I Might not be Able to Have Kids One Day

I’m Both Relieved and Anxious About Something I May Never Want

Women constantly face the pressure of becoming mothers by archaic societal standards. Graphic Juliette Uliana.

When I was a kid, getting married and having a family was the only life option I really ever knew.

All of my older family members were married, and my cousins married and started families before I went to high school.

I was asked by family members and family friends how many babies I was going to have and what kind of man I wanted to marry before I even knew what puberty was. The idea of not having children or getting married, even as I got older, was touted as an exclusively male luxury. The only people who could get away with not having kids or getting married were men, and the few men in my family who didn’t follow societal conventions were people I didn’t know about until I was much older, by which point, they had already died. I was a girl and therefore had to get married and bear children (in that order, preferably). 

As I got older, that idea has become something that isn’t attractive or even possible for me and an increasing number of people I know. Last fall, I was unofficially diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. 

I’m clearly not shy when it comes to talking about issues I’m going through, and I’m willing to bet that I’m not the last person you’ll hear about with PCOS. In fact, up to 1.4 million women in Canada are living with it, diagnosed or not.

What causes PCOS is not known in large part because, historically, medicine hasn’t cared about women or our issues. For example, women have different symptoms of heart attacks, but because of the way research has been done, the early warning signs they experience are missed 78 per cent of the time, making them more likely to die or have a second heart attack compared to men.  Women also make up two-thirds of people living with Alzheimer’s, but we don’t know why because we were only looking for the differences between men and women.

What we do know is that PCOS causes issues including excessive hair growth, missed and irregular periods, infertility and increased cancer risks.

When I got my diagnosis last year, I was conflicted, and in large part, I still am. I don’t currently want kids and haven’t for a long time. But this illness has potentially robbed me of the option to have kids on my own with a future partner. Since the research still lags behind in terms of explaining what causes PCOS and its possible treatments, I won’t know if I can have kids or not definitively until I start trying to get pregnant.

While I’m starting to come to terms with possibly not having children, I’m also trying to decide how to approach the subject with future partners. Some people are adamant about having babies, and I don’t want to spend time building a relationship with someone who wants something I may not be able to have. On the other hand, I also don’t want to be with someone who only views me as an incubator, hell-bent on keeping sperm as pets.

Just because someone can't bear children doesn’t mean they don’t want them. Many people who deal with infertility issues will spend years and thousands of dollars trying to conceive or adopt.

I know that I have time to decide what I want, as more and more people nationally are giving birth at around the age of 31. If I can’t have my own children, fostering and adoption are always possibilities, despite how difficult they can be.

As I work through my own thoughts on the issue, I keep coming back to anger. There is so much that modern medicine can tell us, but there is also so much that was deemed unimportant because it didn’t affect the people—namely rich, educated white men—who were allowed to study damn well everything for most of history. 

I feel angry that when I brought up this issue to medical professionals as a teenager, I was told “that’s just how periods are.” They shrugged off the excruciating pain I was in, telling me to take a Midol if it was “that bad.”

I’ve had more and more conversations with family members and friends who thankfully are willing to talk about this. They’re sympathetic to the physical pain I deal with, and the emotional difficulties that I continue to work through. I’ve gotten fewer questions over the years about marriage and kids, but it still occasionally comes up and I have to decide how to approach it with, brutal honesty or polite redirection.

No matter what direction my life takes, I’m glad that I live in a place where not having children is the worst thing a woman could do.

This article originally appeared in Volume 43, Issue 3, published September 27, 2022.