You’ve probably heard of Holly Brockwell – she has no children, and she doesn’t want them. She’s been trying (and trying and trying and trying) to get sterilised. Recently, after countless doctors appointments, refusals, referrals, more refusals and referrals, she was finally granted her wish, and is on the list for sterilisation.
Obviously, I am pretty damn impressed with Holly’s determination, particularly in light of the reactions to her decision. I’ve been watching the story with increasing horror as the ridiculous, patronising and tedious comments roll in: you’ll change your mind one day, aren’t you being selfish, who’ll look after you in your old age…
But the one I want to deal with here is this one:
Imagine actually believing this pic.twitter.com/Es2qFiwW0G
— Holly Brockwell (@holly) March 24, 2016
Is that our sole purpose in life? To reproduce?
Because that feels a bit flimsy. There are lots of things you can do if you have no children – things that give your life meaning and purpose, or simply bring you and others joy.
You can have a fulfilling career.
Set up a business that helps people.
Give to charity.
Work for charity.
Support the people around you.
Fall in love.
Spend money on things that you enjoy.
Give all your money away.
Teach people how to do things you do well.
Learn how to do things, then pass that knowledge on too.
Campaign for something important.
Swim the channel.
Learn to drive.
Watch every episode of House of Cards back to back.
Phone your gran.
Pick up your nieces from school and take them for a sneaky ice-cream.
Walk the Great Wall of China.
Do a reddit AMA.
Complete Call of Duty.
Miss a penalty at the World Cup.
Buy a house.
Of course, none of these things are exclusive to childless people: anyone can do them. And that’s my point, really. There are myriad things that give our lives meaning, and purpose. Countless small acts of generosity or little bursts of joy. Dreams. Goals. Achievements. We can choose some, or all, or none.
While we all get judged for the choices we make, the decision to have children gets disproportionate attention. It’s rarely seen as one choice among many. People – and it’s mostly women here, I’m afraid – are told that while we might be able to have it all, there are some things we can’t opt out of. If we explain that we’d rather not have children, we’re told that we’ll change our minds: as if we can never possibly know our own.
But I think what gives our lives purpose is exactly this: knowing our own minds. Making choices. Being able to sift and judge and assess what it is that brings us joy, and what we want to contribute to the world: whether that’s a baby, a business, a beautiful sonnet, or even bugger all if we feel like it.
Claiming that having children is the only purposeful thing in life wipes out in one clumsy stroke all of the other choices on the list: whether they’re made by people who are infertile, deliberately childless, or even parents themselves. In doing so, it makes a boring hash of what it means to be human. It’s humanity as explained by a robot, who can’t feel excitement, understand desire, or weigh the countless different experiences that go together to make us who we are.
If the human experience is about anything, it’s about rejecting biological necessity – having children not because the species deems it vital, but because you deem it desirable.
Your purpose in life is not to make babies, but to make choices.