EPISODE #79

Terry Gross on Not Having Kids

EPISODE #79

Terry Gross on Not Having Kids

Look at this badass lady. Terry Gross, people.

Terry-young

Terry has been hosting NPR’s Fresh Air for over 40 years—longer than I’ve been alive. She got her start in radio at a show out of WBFO in Buffalo called Womanpower. There she is below (3rd from left), along with the rest of the staff.

Terry_WBFO

Back then, not too many women had jobs in radio. And the way Terry saw it, she had to pick either motherhood or her career. She went with career. Having watched her own mother not have much of a life outside of her family, it felt to Terry like the obvious choice.

Baby Terry with her parents and brother

Baby Terry with her parents and brother

Tune in to this episode to hear this public radio icon talk about her decision to not have children, and how she sees herself as a feminist pioneer who paved the way for women to have careers, whether or not they are mothers. Oh yeah, and her recurring baby-related nightmare. There’s that, too.

Guess what? Terry’s also a fan of this podcast. Here’s what she had to say to WNYC’s Sean Rameswaram about why she listens even though she’s not a parent.

Have YOU decided to not have kids?
Tell us why. Baby-related nightmares also welcome.

Top photo: Dan Burke

Our sponsors for this episode are Wela (code: LONGESTSHORTEST),  1-800-Flowers (code: LONGSHORT) and Howl.fm (code: TIME) Use the promo codes at checkout for a special discount.

Podcast Transcript

[ad]

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[THEME MUSIC]

THIS IS THE LONGEST SHORTEST TIME. I’M HILARY FRANK AND –
My name is Terry Gross, the host of Fresh Air, which is an NPR interview program.

TERRY GROSS, YOU GUYS. TERRY GROSS! SHE IS A RADIO HERO. SHE’S A HERO OF MINE. I’VE BEEN LUCKY ENOUGH TO KNOW TERRY FOR A WHILE. ABOUT TEN YEARS. MY HUSBAND USED TO WORK FOR HER. IN FACT, HE WAS A PRODUCER AT FRESH AIR WHEN OUR DAUGHTER WAS BORN. TERRY OF COURSE IS A MASTER INTERVIEWER, BUT SHE’S ALSO REALLY PRIVATE. TODAY, SHE OPENS UP AND TALKS ABOUT SOMETHING INCREDIBLY PERSONAL – HER CHOICE TO NOT HAVE CHILDREN. I LEARNED SO MUCH IN THIS CONVERSATION. I LEARNED WHY TERRY CHOSE NOT TO HAVE KIDS, BUT I ALSO LEARNED ABOUT HOW SHE SEES HERSELF AS A TRUE FEMINIST PIONEER AND ABOUT HOW SHE GOT THE LIFE THAT SHE WANTED.

[MUSIC]

TERRY HAS LET OUT LITTLE NUGGETS ABOUT HER LIFE ON HER SHOW AND IN OTHER INTERVIEWS. SO HERE’S SOME OF THE THINGS THAT SHE’S TALKED ABOUT, JUST TO GIVE YOU SOME BACKGROUND. SHE’S 65 YEARS OLD, SHE WAS BORN ON VALENTINE’S DAY IN 1951. SHE LIKES TO TALK ABOUT HOW THAT WAS ACTUALLY A DARK TIME HERE IN THE UNITED STATES. IT WAS THE ERA OF MCCARTHYISM. IT WAS ALSO JUST AFTER THE HOLOCAUST. TERRY GREW UP IN BROOKLYN, IN THE SHEEPSHEAD BAY NEIGHBORHOOD. HER PARENTS WERE FIRST GENERATION AMERICANS, THEY WERE WORKING CLASS. HER DAD WORKED IN THE MILLINERY BUSINESS—HE SOLD RIBBONS AND FABRIC TO PEOPLE WHO MAKE HATS. HER MOM WAS A SECRETARY. BUT ONCE SHE HAD TERRY AND HER BROTHER, SHE STAYED HOME WITH THE KIDS.
There’s a lot in my childhood that made me very wary of being a mother. When I was growing up every adult woman I knew was a mother and mostly, maybe with one exception, they were all full time mothers and homemakers. And they seemed to living, and I don’t mean to be unfair to my mother or to the women I knew, but they seemed to be living very circumscribed lives where it was just basically about staying home, and cleaning, and raising the kids and being very protective of the kids, even when the kids wanted out. It just didn’t seem like most fulfilling job in the world.

DO YOU REMEMBER THINKING THAT WHEN YOU WERE A KID, OR WAS IT NOT TIL YOU WERE OLDER?
I remember noticing that as a kid. It wasn’t a very huggy kissy kind of parent child relationship. My parents really thought of themselves like – it was their job to raise you by showing you what was right or wrong and being very clear about that and doing their best to make sure you observed their idea of what was right and wrong. I’m not saying they were mean or cruel or anything, but they weren’t there to be your best friend or to smother you with kisses. They were there to criticize you when you needed it, to discipline you when you needed it, and to support you too, and they did all of that.

AND WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT APPROACH?
It’s kind of the approach every parent I knew took I think. Some more than others. Things seem much relaxed now, when I look at the people who have children. There’s just a lot more physical intimacy I think, and emotional intimacy. Like with my father, I didn’t really get to know him until much later in life. He worked, he came home late, and we didn’t spend much time one on one together.

DID YOU EVER IMAGINE THAT YOU’D HAVE KIDS?
You know, when I was young, I just assumed I would have children, because – that’s what you did. It wasn’t a choice. It was like, you reached a certain age, got married and then you had children. But once I got to college and once there really was some kind of – cultural revolution happening, once the women’s movement started up and I started – that was very influential to me – I started thinking, oh I see – there’s a choice here. There’s a choice whether to have children, there was birth control, that could make sure you didn’t have children if you didn’t want to have children. And there was a change in a cultural social atmosphere that made it acceptable to not have children where you wouldn’t be seen as either an object of ridicule or an object of pity. Oh, and then once I discovered a career that I loved, I thought – yeah, I think I’m not going to have children. Because I couldn’t imagine having children and having a career. I hadn’t seen any evidence it could be done.

WAS THERE EVER A TIME WHEN YOU THOUGHT – I WANT A CAREER AND A CHILD?
I don’t think so. I mean, I remember there was a period when I was in my 20s when I used to have a dinner once a week with a woman friend of mine and one of the things we would talk about is – like life and work and the balance and this and that. And she said to me – I don’t feel called to have children. And I think being a parent is such a major responsibility that I don’t feel like I should be a parent unless I feel called. And I realized – yeah, I don’t feel called either. You know, I just never – I remember having a conversation with another woman friend of mine who was saying she didn’t know if she was going to have a child but her body felt like it was just saying to her that it wanted to have a child. And I just never – I never felt that.

NEVER.
No, never. So it wasn’t like a really difficult choice for me. I wasn’t somebody who was always anguishing – should I have it? And I wanted to have what I thought of as an interesting life, as a life that kept me intellectually engaged, that combined some of the things I loved. I didn’t know what that was but when I started in radio I thought – this was the work I was looking for. And keep in mind when I started in radio and we’re talking like – 1974, 1975 – there were very few women in any media positions at all at the time. And just to be able to do that kind of work, just to be able to have a job in radio seemed fantastical to me.

TERRY’S FIRST RADIO HOSTING GIG WAS WITH A FEMINIST SHOW OUT OF BUFFALO CALLED WOMANPOWER.
And so of course we did – we did a lot of shows on natural childbirth, which was a big thing at the time. It was like the first period when natural childbirth was a thing. And so – here I am, right – me the person who was pretty confident she wasn’t going to have children – I’m bringing home books in college about natural childbirth and breastfeeding. Even though I wasn’t – it was such a thing – the whole natural childbirth and breastfeeding thing was such a thing and it was such a part of like – part of the feminist world, because it was the part of like the feminist world where like – [strident tone] we’re taking back the power to have children our way and we’re not going to let some male surgeon stick up in stirrups and give us drugs we don’t want! We’re taking control! And so it was like, a powerful statement to be made, whether you’re having children or not.

I LIKE THE VOICE YOU JUST DID. I DON’T THINK YOU’VE EVER DONE A VOICE LIKE THAT.
Oh. [laughter] You know, sometimes, in terms of not having children, I think of myself as part of the first generation that could have made the choice to not have children because of reliable birth control and because of feminism. And I also think that it might have been necessary for there to be a sizable population of people like me who chose to not have children, in order for – and maybe I’m just patting myself on the back here, for being part of this group, but I think in order for women to have established themselves professionally in the world, at a time where there were very few professional positions open to women, that women had to really establish that they would be there, and could be there and that they’d be working days and be working nights. And it’s unfair to ask women or probably to ask anyone to do that, but it was only by proving, I think, that women could do that that we were able to kick down some of the doors.

[MUSIC]

COMING UP, TERRY LAYS DOWN WHAT SHE REALLY THINKS OF BABIES. STAY WITH US.

[MUSIC]

[ad]

I’M HERE WITH CHRIS BANNON, CHIEF CONTENT OFFICER AT EARWOLF.
Hey Hillary.

DO YOU KNOW THAT WE SPEND A THIRD OF OUR LIVES SLEEPING?
It sure doesn’t feel that way.

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Excuse me, yes please.

WELL CASPER MAKES A MATTRESS THAT IS SO COMFY –
How comfy is it?

IT’S SO COMFY THAT I THREW OUT MY OLD MATTRESS.
Wow.

YOU KNOW MOST MATTRESSES, YOU GO AND TRY THEM OUT IN THE STORE AND IT’S SUPER AWKWARD?
You mean lying there on a bed in front of strangers?

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Well that’s pretty amazing.

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[MUSIC]

WE’RE BACK WITH TERRY GROSS. SHE’S HOSTED NPR’S FRESH AIR FOR OVER 40 YEARS. DID YOU EVER HAVE A PICTURE IN YOUR MIND OF WHAT IT WOULD LOOK LIKE IF YOU HAD A KID?
I will tell you a recurring dream that i’ve had in various forms. I’m not proud of this dream, so I share it with some reluctance. The dream is, I realize – oh, I forgot I had a child – I have a baby and I totally forgot, and I put the baby in the cabinet and I haven’t fed it in days. I’ve had several variations of that dream over the years. I haven’t had it now – it’s like, I’m too old for it to be a choice anymore, you know what I mean? But I’d wake up and I’d go – oh, thank God I didn’t actually forget that I had a baby.

THAT SOUNDS REALLY SCARY. DO YOU WAKE UP IN A SWEAT?
I’d wake up in a total panic, yeah.

HOW? WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT’S ABOUT?
I don’t really know for sure. But I think it might be about how preoccupied I was with the life I was living, and my fear that I’d be too preoccupied to be a good mother.

DO YOU THINK THAT’S TRUE? HAVE YOU BEEN TOO PREOCCUPIED TO BE A GOOD MOTHER? IF YOU HAD GONE DOWN THAT PATH?
I think it might have been true. I think – I would have been preoccupied with being a good mother. And I think that I would have been probably preoccupied with being two things at the same time, which is the position I think that every working parent is in. I think I might have driven myself crazy, but who knows? I will never know the answer to that. I will never know whether I would have enjoyed being a mother, whether I would have been a good mother, I will never know whether I would have been close to my children, or by the time they got old enough to walk outside on their own, they wouldn’t want to be seen next to me? I’ll never know.

YOU KNOW, I THINK WHEN WE MAKE BIG DECISIONS LIKE THIS, YOU’RE LOOKING AT TWO POSSIBLE VERSIONS OF YOUR LIFE. AND EACH VERSION HAS TREMENDOUS BENEFITS AS WELL AS TREMENDOUS LOSSES. AND I WONDER WHAT HAVE BEEN THE BENEFITS AND THE LOSSES IN THE PATH THAT YOU CHOSE?
The main benefit is I got the life that I wanted to have. In other words, when I came of age, I really wanted to be an independent woman who didn’t have to rely on a man. And the thought of doing that and combining it with being a parent seemed pretty impossible. And as i’ve mentioned to other people before, when I started in radio I basically – my plants all died. I mean I was spending so little time taking care of anything but meeting deadlines that – the plants died one by one and I never got new ones because I thought – just give up.

STILL?
Well, i’ve had a cat since living with Francis. Francis is my husband. But he’s the primary parent to the cat. I’m kind of like my father was – I get home from work and pet the cat and get back to my thing.

HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO STAY FRIENDS WITH ANYBODY WHO HAD CHILDREN? I KNOW A LOT OF FRIENDSHIPS SPLIT UP. I’VE LOST FRIENDS WHO DECIDED NOT TO HAVE KIDS, BECAUSE IT’S LIKE – OUR LIVES ARE SO DIFFERENT AND WE ALMOST JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER ANYMORE. HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO STAY FRIENDS WITH ANYBODY WHO HAD CHILDREN?
I don’t have those kind – you know, along with the plants dying, those kinds of friendships disappeared because I don’t – I just did not leave room in my life for that kind of friendship. And what can I say? That might sound sad but – it’s the life I carved out for myself. So it’s – it’s not like I have that kind of relationship.

I’VE GOTTEN IN TROUBLE WITH SOME LISTENERS BY USING THE WORD CHILDLESS WHEN TALKING ABOUT PEOPLE WHO DON’T HAVE KIDS. THEY WOULD PREFER THAT I USE THE WORLD CHILD-FREE AND I WONDER WHAT YOUR THOUGHTS ARE ON THIS.
Child-free sounds like a smoke-free environment for the health of everybody. And – because it’s a toxin. It seems, I don’t know – my personal feeling is, and I’ll probably get a lot of grief with this – child-free sounds so much like a manifesto or something. And I think it’s a personal decision and you make it – it’s nice to be in a society that reinforces the ability to make that decision but child-free to me still has that tone of like – let’s keep the bad air out. Okay, now I won’t ever read my – the Fresh Air Twitter feed again. [laughter]

GOOD IDEA. TERRY, DO YOU LIKE BABIES?
That’s another thing – you know, I – it’s – this – I feel like I should apologize before saying this – when I see – this is going to sound horrible, so I’ll preface it with that. When I see like a cute cat or dog, I’m like awww. When I see a cute baby, I’m not the first person to be like – oh, please can I hold it? I’ve just never been that person.

MY HUSBAND WORKED FOR YOU, BOTH WHEN I HAD A CAT AND WHEN I HAD A BABY AND I FEEL LIKE YOU WERE MORE EXCITED ABOUT THE CAT. YOU WERE EXCITED THAT I HAD A BABY BUT I DID NOTICE THAT YOU WERE NOT ONE OF THE STAFFERS WHO WAS LIKE – LET ME HOLD THE BABY.
I don’t really understand – I don’t know how to hold babies, I don’t know – I feel embarrassed that I’m totally unskilled with how to deal with babies. And it’s not a natural reflex for me to hold and then coo at babies. It’s just not – I’m trying to be honest. I always feel very incompetent when I’m holding a baby. Like I’m not holding it right, or the baby’s going to get upset.

SO TERRY MADE THIS CHOICE TO NOT HAVE KIDS. BUT A LOT OF HER STAFF HAVE MADE THE OPPOSITE CHOICE. AS PRODUCERS HAVE CYCLED THROUGH, TERRY’S WATCHED SOME OF THEM HAVE BABIES OR ADOPT AND THEN GO ON FAMILY LEAVE. SOME OF THOSE PEOPLE WIND UP STAYING HOME WITH THEIR KIDS. BUT LOTS OF THEM COME BACK TO WORK. SHE’S WATCHED GENERATIONS OF KIDS GROWING UP AROUND HER. VISITING THEIR PARENTS AT THE OFFICE. SHE VIVIDLY REMEMBERS THE FIRST TIME A FRESH AIR CO-WORKER BECAME A PARENT: IT WAS DANNY MILLER, FRESH AIR’S EXECUTIVE PRODUCER.
Suddenly, like – he was a father. And I remember going to visit soon after his daughter Karen was born, and watching Danny hold Karen, and walk around with her, just rocking her in his arms with this look of absolute astonishment on his face, like he couldn’t believe that this child was his. It was just amazing for me to look at and I felt so lucky, not having children myself, to be able to vicariously, at a distance, watch the children of the people I work with, be born and become toddlers, then adolescents, some of them teenagers, then adults – it’s – I’m really grateful for that.

YOU’VE WATCHED DANNY, YOUR EXECUTIVE PRODUCER AS WELL AS MANY OF YOUR PRODUCERS DO WHAT YOU THOUGHT WASN’T POSSIBLE – HAVE A CAREER AND CHILDREN. DOES THAT CHANGE YOUR MIND AT ALL ABOU YOUR THOUGHTS THAT THAT ISN’T POSSIBLE?
Well, I will say his wife Mary worked part time for many years. So – I – really would I have wanted to do that too? So many women I know after having had a baby have wanted to just change their working life and work part time. And that makes a lot of sense to me. A lot of sense to me. All those paths – whatever you want makes sense to me. If you want to work full time and have a child – fine. If you want to work part time – fine. If you don’t want to work anymore, fine. But I really might have wanted to work part time and you can’t do a daily show and work part time. I just – I did not want to give that up. And also, another point I’d like to make is that, when I was in my 20s, there weren’t really great arrangements for working mothers. There was not a proliferation of daycare centers. There wasn’t like – a lot of nannies around. There wasn’t an infrastructure that I was aware of, for working mothers, that you could just fit yourself into. That infrastructure had to be created.

WOULD THAT HAVE CHANGED THINGS FOR YOU?
You know, I can’t really – guess how things would have been had things been different. Maybe not. I don’t know.

[MUSIC]

IN A MINUTE, THE INEVITABLE HAPPENS. YOU KNOW, THE THING OF HAVING TERRY GROSS ON YOUR PODCAST. SHE TURNS THE TABLE AND ASKS ME A SUPER SCARY PERSONAL QUESTION. DON’T GO AWAY.

[MUSIC]

[ad]

HEY CHRIS, WHAT ARE YOU GETTING YOUR MOTHER FOR MOTHER’S DAY?
Uh oh. When is that?

I’VE GOT A SUGGESTION FOR YOU. YOU SHOULD GET YOUR MOM 3 DOZEN ROSES.
That’s more generous than I usually get her, but I like that.

SO 1-800-FLOWERS DOT COM HAS CREATED A 3 DOZEN ROSE BOUQUET OF SORBET COLORED ROSES. THEY LOOK LIKE YOU COULD EAT THEM.
They sound delicious.

THEY LOOK DELICIOUS AND 1-800-FLOWERS DOT COM HAD CREATED THIS EXCLUSIVE OFFER JUST FOR LONGEST SHORTEST TIME LISTENERS WHERE THEY CAN GET 36 BEAUTIFUL SORBET ROSES JUST FOR $36. THAT’S AN INCREDIBLE DEAL.
Sign me up. If my mom got 3 dozen roses from me she’d probably want to show it off to her friends.

TO ACCESS THIS SPECIAL OFFER AND OTHER FANTASTIC DEALS JUST FOR LONGEST SHORTEST TIME LISTENERS, GO TO 1-800-FLOWERS.COM/LONGSHORT.
Awesome.

[MUSIC]

WE ARE BACK WITH TERRY GROSS. ONE THING YOU HEAR TERRY TALKING ABOUT ON HER SHOW A LOT IS AGING AND DEATH. SHE’S SPOKEN OPENLY ABOUT WATCHING HER OWN PARENTS GET OLDER AND PASS AWAY.
I can’t say that bothers me a lot. That, like, part of the line dies with me. And I do have nieces and a great-niece and two great nephews. So there are – I do participate in a larger family. And I never felt that I needed to leave the legacy of a child – that I needed to have a child continue my legacy. I never thought of myself as having a legacy in that respect.

WILL YOUR SHOW DO THAT FOR YOU?
Yeah, I’m grateful to have an archive. I think this is going to sound really weird to a lot of people, but we all have our own instincts. And that’s one of the things I really – you know, I’m grateful to the women’s movement to make it possible – for making it possible for me to have chosen the life i’ve chosen and not feel like I should be regretful about it, because I’m not, and to not worry that other people will feel sorry for me because if they do, I don’t really care. I’ve had the life i’ve wanted to. I’m not saying i’ve had a perfect or great life. It’s filled with stress and all kinds of stuff, but it’s the life i’ve chosen.

ONE OF THE REASONS THAT SOME PEOPLE HAVE KIDS IS THAT THERE WILL BE SOMEONE TO TAKE CARE OF THEM WHEN THEY GET OLD. AND IF YOU DON’T HAVE KIDS YOU’VE GOT TO MAKE OTHER PLANS. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS?
I don’t have any yet. And believe me – I ask myself that. You know, and I know a lot of people who are either single or don’t have children ask themselves that. I don’t think that’s the best reason to have children – one day I’ll be old and they’ll take care of me? Because you just never know. I mean, you never know if your child will be living in another country when you’re old and come and visit you occasionally, or living on another coast? Or if you’ll even get along? You know? So – like now that I’m getting older, I’m not thinking, like – damn it! I should have had a child so they could take care of me. I was really stupid.

THAT’S THE THING THAT PEOPLE TALK ABOUT WITH WHETHER TO HAVE MORE THAN ONE CHILD AS WELL. I HAVE AN ONLY CHILD AND I HEAR THE ARGUMENT A LOT – WELL YOU SHOULD HAVE ANOTHER ONE FOR HER SO THAT SHE HAS SOMEONE ELSE TO HELP HER TAKE CARE OF YOU WHEN YOU GET OLD.
[laughter]

AND I THINK THE SAME THINGS THAT YOU DO – I’M NOT GOING TO MAKE MY CHOICE BASED ON THAT, BECAUSE I COULD HAVE ANOTHER KID AND THEY COULD NOT GET ALONG.
Right.

TERRY SAYS THAT BEING ALONE DOESN’T REALLY SCARE HER. FOR THE FIRST TWENTY YEARS THAT SHE WAS WITH HER HUSBAND, THEY LIVED SEPARATELY BECAUSE SHE WANTED TO.
I learned I could live alone, that I didn’t need somebody with me at all times to validate my experience. That I could enjoy something on my own, I could enjoy eating by myself, sitting by myself, or exercising by myself or taking a walk by myself, and that was a very – that’s powerful knowledge to have. Which I wouldn’t have had, had I not –

DO YOU STILL DO THINGS BY YOURSELF?
I do a lot by myself. I take walks by myself every day. I have no problem eating by myself either at home or at a restaurant. Like when I’m traveling – i’ve done a lot of traveling on my own. And I’m fine with it.

THAT IS ONE OF THE HARDEST THINGS I’D SAY ABOUT HAVING KIDS. YOU ARE NEVER ALONE. IT’S REALLY HARD TO HAVE ANY TIME ALONE, EVEN GOING TO THE BATHROOM. LIKE, THE KID WANTS TO GET IN THERE WITH YOU. AND ALONE TIME IS SOMETHING THAT I’VE COME TO VALUE – I REALLY LIKE BEING BY MYSELF. I LOVE LIVING WITH MY FAMILY TOO BUT WHEN YOU CAN’T HAVE ANY ALONE TIME YOU REALLY MISS IT.
So can I ask you a question?

YES.
Do you ever have second thoughts about having had a child?

YEAH. I’VE HAD SECOND THOUGHTS ABOUT IT. I ALWAYS COME BACK AROUND TO – THIS WAS THE RIGHT DECISION. I LOVE MY DAUGHTER, MORE THAN ANYTHING, I’M LIKE JUST SITTING HERE JUST THINKING ABOUT HER SOFT LITTLE CHEEKS AND HOW THEY FEEL ON MY LIPS. I WOULDN’T WANT TO LIVE WITHOUT THAT. BUT ON A DAILY BASIS, THERE’S SOME MOMENT WHERE I’M JUST SUPER FRUSTRATED ABOUT SOMETHING AND I’D SAY THAT LIKE – STARTING AT 5 YEARS OLD, THINGS STARTED TO GET A LITTLE EASIER. AND SO THOSE LIKE – DID I MAKE A TERRIBLE MISTAKE FEELINGS DON’T CREEP UP ON ME VERY OFTEN ANY MORE. BUT EARLY ON IN THE FIRST FEW YEARS, ESPECIALLY WHEN I WAS DEALING WITH SOME RESIDUAL IMPACT OF CHILDBIRTH INJURIES, I WAS LIKE – WHAT HAVE I DONE?
I love how you’ve taken being a mother and turned it into not only being a mother but a podcast. You know what I mean? That you’ve managed to find a way of taking everything that you’ve learned and all the questions that you have – all the ways that this has transformed you, including the childbirth injuries, and managed to make that into a podcast that – I just feel like is such a valuable thing for people to hear.

THANKS. IT’S – YOU KNOW, THE STUFF THAT YOU’VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT WITH BALANCING MOTHERHOOD AND WORK IS REALLY RESONATING WITH ME. I’M STILL FIGURING OUT HOW TO DO IT.
It’s – I don’t know. It seems so hard. It’s one of the things I haven’t had to wrestle with. But on the down side, I don’t have much of a life outside of the show. I don’t mean that to sound pathetic or anything. Just – there’s not a lot of time left when you minus the time for errands and stuff. So I think – one of perhaps the gifts of being a parent that I don’t have is that a child forces you to have a life. You know? It forces you into a life outside of your own. It forces you into a world outside of the world that you’ve created for yourself. And that’s probably a really good thing.

THAT IS SO TRUE. I’M HEARING YOU SAYING THIS AND I’M SITTING HERE NODDING BECAUSE I – LIKE IF I DIDN’T HAVE TO LEAVE MY DESK BY 5:30 AT THE LATEST TO GO GET HER – AND THAT’S NOT TO SAY I GO GET HER, I BRING HER HOME, I PUT HER TO BED, AND BY 9 O’CLOCK I’M USUALLY STILL WORKING AGAIN. BUT IF I DIDN’T HAVE THAT THING FORCING ME TO GO GET HER, THERE WOULD BE DAYS ON END WHERE I WOULD NOT LEAVE MY HOME – I HAVE A HOME OFFICE. AND I WOULD JUST – LIKE ESPECIALLY IN THE WINTER – I WOULD HOLE MYSELF UP AND HAVE TO REMIND MYSELF TO GO OUTSIDE. AND SO – I NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT IT THAT WAY, BUT YOU’RE RIGHT, I AM FORCED TO HAVE A LIFE OUTSIDE OF MY WORK.
Good for you. That’s a good thing.

YEAH. EVEN IF IT INCLUDES ARGUING WITH A 6 YEAR OLD.
But – I want to thank you for talking about the decision not to have children on your show as well as the decision to have children. Because I think the main thing we want as women is we want the choice. And the choice only has meaning if there is a choice. It’s great to be a parent when you’re not forced to be – when society isn’t demanding it, when they’re not making it an obligation. And in order to no longer be an obligation, I think some people had to choose to not have children and rewrite the rules a little bit. And you know – hooray for all of us.

[MUSIC]

HOORAY FOR ALL OF US INDEED. EVER SINCE TERRY ENTERED THE WORKFORCE, OPTIONS FOR WORKING PARENTS HAVE CHANGED. THEY’RE STILL EVOLVING BUT THEY’VE CHANGED. AND YOU GUYS OUT THERE – YOU HAVE MADE ALL KINDS OF CHOICES. MAYBE YOU NEVER WENT BACK TO WORK. MAYBE YOU’RE TRYING TO GO BACK TO WORK. MAYBE YOU’RE JOB SHARING, MAYBE YOU’RE WORKING PART TIME. MAYBE YOU’RE JUST TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO WORK OUT THIS WHOLE MESS. WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU. ARE YOU LIKE TERRY? DID YOU DECIDE NOT TO HAVE KIDS? DO YOU EVER SECOND GUESS YOURSELF ON THAT DECISION? OR DO YOU HAVE KIDS, AND SECOND GUESS YOURSELF ON THAT? TELL US EVERYTHING AT OUR WEBSITE, LONGESTSHORTEST.COM IN THE COMMENTS FOR THIS EPISODE. THAT’S EPISODE 79.

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THIS PODCAST IS PRODUCED BY ME, HILLARY FRANK AND ABIGAIL KEEL. WE ARE EDITED BY PETER CLOWNEY. OUR ENGINEERS ARE PETE KARAM AND THE REVEREND JOHN DELORE. OUR THEME MUSIC IS BY THE BATTERIES DUO. WE GET EDITORIAL SUPPORT FROM ANN MARIE BALDONADO AND ANTHONIA AKITUNDE. THANKS TO AUDREY BENTHAM, WHO RECORDED TERRY’S END OF THIS CONVERSATION.

NEXT WEEK ON THE LONGEST SHORTEST TIME, WE FOLLOW UP WITH AUDIENCE FAVORITES, THE ACCIDENTAL GAY PARENTS. LAST TIME WE HEARD FROM THEM, TRYSTAN REALLY WANTED A BABY. JOHN, NOT SO MUCH.
And then, like a huge snowball hitting me in the face, the answer came to me. And the answer was: you should have a baby. This is something that you should do.

NAVIGATING PREGNANCY AS A TRANS MAN AND A GAY DUDE WHO NEVER THOUGHT HE’D KNOCK SOMEONE UP. DON’T MISS THIS EPISODE. SUBSCRIBE TO THE LONGEST SHORTEST TIME IN ITUNES, OR WHEREVER YOU LISTEN TO PODCASTS. AND WHILE YOU’RE THERE, PLEASE RATE US AND WRITE US A REVIEW. THIS MAKES IT EASIER FOR NEW PEOPLE TO FIND OUR SHOW. IT’S A TINY THING FOR YOU TO DO, AND IT HELPS US A TON.

AND, AS ALWAYS, HERE AT THE LONGEST SHORTEST TIME, WE LOVE TO HEAR YOUR STORIES. WE LOVE TO TELL YOUR STORIES. SO PITCH US. TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR KIDS OR SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR PARENTS. WE’D ESPECIALLY LIKE TO HEAR FROM STEPPARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS. REALLY, ANYTHING ABOUT UNUSUAL FAMILY SITUATIONS – WE LOVE ALL THAT STUFF. GO TO LONGESTSHORTESTTIME.COM AND SUBMIT YOUR STORY.

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200 thoughts on “EPISODE #79: Terry Gross on Not Having Kids

  1. Thank you so much for this segment… I’m 38 and facing decision to have a hysterectomy for medical reasons. I’ve never really wanted kids either, but I live in the Midwest and the societal pressure here is INTENSE. I get tons of accolades and awards for my philanthropic work and career, and yet I feel judged for not having a baby and choosing not to. I finally got out of the corporate grind a year ago, and living a very free spirited lifestyle, that I’ve always longed for. Giving that up already seems like a failure to me, but to everyone else around me, not being a mother is the ultimate failure for a woman. I know if I lived in NYC, it would be no big deal. I got so upset from a “friend” chastising me that I drove home in tears. It’s incredible how insensitive people are about this issue, even in 2017, and when it’s not only a personal decision, but a medical one too. (sigh) In a world that seems obsessed with babies and reproducing, this was a refreshing episode. THANK YOU!

    1. -Oh my goodness! It is so true that in 2017 there is still such a lack of awareness about this issue. It’s not a debate. It’s not right or wrong, good or bad. It is shocking that someone, a friend no less, would chastise you. Thank you for your vulnerability and honesty. My heart goes out to you. I’m so sorry on behalf of anyone who would judge anyone making this decision, which couldn’t be more personal. Please know that you are not alone. I can promise you that. Take care, Ann Davidman, Motherhood Clarity Mentor.

  2. I tagged this to listen to when I had the time and finally got around to hearing it on my commute to work. LOVED this interview. Terry, I want to hug you. I feel like you did help pave the way for women to have more of a choice. It was very refreshing to hear that not everyone feels “called” to motherhood — I never had that deep desire. I wondered if it would hit when it was too late, and now it’s too late but I still feel happy where I’m at. I once likened that calling to the desire to own a horse. People who want horses can have horses and be happy, and I can not have a horse and be happy. :)

    But I wasn’t always sure if I was making the right decision. So I read the book “Maybe Baby” when I was trying to figure out if I’d regret not having kids. The book was a collection of essays from people who both had and didn’t have kids. The biggest takeaway was that as long as you have the life you want, you’ll be happy. (Duh, what a revelation — because that goes for every other aspect of life too — if we live where we want and work in the fields we want and have the kinds of relationships we want, we’ll be happy. It makes sense. It was a great read.)

    The Atlantic has a fantastic piece on not wanting kids and it mentions the great taboo parents face for feeling like they don’t want kids, but obviously we know it’s a thing because child abandonment is a thing. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/09/not-wanting-kids-is-entirely-normal/262367/

    I wish society just let people evolve into being without pressure to conform. We’ll get there eventually thanks to pioneers like you, Terry.

    Wonderful interview, thank you so much!

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