Today is my 34th birthday.
It’s safe to say that I am a bit of an odd bird in Iceland as I turn 34 without having embraced motherhood.
In Iceland, the vast majority of people in their thirties are parents. Old classmates of mine have two, three and even four children—and some even have teenage children.
When I see them with their children I can hardly believe that they have already reached this stage in their life.
Some of them don’t look a day over 24 themselves and yet they have these great responsibilities on top of their professional lives and running a home. The single parents in particular are admirable. I cannot imagine being responsible for another living being all on my own.
Family is the essence of Icelandic society. The encouragement to have children in our twenties is quite intense and women in their late twenties often find themselves the target of uncomfortable questions regarding their lack of interest in procreation and even worse, lack of a boyfriend with whom they should be having these “missing” children.
At 34, people no longer bother me with these questions. Many no doubt have given up hope that I’ll ever have children. It’s simply not a common choice to wait so long.
One of the downsides of such a small and family-oriented community is the bad habit of minding other people’s business.
Questions such as, “what are you waiting for?” and “why not?” followed by friendly advice along the lines of “you’ll regret waiting so long when you finally have a child of your own” and “you don’t have much time.”
In my mind, it’s thoughtless and inconsiderate to ask personal questions regarding a fundamental life choice. Some people choose not to have children while others can’t wait to get started. Unfortunately, there are people who want children but are unable to and such questions are a cruel reminder of their struggle to conceive.
Thankfully, I am beginning to see a change, a positive change for the better. With a growing discussion about the cost of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and the emotional struggle it can be, the painful condition of Endometriosis and infertility among other conditions, fewer make it their business to ask about such private affairs.
Then it’s the people who choose not to have children. These are the people who receive a regular reminder that in their old age they’ll be all alone with no children to care for them, and that they are being a little selfish seeing there are people out there who cannot have children.
I have often wondered why this obsession with procreation is so deeply rooted in our society. I suppose seeing that Iceland always has been a small community the deeply rooted need to procreate is vital for the survival of the nation, and so intense for a reason.
I love the fact that each year Icelandic society opens up to the idea of a childfree lifestyle by choice, while becoming more understanding and empathic to those who struggle to have the child of their dreams.
I embrace this change because in small communities, the need to conform to society’s standards is often intense. The real challenge is to have the courage to be yourself and make major decisions in life be about you, not society.
Of course, Iceland and Icelanders are fundamentally well meaning and do not mean any harm with questions of a private nature. But for this 34-year-old, life is beautiful just the way it is. My choices are my choices and I celebrate turning 34 with a loving partner and the sweetest most caring dog a person can ask for.
Emma, the dog of my dreams.
Júlíana Björnsdóttir – firstname.lastname@example.org