A decade ago, during a conversation that was supposed to be about a book I had written on politics, the British man interviewing me insisted that instead of talking about the products of my mind, we should talk about the fruit of my loins, or the lack thereof. Onstage, he hounded me about why I didn’t have children. No answer I gave could satisfy him. His position seemed to be that I must have children, that it was incomprehensible that I did not, and so we had to talk about why I didn’t, rather than about the books I did have.
As it happens, there are many reasons why I don’t have children: I am very good at birth control; though I love children and adore aunthood, I also love solitude; I was raised by unhappy, unkind people, and I wanted neither to replicate their form of parenting nor to create human beings who might feel about me the way that I felt about my begetters; I really wanted to write books, which as I’ve done it is a fairly consuming vocation. I’m not dogmatic about not having kids. I might have had them under other circumstances and been fine — as I am now.
But just because the question can be answered doesn’t mean that I ought to answer it, or that it ought to be asked. The interviewer’s question was indecent, because it presumed that women should have children, and that a woman’s reproductive activities were naturally public business. More fundamentally, the question assumed that there was only one proper way for a woman to live.
Rebecca Solnit’s Harper’s essay on the meaning of a woman’s life is a work of irrepressible genius.
Complement it with celebrated writers on the choice not to have children, then revisit Solnit on finding yourself by getting lost.