On Being African and Childfree

One of my favourite African feminist books is Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta. It follows the lives of two female friends as they navigate issues like motherhood, abortion, rape and dealing with the stigma of divorce and singleness.

In one of the key scenes from the novel, the main protagonist remarked that in Nigeria, women are raised to hold the wedding day, birth of first child and graduation days as the happiest days of our lives. 

She also went on to remark that angel or not, a woman had to give birth according to Nigerian customs.

I have often thought of that remark anytime I hear stories of baby factories and anytime I see women give testimonies of having kids after fifteen years of trying. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy for the women who get children after trying.

However, I am upset that in order to be seen as true women and in order to be free of the bullying from in-laws, a woman has to expose her body to very painful procedures. 

The irony, is that even when they give birth to one child, it is never enough. Some women will continue birthing children until they get a son and that can lead them to dying in childbirth.

Personally, I don’t want to have children and as an African woman, that is very sacrilegious to not want. An African woman is raised to see the birth of children and marriage as things that are normal rites of passage in order for her to be respected.

But what happens when you don’t want children? You are made to feel as though there is something lacking and wrong with you.

For me, the reason I don’t want children is that I simply don’t desire them. I love the innocence that children carry with them but I don’t believe in bringing a child into the world simply because it is expected of me. I strongly believe that children must come into the world feeling wanted. 

In addition to that, I don’t have the capacity to raise kids because raising children seems like a very stressful enterprise.

Not just that, I am sincerely afraid of childbirth and postpartum complications. I don’t want to put my body through indescribable pain that won’t even be honoured because people assume that after all women give birth everyday and so childbirth isn’t deadly.

When I think of my life in ten years, a child never comes into the picture. I often always imagine myself in a good job and with good friends who offer a strong support system.

It hasn’t always been easy to openly voice that I don’t want children. Because of how women are raised to see motherhood as a logical destination, I actually used to say that I wanted four children.

It took Nigerian mothers on Twitter sharing their experiences of childbirth and raising children for me to know that even adoption is not something I can do because I don’t have the capacity to be a primary caregiver. I don’t ever want to bring someone into my life and then begin to resent the loss of some opportunities.

Sometimes, when women say we don’t want children, we get thrown the selfish card. But isn’t it selfish to have children not because you love them but because you are looking for a mini me who will achieve your lost dreams and then take care of you in old age?

The irony, is that having children is no guarantee that your old age will be secure and less lonely. Your children can abandon you to pursue their dreams and they may not even be financially able to take care of you in a manner that corresponds with how much you have used to trained them.

But no one ever wants to tell women that the only way to have a secure old age is to diversify your support system. Your children and family should not be your only form of support. Women should learn to build friendships that are long lasting so that even when the children leave the nest and when spouses die, their old age would not be as painful and lonely.

Speaking with Vivian, a writer and chef, she explained that for her, she’s never had the desire for children and that tends to affect her relationships.

In her words: “I can’t remember when I started feeling this way but anytime I think about my siblings having children, I always feel like I’d be a bad aunt because I don’t know what to do with children. I remember this one time, when I was 18 I think, these children were fighting and I didn’t know how to tell them to stop. An older woman came in to stop but she asked me why I didn’t stop them. Am I not an adult? (in Yoruba, so imagine how embarrassing that was for me). I don’t know what to do with children, I don’t know how to handle them and I’m also not interested in learning.”

She went on to say: “Also, when I fantasize about having a family, and the idea of children comes in, I get bored. It’s also why I don’t want to get married and have a long term relationship because I feel like I’ll get bored. 

I used to think pregnancy was cute until I started reading stuff about it, and to be honest, I don’t want to be a part of that. When I tell people I don’t want children, they look at me like I just said something forbidden. But I enjoy their reaction 🤭”.

Vivian ended by saying: “When I tell men I’m in a potential relationship with, they like to tell me I’ll be the mother of their children regardless. I don’t always know how to feel. Sometimes, I meet men who try to change my mind and tell me I won’t be part of the women who go through pregnancy stress. I already struggle with menstrual cramps, so plsss.”

For Christiana, a writer and midwife, she is of the opinion that the subject of having kids must be adequately prepared for.

To quote her: “For a long time, I’ve been skeptical about having children because I understand the level of responsibility that comes with taking care of another human or set of humans for the rest of your living life. That’s a lot. It’s something I’ll only do if I really really really want to. Right now, I don’t want to. 

People are quick to ask me how many children I want and when I want to start having them. When I tell them they’re assuming I want children in the first place, they become super aggressive. They say things like:

– You’re supposed to multiply. It’s your duty as a woman (then they say the meanest things). 

– Nobody’s going to love you when you’re old (as if children are a retirement plan).

– Everybody else will have children and you’ll be childless (as if it’s a curse). 

– Nieces and nephews aren’t yours and they’ll always prefer their parents (as if that’s a crime).”

Christiana went on to say: “These people consider children to be things that you collect and not individuals with emotions and needs that you have to cater to as a parent. These people do not see women as individuals who should make decisions that favour them instead of the public. 

They do not value our decisions because of bias and false ideas of what every woman has the right to want.”

Some women don’t want children due to the bad manner they’ve seen wives and mothers treated. This has been the case of Hauwa. 

She told me: “As a child I observed how terrible wives and mothers were treated and how much they had to go through and sacrifice. 

So I told my family I was never getting married or having kids and they thought I was joking; many years later and I haven’t changed my mind.

I think the world is a terrible place, even I don’t like being here. Why would I bring an innocent soul to join in the suffering? Also I like to sleep and I don’t want anything messing with that 😁.”

Children must come into the world feeling wanted. Even more, women must not be bullied into having children they don’t truly desire just so they are seen as “complete”. It is also important that women learn to build friendships and have personalities outside of their roles as mothers. This would help in having an old age that wouldn’t be as lonely when the children leave the home eventually.

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