’t do it! I might yet, just you wait and see. But the the thing is, a lot of the time being pregnant seems pretty unappealing to me. And while there are lots of great reasons for pregnancy to be unappealing — parts of pregnancy are just gross, and that’s life — I haven’t been able to figure out to my satisfaction why it’s so unappealing to me.
Well, one reason was recently illuminated for me.
I have a friendly acquaintance who was recently pregnant; let’s call her Jane. When she was five or six months along, she announced to me and some other friendly acquaintances, sort of out abruptly and without much fanfare, that she was having a baby. There was an awkward silence, then we got a handle on ourselves and congratulated her, and then she left.
After she was gone, we all stood around and talked about it for a few minutes. Mostly the others talked, actually; mostly I listened awkwardly.
“I knew it!” said one woman. “I thought I noticed that she was pregnant last week, when we had lunch together.”
“I actually just noticed today,” said a man. “I was standing next to her and I looked over and went, ‘wow, I think she’s pregnant!’”
“Oh, I knew,” said another woman. “I noticed a while ago.”
We all see Jane fairly frequently, but I was the only one who hadn’t noticed. And I felt weird about it, until I realized that I had noticed that Jane might have gained a little weight, but I didn’t think it was any of my business or even that interesting, really, so I forgot about it. Which made me realize something else: If Jane hadn’t been pregnant but had simply gained a lot of weight, our conversation would be considered rude. (Or it might not, but I’ll leave fat shaming for another post.) Since she was pregnant, it was perfectly normal and even meant to be a positive social experience for a bunch of people to congratulate each other on their ability to make judgments about her body.
And that’s when I realized that one of the reasons that pregnancy scares me — and when I think about it, at least one of the emotions really is fear — is that it might make my body public property. Maybe not in the strictest sense of ownership, but at least in the sense of it being everybody’s business.
Even if you don’t count the medical and legal ways in which pregnant people’s bodies are regulated, though those ways are scary and horrible and dangerous. Even if you just count the everyday interpersonal stuff, being pregnant might mean people will ask to touch my body. Or expect to be told about parts of my medical history. They might make judgments about my appearance, or my health, or my habits (like anything that can be attributed to genetics, or my weight and fitness, or what I eat) and give me unsolicited advice. They would probably think it’s their business to participate in the mental and emotional creation of my child, things like what to name it and whether to play Mozart to it. Since I’m queer, people might even think it’s okay to ask me how my child was conceived. And they might judge me for the answer.
I’m not saying that everyone would do those things, and I might not even mind every time if they did. After all, I like it when people take an interest in me. But it creeps me out that people would be socially sanctioned and even encouraged to get all up in my business just because I decided to do something with my uterus. For contrast, remember that non-gestational parents don’t have to tell people no, you can’t put your hands on my belly. Straight cis men don’t have to pretend it’s not an insult to be asked whose genetic material helped make their baby.
Even before I decide whether to become pregnant, people think my potential parenthood is their business. It turns out that if you get married or stay with the same romantic partner long enough, being queer does not get you out of being asked whether you plan to have children. No matter how hard you have to bite your tongue to keep from asking, ever so sweetly, “Oh, were you offering to pay for the alternative insemination/adoption?”
There are worse things, I realize. Indeed, in a certain light, asking a same-sex couple whether they plan to have children could be seen as remarkably progressive and accepting. But to me it feels intrusive, just another way that people treat pregnant bodies (and potentially pregnant and parenting people) as though they’re everybody’s business.
All of this makes me so uncomfortable, in fact, that it affects my ability to make decisions about my own body. Deciding whether I ever want to be pregnant becomes deciding whether I ever want to be pregnant in public. Harassment becomes a part of the process in question, along with peeing all the time and smelling funny. So now I’m asking myself, if I could just be pregnant in private — if I could choose not to share this private bodily function with other people unless I wanted to — would I feel less conflicted about the possibility about becoming pregnant?
The problem is that I don’t have that choice. I can’t even imagine having it. (Thanks a lot, patriarchy!) So the answer is still, I don’t know.