On Jan. 20, 2020, I celebrated my 37th birthday. I included the information about my birthday on my Facebook profile. Consequently, some of my Facebook’s friends may have seen the notification and sent me birthday wishes.
Later, I wrote the following gratitude to them, “Dear friends and colleagues, heartfelt thanks for taking your times to remember my birthday, to wish me all the good things you thought I deserve, and accept me for who I was. That acceptance enabled me to live with authenticity. Also, to no longer wish that I would tie the knot soon as I got older. I am glad that you started to value that woman’s happiness does not depend on whether or not she is married or maybe it wasn't the reason why you stopped saying that to my face: you happened to be just sick to hear my feminist rants. As I got older, I also found myself to be more comfortable to live and carry on with my ideology. No, being feminist is not a bad thing. In fact, ‘being a feminist is what differentiate me from a doormat’ - I quoted Rebecca West here. If you tired listening to why I don't want to have kids, maybe you could resort to this reading instead: “I Chose Not To Have Kids Because I’m Afraid for the Planet”.
Also read: To Have or Not Have a Baby
My journey to become a feminist was homegrown, by observing the power relation my parents had. My father had to work two full-time jobs, so he could provide for his family of six children. The youngest child in the family was born in April 1999, when our family was struggling to survive the aftermath of 1997 Asian financial crisis. The crisis forced us to stretch our resources thin all the way until 2002. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. Often, my parents had heated arguments over financial issues and sometimes I felt pity for my mom because she didn’t have her own income.
In December 1999, I joined an NGO in Banda Aceh and was promoted to become the head of research and development unit right away. Returning from his business trip, one of my colleagues gifted me a book, titled Anak Indonesia Teraniaya: Potret Buram Anak Bangsa (Indonesian Children Mistreated: A Gloomy Portrait of the Nation’s Children)
In that book, I found a poem by Grabriela Mistral:
We are guilty of many errors and faults,
But our worst crime is abandoning our children,
Neglecting the fountain of life.
Many of the things we need can wait.
The child cannot.
Right now is the time his bones are being formed,
His blood is being made
And his senses are being developed.
To him we cannot answer ‘TOMORROW’
His name is ‘TODAY’”
The poem, along with the stories printed in that 203 page-long book, became the beginning of my enlightenment, when I decided I did not want to take the motherhood path. The poem was an eye-opener to me about what having kids meant and I, personally, wasn’t sure that I would be free from not committing such worst crime.
Later in 2003, my mother and I was shopping for some books for gifts to my eldest sister who was expecting. I came across Chicken Soup for the Expectant Mother’s Soul: 101 Stories to Inspire and Warm the Hearts of Soon-to-be-Mothers. Reading that book turned into my second enlightenment. It felt like the realization you have about motherhood after carrying an infant simulators at during the weekend, as they often do make students do at school to prevent teen pregnancy in some developed countries.
The book gave a more realistic view of parenting and at what stakes parenthood would cost me. This was new to me, understanding that during my school time–I am a Xennial–even sex education was non-existence.
I wanted to relate these two enlightenment moments to what Mary Belenky, Blythe Clinchy, Nancy Goldberger and Jill Tarule coined as “Women’s Way of Knowing.” In their book Women ‘s Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice and Mind (2008) they argued that there are five stages of knowing: silence, received knowledge, subjective knowledge, procedural knowledge and constructed knowledge.
My enlightenment was certainly the stage of constructed knowledge, in which I developed a narrative sense of self that wouldn’t envisage motherhood. Feminism, which I have encountered since I was 14, provides a very solid foundation for my freedom, because feminism teaches me the followings:
- It’s okay not to want kids.
- It’s okay to not like kids.
- It’s totally possible to live a blissfully happy life without having kids
- Having kids is a life choice not a “given next step” or a “natural progression of life.”
- Being childfree by choice is a totally valid option.
The enlightenment concluded my freedom with the awareness that not wanting a kid is a non-negotiable stance for me. Thus, I cannot stay in a relationship that would want to negotiate that.
With the world’s future overshadowed by the consequences of climate change and global warming, being a feminist and not wanting to have kids is actually one of the few personal choices that cut more emissions than others!