Reflecting on Birth Control in the Happiest Place on Earth

Waiting for a bus to take us from our resort to the Magic Kingdom, I watched incredulously as a 4- or 5-year-old boy ran in circles, squealing and vibrating with excitement. The kid simply could not contain his joy at being in Disney World and beamed a smile while running around and around his own personal orbit until the bus arrived.

In contrast, I sat grumbling about the various aches and pains in my 49-year-old body and the cold temperature. And then I thought: I am so glad it is not my job to keep up with this kid.

As I mentioned last week, Glenn and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary at Disney World, the site of our honeymoon. In addition to being very cold, it was also quite crowded because we were there during the lead up to the Disney half-marathon, and the place was swarming with runners and their companions.

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Many of the companions were small children. In addition to the cute and joyful kids, Glenn and I exchanged many a fist bump, congratulating ourselves on our choice not to have children as young ones melted down and threw impressive temper tantrums around us.

Eating a mediocre, Mexican-ish meal in a café packed with kids, I reflected on the deep and abiding gratitude I feel for effective birth control. Birth control pills, IUDs, implants, vaginal rings, and other methods are all imperfect and have disadvantages, but they also have very high rates of success at preventing unwanted pregnancies.

Previous generations did not have the privilege of avoiding pregnancy; most heterosexual couples had sex, and hence eventually bore the natural consequence, i.e. babies. The freedom to choose not to have kids should be protected through improved access to affordable birth control for everyone.

Please note that I am not against other people being parents. If you are willing and able to be a loving and engaged parent, then I wish you all the happiness in the world. I also hold fast to the belief that non parents are not entitled to complain about misbehaving or crying children when they go to fast food restaurants, theme parks, tech museums, or any other place specifically designed for kids.

Like most people, I grew up assuming that I would have children someday. However, during cancer treatment, I experienced the tremendous physical and emotional vulnerability of repeated, painful, and exhausting invasions of my body by chemo, surgery, needles, and all sorts of unpleasant procedures, and I became significantly less excited about having a baby. Then I developed late effects, and the well-meaning but painful violations of my body continued, making childbearing feel less and less attractive.

Treatment renders some cancer survivors infertile, and this is a tremendous loss to them. I have compassion for their loss, even as my response evolved into a firm conviction that keeping my own body functioning is all I can manage, and hosting a fetus is simply not an option. Nor does chasing a toddler appeal to me.

My spouse is what researchers call an “early articulator,” meaning that he announced in the first month of our relationship, at age twenty, that he didn’t want kids, would never want kids, and wasn’t going to change his mind. Later when we decided to get married, he agreed that if I changed my mind when I got older and really needed to be a mother, I could have one child. While he promised to love our child, he also was decidedly unenthusiastic about parenting and wanted me to know that upfront. Fair enough. (By the way, he never did change his mind.)

Would I have wanted kids if I never had cancer? Or if the cancer treatment had restored me more or less to my previous body instead of dragging on into a cascading series of late effects, would I have wanted to experience motherhood? There is no way to know.

What I do know is that today I find my happiness, productivity, and purpose in ways other than parenting. And knowing that, I smile kindly at the watchful parents of the joyful little runner, assuring them that there is plenty of room for all of us in the Happiest Place on Earth, and everywhere else, too.

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