This is one of those questions that gets asked of you at a certain time in your life. Sherronda J. Brown introduced me to the term chrononormativity when I read Refusing Compulsory Sexuality, and that made a lot of things click for me. So When Are You Having Kids?: The Definitive Guide for Those Who Aren't Sure If, When, or How They Want to Become Parents is a practical guide for addressing a very specific aspect of chrononormativity (which is the expectation that your life will unfold in a predictable, progressive, mostly linear path). Jordan Davidson’s look at the important decisions and facts around having kids is incisive, inclusive, and extremely comprehensive. This is the kind of book I think a lot of young adults need access to!
I received an eARC from NetGalley and Sounds True Books in exchange for a review. I was drawn to So When Are You Having Kids? because of its promise to truly include gender and sexual diversity in its discussion of childbearing and childrearing. Davidson does her best to include as many different perspectives and experiences in the book. There are first-person testimonials from people of all shape, ability, and genders—yes, this is a book that boldly announces up front it will be gender-inclusive, and it follows through in its language and the people Davidson interviews. From cis men and women to non-binary folx, straight to gay to bi or pan or ace, from people who can get pregnant to those who can’t—this is a book that acknowledges that there is far more to a family than one man, one woman, and the hope that baby will make three.
This is valuable to me. When I was a kid, of course, thanks to chrononormativity I just kind of assumed I would be a parent, likely of biological children, one day. Yet as I grew up, I learned a lot about myself. I’m asexual and aromantic. Neither of these identities precludes me from having children, of course, but it is one way in which I diverged from the heteronormative narrative. Then, a few years ago, I realized I’m trans. As Davidson explores in this book, trans people often face steep challenges when having kids—not just as a result of the rising tide of discrimination and stigma, but also because of gender dysphoria and financial pressures that make it harder to access gender-affirming care.
So as I move through my thirties, my life looks a lot different from how teenage Kara imagined it. And I’m ok with that! I want to be the cool aunt who takes care of my friends’ kids so they can smash. I want to be the one who is available for a late-night phone chat because I’m not exhausted taking care of my own littles. I want to build a big, big chosen family around me full of people from all kinds of backgrounds—people with kids, people without kids—who take care of me and are taken care of by me in return. I don’t need biological children to do that.
But boy, was this book ever a fascinating education about having children!
See, I came for the inclusivity but I stayed for the science. Each chapter here was a revelation. Like, I think I have a reasonably good level of sexual education—certainly more than, alas, your average American, and probably more than most Canadian chicky boos too. But Davidson has done her research, oh my. First with the social science—stats upon studies of information about who’s doing it, at what age, or why we’re not doing it. A lot of this connects with things I’ve read in other books, like The Burnout Generation or treatises on climate change. Then with the biology: how ovulation, fertilization, and implantation actually happens. There’s also a lot of information on the expense of having a kid, a chapter that is very US-focused and reminds me of how important it is to stop Doug Ford from privatizing our Canadian healthcare system.
If you have a question about having kids, the answer is probably in this book.
There’s also a whole section dedicated to not having kids! I would have liked to see a little more time spent on reproductive rights and abortion rights—the book includes testimonials from some people who have had abortions, and Davidson does mention that women (we do not have much data for other genders who can become pregnant) who delay having children tend to be more successful and satisfied in other areas of their lives. However, given the political climate around abortion access in the US right now, I wish this book had been louder in pushing for a conversation around why protecting abortion access is important.
Our society puts a lot of pressure on us—especially women—to have kids. (My bestie and I did a whole podcast episode about this.) As Davidson remarks early in the book, we are expected to justify a decision not to have children, yet we seldom, if ever, ask people why they have children. And whatever your stance on our evolutionary duty to pass on our genes, the fact remains that many people for a variety of reasons cannot have kids, cannot even be parents to adopted kids, no matter how much they might want to. On the flip side, many people who think they will never have kids end up becoming parents through one turn of events or another.
This was what stuck with me the most from this book: the sheer unpredictability of life. The fact that we cannot have it all. As always, I come back to My Real Children, by Jo Walton, which follows one woman across two parallel lives. We can’t have kids and also not have kids, and as much as we try to steer our lives, nudge them along certain trajectories, external events will always shape those paths as well.
Oh yeah, this book gave me the philosophical feels, big time.
So When Are You Having Kids? is a fusion of fact and testimonial: each is powerful on its own, but the combination of the two makes this book extremely satisfying. As much as I learned a lot from the science, I also just enjoyed hearing all the varied stories from the voices that Davidson includes. This is a book I would recommend to anyone starting their journey into adulthood, anyone considering having kids—or not having them—and especially couples pondering if they want to become parents together. This is a book that will spark conversations, pose hard questions, offer advice on finding the answers to those questions, and help you become more prepared to navigate a world that insists it knows what you should want.