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My Womb Doesn’t Belong to the World’: Joy Bryant Speaks on Her Decision to Be Childless

Avatar • Apr 13, 2016

Joy Bryant recently wrote a Lenny letter titled Stop Telling Me I Should Have Kids,”  in which she addresses comments regarding her choice to forgo children.  I read her letter, and it got me thinking: Who are we to judge a woman who chooses to be childless?

Joy Bryant is 41, married, and does not want children.  Oprah is 62, in a committed long-term relationship, and has also decided against having children.  Both women are childless by choice because of their careers, other life goals, and what motherhood requires.  But why isn’t that the end of the discussion?  Why have Bryant and Oprah been scrutinized and, sometimes, called “selfish” for their decision?   Why should any woman who chooses to forgo motherhood be questioned or judged?

Joy Bryant on people telling her to have kids:

Those people say the darndest things.

But you’ll have beautiful children!” 

This one is the most ridiculous of all the reasons given to me, and it is also my personal favorite. So I should have kids just because they would possibly be beautiful (and, let’s not forget, smart and athletic)?

I should commit to one of the toughest jobs in the world, all for the sake of populating the planet with a super-human specimen of good breeding? No, thanks. I’m good.

But I guess I can’t blame them, right? I mean, they look at me and my tall, handsome stuntman husband and can’t wrap their brains around why we would purposely waste such prime eggs and sperm, the selfish people we are. I guess I’m the selfish one, because I refuse to be the vessel through which mankind is delivered from its mediocrity. ~ LennysLetter

Joy Bryant and her husband, Dave Pope, on their wedding day. Source: Essence

Joy Bryant and her husband, Dave Pope, on their wedding day. Source: Essence

As women, we are pressured to start thinking about children in our mid to late 20s or early 30s.  By 35, we are told to heed our biological clocks. Black women receive the added pressure to procreate in order to “keep the population going” or “keep the race from dying”.  Thus, when a woman, especially a black woman, chooses not to have children, she is deemed “self-centered” or “selfish”.

Oprah on her choice to not have children:

Gayle [now a mother of two] was the kind of kid who, in seventh grade home ec class, was writing down her name and the names of her children … While she was having those kind of daydreams, I was having daydreams about how I could be Martin Luther King.

… If I had kids, my kids would hate me. They would have ended up on the equivalent of the Oprah show talking about me; because something would have had to suffer and it would’ve probably been them. ~ Hollywood Reporter

An insulted mother on Oprah’s decision:

Oh Honey, that’s so precious that you think that being a successful talk show host is on par with Martin Luther King Jr.’s achievements. No denying that you’ve done a lot of good for a lot of people, but you hardly led the Civil Rights Movement.

… In a way, I have to commend you for making the decision that you did, since you knew that you were too selfish to shuffle things around to make being a working mom work. You knew that your kids would always come second to what you wanted for your life.

Oh Oprah, only you can take something like being too selfish to have children and turn it into a selfless virtue.  ~ The Stir

Oprah and Stedman. Source: Getty Images

Oprah and Stedman. Source: Getty Images

Are women like Bryant and Oprah really too selfish to have children?  Or do they simply have different goals in life?   Does becoming a mother have to be on every women’s list?

Additionally, is there really no hint of “selfishness” in having children? Do not some women become mothers to fulfill their own desires, whatever they may be?  Is the choice to become a mother vs the choice to be childless really as black and white as selfless vs selfish?

Joy Bryant:

But you’ll be such a good mother!”

It took a lot of therapy and a deathbed reconciliation with my own mother to realize that she wasn’t the monster I made her out to be. She was just a human being who made shitty choices that deeply affected me. I wouldn’t be that kind of mother. My grandmother, on the other hand, was all sacrifice, putting the needs of her kids and then me ahead of her own, going without to make sure everyone had what they needed. She died of a broken heart. I wouldn’t be that kind of mother either. So on the scale of martyr to monster, I’d probably fall somewhere in the human range. I’d be a “good enough” mother. Still not a good enough reason for me to actually be someone’s mother. I’d be a good competitive eater, too, doesn’t mean I should. LennysLetter

If one is going to judge women who choose to be childless, then can’t one also judge women who choose to be “good enough” mothers?  Or how about we, as women, not judge each other on our choices to reproduce or not.  Her womb is her womb, and your womb is your womb.

Joy Bryant:

I wouldn’t be surprised by the anti-woman rants and actions of knuckle-dragging male conservatives who may judge my decision not to have kids. I am surprised, however, by people — often female people — who should know better than to question or comment on a woman’s choice, and my choice is not to procreate.

.… While the lives and livelihood of women are still under assault, we have come so far and accomplished so much. We don’t have to be automatic breeders. My womb doesn’t belong to the world. LennysLetter

You can read the rest of Bryant’s words on LennysLetter.

So, what are your thoughts? Share below!

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MsCaesarChris
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MsCaesarChris

Thanks Chinwe for that piece and your input was spot on!! I am in the same boat as Joy and Oprah. I don’t want to have kids and all I hear from people are countless reasons why I should. Most of them I do find ridiculous including “you will need to have kids otherwise who will look after you in old age?” “It’s nice to have your own it changes your life” blah blah blah.. Let me tell you I have not heard any argument that has made me rethink my stance and I didn’t just wake up one day… Read more »

Delana
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Delana

Wow 13 you knew? I was 8 years old when I decided I just didn’t want to have children. I just had no desire to take care of them. I love my nieces and nephew, but when its time to send them home then home they go!

cryssi
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cryssi

If people don’t stop acting like this planet is not over populated and suffocating from our consumption. We don’t own her body. This isn’t Pre-Civil War when a black woman’s worth was based on the offspring she produced. It is her right to nit have children. I don’t care what her reasoning is because it is none of my business. Just because you think your children only place second to Jesus doesn’t mean everyone else should have children to chase YOUR high. I don’t see how this could even still be a topic with all of the evidence of child… Read more »

BlueCornMoon
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BlueCornMoon

A desire not to butt into other people’s business is at least eighty percent of all human wisdom…and the other twenty percent isn’t very important.”

– Jubal Harshaw (Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land)

inori
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inori

Having children is actually the most selfish act in the world , it has nothing to do with the specific child because you dont know what you are getting .Its all about the parents and how having children makes them feel about themselves and their position in the world. Its about being the all and all to someone and having a little person to whom you are god for all intents and purposes,There is nothing selfless about that

Mka
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Mka

People should stop taking other people’s choices personally.

Peju Ayemojuba
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Peju Ayemojuba

People with the ‘selfish’ mentality just need to mind their own business. Not everyone wants children and Not everyone can have one. To all these so called ‘virtuous’ mothers that want to focus on other women who don’t have children…Why don’t you focus on your own kids? Women like that come across as bitter & Jealous because they are not able to enjoy the freedom they once had because they now have kids so they have to criticise those that don’t have any. Stop making Judgements.

Nicole
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Nicole

Well alright then… if those of us who decide to remain childfree are selfish we could equally think the same of those who do choose to bring children in to a world as screwed up as this one all because what… well because they want to… their wants or needs. How about we let people be and stop feeling so uncomfy the minute someone decides to go against the grain and live their life according to their own dictates.

Casse NaRome
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Casse NaRome

I find the reason most people have children is more selfish on why us childfree don’t. When someone ask you why did you have children it usually starts with “I wanted…” or if they plan to have kids “I want…” isn’t that on of the definitions of selfish?

Mka
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Mka

You have just villanized the word want. I want a coke, I want a good husband…that doesn’t mean I’m selfish. I don’t want ALL the cokes in the world, nor do I want my husband plus hers and hers and hers. Also, I’m willing to pay for my coke, and be a good wife to my husband.

JustSaying_IMFO
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JustSaying_IMFO

If anything was meant to be villanized by the OP, it was the word “I”. Wanting a coke or even a “good husband” is not the same thing as wanting a child, wanting to bring another life into the world. A life that will eventually come to have an effect — good or bad — on others and the world itself. A coke does not do that. Nor does a husband, really. As that man is already in the world and affecting it in some way before he even meets you. A child — a life — is from nothing… Read more »

Jix
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Jix

Smh there are approximately 7.4 billion ppl on earth right and i don’t think pressuring women into having children is a good idea. Look, this planet can only hold 9–10 billion people so if your expecting every women to produce children, then this planet is going to over populate, causing problems around the globe. Concerning food, shelter, etc. People are going to start fighting and more violence around. Soonest, mass genocide is going occur to help trim that population.Or even scientist will start creating man-made viruses,bacterial to kill off ppl and keep the population balanced. By 2050–2100, the planet will… Read more »

Jix
Guest
Jix

Smh there are approximately 7.4 billion ppl on earth right and i don’t think pressuring women into having children is a good idea. Look, this planet can only hold 9–10 billion people so if your expecting every women to produce children, then this planet is going to over populate, causing problems around the globe. Concerning food, shelter, etc. People are going to start fighting and more violence around. Soonest, mass genocide is going occur to help trim that population.Or even scientist will start creating man-made viruses,bacterial to kill off ppl and keep the population balanced. By 2050–2100, the planet will… Read more »

Respect
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Respect

Chinwe, women who choose not to have children are childfree not childless. They are not missing anything, as “less” implies, but have made a choice. The name of the article should reflect that choice, not the implicit judgment in the word “less.”

SpiritOfNehanda
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SpiritOfNehanda

How on Earth is having a child selfish? How is it selfish to bring to this world another person, who will interact with other persons in one way or another do good or bad, but provide us all some lessons anyway? Whether the act by the woman is to satisfy her own desires at the time, that is counter-balanced totally by the fact that there is another life that’s been brought into this Earth…

Elli
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Elli

Do you have any idea of how overpopulated earth is?! The way humans use up natural resources? at this rate it is scientifically proven earth CANNOT sustain more humans. So yes, it is selfish if you want to have kids at the expense of the environment, other species and lets not forget to mention the fact that there are MILLIONS of homeless children waiting for loving homes when people decide to have their own mini me instead of adopting.

Luna Lupo
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Luna Lupo

Well said Elli! I can’t believe that people can’t see these facts first. I’m also pretty shocked by those horrible comments made to women who choose not to have kids. Comments like that are only made by deeply unhappy people who resent others. Happy, content, people have no such spite in them.

http://www.savethechildren.org/

DrSelina
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DrSelina

I never planned on having kids. Like Joy, this was something I decided against for my life. My baby is an oops, and although I love her, the first three years of her life were hell for me. Women know who we are. If you know who you are and make decisions based on that, there can be serious repercussions, like severe postpartum depression, when you go against who you are. This is why my tubes are tied, because it will NEVER happen again. If I had had it my way they would have been tied in residency, but every… Read more »

kalexa1
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kalexa1

Many of the mothers out there are also ‘selfish’ though: I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard them say (no, admit) they had a child so they could have someone to ‘love them back’. Those children were brought about to fulfil their desire for love and to quash their insecurities. There are so many insecure people out there. Some use children as a boost to their egos and to fill a void. They’re also the same types that sadly smother in their parenting and end up raising very spoilt and selfish kids.…and so the cycle continues. It’s… Read more »

Ilona von Wandernd
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Ilona von Wandernd

Good to see that they ask, what noone ever asks: Is becoming a mother (or a father) a selfless thing? Or do people have kids because they WANT them, because they think THEIR life will be better, more meaningful and more joyful with kids? Or maybe some even are afraid of being alone when they grow old? I never heard anyone saying: I became a mother because … you know… someone has to pay our pensions when we’re old and society would collapse if I didn’t have kids. Or: I became a mother because I was so altruistic and want… Read more »

LBell
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LBell

The ability for women to make the choice not to have kids is something that’s relatively rare and relatively new in human history. Please don’t take it for granted. I really hope young women in particular are aware of the fact that as of right now, in this country (the US), women have more control over their bodies than at any time in history…and there are forces that are actively working to take that control away. Again…don’t take it for granted. I’m between Joy and Oprah in age and I too chose not to have children. I have always known… Read more »

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