Austerity politics is a reproductive rights issue
26 Feb 2018
I get asked whether I want children a lot. Not in a rude way that’s intended to express that I’m a baby machine – I’m asked because I run a charity, which supports women who have experienced sexual violence to access specialist sexual health and maternity care.
When people have asked me if I want children, I have always said no. I’ve explained: I just don’t have that maternal pull, I’d have no time to campaign against the things I care about, I’d lose my freedom. The truth is none of those things. The truth is that I’m not financially stable enough to have a child and I cannot foresee ever living in stable, reliable housing. I have never had either of these things, and quite honestly, I am now old enough to know – I probably never will.
Next year I turn 30. I’ve worked really hard since I left school at 16, and since that moment I have never worked less than around 42 – 46 hours a week. I have worked in pubs, shops, and restaurants, for local and national newspapers, and finally in the NHS. Frustratingly, I have never been able to afford any stability or security. At first, the barrier I faced was low wages and high rent, but whilst working as a journalist I experienced racial and sexist discrimination that forced me out of the industry, and finally I joined the NHS. I later started my own charity and qualified as a nurse, but thanks to Tory cuts to the NHS I earn a humble salary from both, which forces me well into my overdraft every month. I know that if I were to I have children, they would suffer.
“When I say I don’t want kids, what I mean is: I don’t want a human being to suffer because I brought them into the world”
When people talk about reproductive rights, they tend to discuss abortion rights. But realistically, there’s so much more to it than that. For me, austerity politics is a major reproductive rights issue. And I know it’s not just me, it affects so many of us: “politics” is the decisions we make every single day, because of the decisions policy-makers and power-brokers make every single day on our behalf.
When I say I don’t want kids, what I mean is: I don’t want a human being to suffer because I brought them into the world. This is the first time I’ve ever admitted it – it’s painful to say it out loud. I do want a child; I have always dreamt of having a daughter. My life revolves around caring for girls, and my absolute dream would be to nurture my own girl from my own womb. I named her decades ago, I’ve always known her name. I know the first outfit I would dress her in; the first books she would read. Her life has been a part of me for decades.
But I won’t bring her to life. Instead, I do the opposite: I have had an IUD fitted, specifically because it is the most reliable form of contraception. There’s still a 0.6% chance of pregnancy however, so I also use natural fertility awareness methods and condoms when I am at my most fertile. All this effort is employed specifically to achieve the exact opposite of what I have always wanted.
“If she did come into the world, I would have to give up work or pay for childcare. I doubt I will ever be financially solvent enough to do either”
I feel I am a better parent to this very loved daughter of mine, by not bringing her into the world. If I had a daughter she would grow up with instability, most likely suffer from anxiety and depression, and experience intense anger and frustration. I know, because I’ve felt all of this. I don’t want her to feel it, because I guess if you love someone, you don’t want them to feel pain.
If she did come into the world despite my precautions, I would have two choices: to give up work or pay for childcare. I doubt I will ever be financially solvent enough to do either, without her feeling the financial consequences. Without grandparents to help with childcare, without that stable family network and secure and stable housing, I cannot have a child.
I often wonder what my hypothetical daughter would bring to the world. I think about who she would be, what she would think of me, and what weird traits she might inherit. I also wonder how she would feel when I couldn’t afford her favourite food, or when I sit crying over the debt I had incurred by raising her. She’d feel the guilt and the pain too. How about when she wants to go to university and I can’t afford to help her through? Perhaps she drops out, and starts working in a pub, and then a shop, and then a restaurant, and then a million other things just like me before she realises she’s going around in a big circle and she’s going to end exactly where she began. So, I think for her sake, rather than mine – I will save her all of that. Not because I don’t love her, but because I do.