This is a tale as old as time, but when I was in high school, I — like virtually everyone else my age — was going through a lot. Mentally, physically, spiritually, psychologically and all the other -ly’s. I was planting a seed for my own future, which is a notoriously difficult task for someone so young and often ushers in plenty of unanticipated troubles. We start to put things that don’t matter before things that do or — as my parents say — we put the cart before the horse.
Most of the decisions we tend to make as 15-year-olds end up being half-assed, inconsequential or just plain dimwitted. We convince ourselves we love people when, truly, we do not, we allow things to occupy our minds that do not deserve such real estate and, most importantly, we tell ourselves that the decisions we make now will withstand the test of time. We tell ourselves that we had choices in the first place, cemented in rock and resistant to decay.
I made a lot of these so-called choices in my younger, and more vulnerable, years (if you want to call them that). I chose a profession that I had no interest in pursuing and failed to realize that medical school posed a dead end for me. It sparked no joy. Nothing.
I chose to make my happiness contingent on certain individuals, and when they left, I let the pillows soak up my tears until there wasn’t any more space left on it to cry. I disregarded my parents and acted as if I could shed them like the skin of a lizard, simply because I had seemingly put on my big girl pants. I acted like I didn’t need them anymore. And that hurt them.
But luckily, most of these decisions were the same: inconsequential. I received opportunities to re-envision my career path and frame it within a broader perspective. I’ve come to realize that while friends and lovers are things that come and go, my parents (and their love) do not. Their compassion is truly one of the only things I have witnessed withstand turmoil, troubles and time.
The other thing that seems to remain grounded within me are the pinky promises I make to myself. The pledges I make staring into the mirror, telling myself that self-love is not finite and that it is possible to love yourself more each and every day. The laments to start doing more and overthinking less, to stop the meat organ in my skull from dictating all of the “do nots” and “why nots” and “should nots” that infest my stream of consciousness.
And one of those pinky promises has been one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my life — and I committed to it during the most tender years of my life. I had to bite through skin and bone to know I wanted it for sure: I decided early on that, if nothing else, children would be an impediment for my future.
I was only 15.
I spent years and years grieving, sifting through articles titled “Top 10 reasons to become child-free,” hoping to find a slice of validation through anonymous messages on Tumblr and upvoted posts on Reddit.
At this point, my anger toward children fueled my pursuit for a child-free lifestyle. I wanted nothing to do with babies — they carry germs like 14th-century monks, wail like cicadas in the summertime and look more fragile than porcelain dishes. They are an incredible mix of everything I can’t seem to tolerate.
I remember telling my parents and grandparents, with anger seeping through my teeth and revenge rolling off my tongue, that I would abstain from having children. It felt like a protest, to turn away from a role that (even now) many working, young, Russian women are expected to embrace. I was too young and hungry with power, and while I see that now, it seems wrong to deny how delicious my quiet rebellion tasted.
It was a directed anger, and one I am not necessarily proud of anymore — but it was directed toward a real villain: A society that unabashedly assumes people with uteruses were born to be mothers.
I was only 17.
Being 17 was far from perfect, and it definitely came nowhere close to the expectations for a period that is often dubbed as “the golden years.” I grew as a person, for sure, but at a considerable cost — I sacrificed so much of myself for material achievements.
Maybe it was wrong or maybe it wasn’t, but I started to value professional pursuits and hedonic interests over everything else. In my mind, I was in a coming-of-age party-girl movie, and while I was young and reckless, I was everything but stupid.
Sure, I would attend those somewhat lame high school parties in those slightly smelly houses on streets with names I couldn’t recall because they all sound the same in Vegas, anyway. Hualapai Way. Oasis Cove. Sunset Boulevard. Tropical Parkway and Fort Apache Road. However, I wouldn’t dare leave my house without knowing I had submitted the Common App essays that were due that night.
My parents had forgotten the words for how to tell me to do my homework, and they often didn’t know I had any. Grades were not a concern in my household, an “A” was the expected baseline for each and every semester.
It was around this time that I realized I had a knack for schooling. Despite the impediments I faced in high school regarding my mental and interpersonal well-being, I spent many hours drinking myself silly from the informational fountain of Wikipedia, trading in eye-bags and fatigue for just a few more minutes of reading about something cool.
So it’s not exactly surprising that I am now entirely focused on my professional goals. I still have fun and see friends and talk to family and am a, you know, socially active person — but I don’t let side quests detract from my main objective, and kids are as demanding as side quests get.
It’s not that I wouldn’t have been able to maintain the demanding tasks of full-time mother and scholar, but that the simple option of having kids was too risky — it was too tempting to picture the stay-at-home life behind the white picket fencing because it allowed me to get lazy and wait for a prince charming to arrive, and I couldn’t have that. Not at all.
So, rather than crossing out that option on the ballot box, I decided to remove the choice entirely. I started reading less about the stories of women published by The New York Times and Refinery29 and began actually researching the steps to permanent and sustained birth control. I read about the variety of patches and pills and procedures, including the nuclear option — tubal ligation.
Still, between all the articles and advocacy and articulate writing, I couldn’t help but get the vibe that certain sentiments were all for women utilizing birth control — as long as it had an expiration date.
Because a woman is never really sure of what she wants, is she? How do you know for certain that a woman, simply by virtue of being a woman, won’t want kids? If she can have them, she should want them, right?
Because who knows, maybe if just enough strangers ask me, “What if you regret it?” and lecture me to “think about my parents who want grandkids,” maybe — just maybe — I’ll change my mind. Who knows, maybe I’ll meet the right person or quit my career and devote myself to motherhood if enough nameless faces and faceless names berate me about my choices. Perhaps I’ll accept my role as female and nothing more, as I lovingly welcome a life of chaos filled with children, cleaning clutter and a cheating husband.
Or perhaps, I’ll just tell you to go fuck yourself.
I was only 18.
I had only briefly mentioned the existence of my appointment with the gynecologist in passing to my roommates or someone of the sort. I don’t really remember much, except the way I held my own hand that day.
I recall the taste of the arid, limp air when I drove myself to the doctors’ office. I remember the weeks and months wasted doing my own research and scheduling my own appointment and calling my insurance and asking Google about the pain levels and which over-the-counter medications to take, since IUDs are inserted without anesthesia (which, with the astounding amount of first-hand experiences women have written about, such unanesthetized procedures should be considered barbaric), and they hurt like hell.
I can’t seem to wipe away how exposed I felt, stripping down to nothing in the harshly-lit examination room and placing a soft pink paper cover over myself. I had been naked many times before — but never so brutally. I could almost taste the coolness of the metal stirrups as my feet traced the hard metal, performing a practice run before my gynecologist would intrude and ask for the real deal. They were so bony. So inhumane.
I remember the violent nausea rushing up my throat as I laid back on the chair, hearing the clock scream tick and yell tock, and feeling a lone tear inch its way down my cheek. The peach fuzz on my face that I forgot to shave and — fuck, I forgot to shave down there, too.
I felt dirty when I shouldn’t have. I felt strikingly uncovered and looked at, even as I stood alone in the room. And despite it all, I firmly held my own hand and got my IUD. Gritting and gnawing for the promise I told myself I’d keep, I managed to escape, almost unscathed.
I am 20.
I am okay with being made to look like a villain now. Whatever preconceived notion you frame me within, I am at peace with it. You can call me lazy and selfish for preemptively choosing my passions over the social responsibility of being an in-house daycare. You can call me a sinner, dirty and vile, for annihilating whatever plan your god had for me. Even now, as I have my sights set on a tubal ligation in the coming decade, my actions in the past have brought me only tranquility in the present and hope for the future.
You will get away with calling me a bad person because that’s unfortunately the society that we live in. But just like people think the unborn deserve an advocate, the victim, too, deserves a face.
Sure, you can clump us all together — “alpha” women, child killers, whores and sluts and the like — but we have earned something more than just a label. I know you hate me, but I also know you don’t have the guts to say it to my face.
Because that’s what happens when you listen to individual stories, when you take into account numerous struggles and various backgrounds and identities — the dehumanized become human once more.
Just know that I am not a bad person, nor the villain of the story. You can’t begin to picture the tears I’ve sobbed and the sleep I’ve forsaken. You know nothing of my loss.
There are weaker moments in my life, when I fall to my knees with palms to the ground as my lungs rupture and gasp for breath, as if hit by an earthquake. I can picture it, too. I can see the nursery decorated with forest green, baby blue and marigold. I feel the softness as my nimble fingers spread across such a delicate head, and the murmured, soft breathing and the big, eager yawns.
I can see myself being a mother — but someone has to step in and say no. And for all of the bravery I put on display, I am not afraid to admit it’s because I’m scared.
I am afraid to see children grow up on a planet where dolphins choke on plastic and politicians ostracize Queer kids. How do I justify bringing a child into this world? The one rampant with hate, violence, intolerance and disrespect. The one we’ve been tasked to clean up, with no compensation for our duties.
The Buddha said we must end suffering, not force it. So tell me how to stroll through a maternity ward without crying. Tell me how we should tell our kids the world is theirs to fix. Tell me what they did to deserve being born, for they didn’t consent to such suffering.
So, no. I won’t be changing my mind.
Statement Columnist Valerija Malashevich can be reached at email@example.com.