Childless by choice I often find myself having awkward conversations about babies with random strangers. In these conversations I give various explanations as to why Jeff and I choose not to have kids. "We love to travel and know we wouldn't have the money or the flexibility to travel the way we like to if we had kids," and "I give so much to children at work that I know there wouldn't be anything left over for my own children," are two of the more inane excuses. "I know parenting is a lot of work and I just don't have it in me," "We're both pretty selfish and would have a hard time with parenting," and "I've never had that burning desire to be a mom that drives so many women I know" are among the more honest and crass answers to the question, "Oh, you don't have kids? Why not?"
I was shopping for baby clothes for several friends who are in some state of pregnancy or new parenting the other day. A kindly older woman was ringing me out and making idle conversation about the pieces I had purchased. Inevitably she asked me if I had any kids. "No I replied. My partner has a chronic illness and he has decided NOT to take a risk and pass it on to any children." (This is a GREAT excuse to use if I want to abruptly end a conversation.) I continued with the sales clerk, "So we have the joy of visiting with other people's babies, and then going home together to be with our cats."
"Cats?" she said skeptically, "You have cats?" I felt a rush of judgment coming on. The clerk continued, "I've never met anyone who had a chronic illness who could also have a cat."
Dumbfounded I cocked my head at her and mentally began cataloguing all of the chronic diseases I knew of that didn't involve breathing - cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Huntington's Disease, Addison's Disease, Crohn's Disease, Colitis, any number of heart ailments. The list could go on. Then I looked back at the clerk, politely accepted the bag of gifts I had just purchased and walked out of the store without saying another word.