Choose your own adventure

Feature story: Johanna Marie Frejoles

 

WHEN I was 16, I left home and decided to live in a shelter for abused and abandoned children. I lived in that shelter for almost three years. In exchange for food and accommodation, my fellow volunteers and I would take turns cooking food for everyone, washing almost a hundred dishes a day, and doing the children’s laundry among other tasks. For my part, I was assigned to share bedtime stories on some nights. Most of us there didn’t really have separate beds. So there were times when I would sleep with them.

They called me Mommy Hanna.

It didn’t take long before I became close to these kids. They started trusting me with their stories. Stories of how they survived their horrific past. They would also tell me their dreams and goals in life. But most of the time, it was just the mundane stuff like what they’ve eaten that day at school or who their crushes were.

Like any normal kids, they enjoy playing, laughing, and goofing around. I saw genuine joy and happiness, but beneath those smiles, I also saw a masked emotional pain and longing. Orphans cling to whoever can give them the love they want and need. Children need stability and security and when that is shattered, they become unsure of themselves. It isn’t just about providing them financially and emotionally. It’s a lot more than that.

When I finally left that shelter and embarked on another chapter in life, I learned something about myself; I didn’t want to have children.

For years, I’ve considered having children as something I would eventually do in the future when I finally get married and start having my own family. You see, the society sets a timeline of what we are supposed to do at a certain point in life, and if we don’t, we’re screwed. But I wasn’t wired the same way as other people.

I realized that having children isn’t something that I want or need. I don’t see it as a necessity to be happy, to belong, or to have a fulfilling life. Not that I hate kids. On the contrary, I love them! Until now, I still get involved in any cause that involves taking care of children.

When I tell people about this, I always get that big “Why?” And whatever answer I give, it always gets followed by, “You’re only saying that because you’re still young. Don’t wait until you reach an age where you’d regret not having them, or, Wait until you have a baby in your arms then you’ll understand.”

I no longer get offended by those statements, but before I would find myself in a defensive position because having children was something I still wasn’t sure of. I would often question myself and say, “Maybe, they are right. What if I’m only saying this because I’m still young?”

So for years, I didn’t say anything about it. But the ultimate test came when I got into a relationship with someone. I met a guy who didn’t share the same values as I. You could say that things were getting serious. We have planned getting married for a while. He wanted to have children before he’s 30. In fact, we both have come up with a name for our imaginary unborn child. I loved him and for years I really thought he was going to be the one I would end up in the altar with. No one else could understand my wild spirit than him. So for almost six years, I would find myself in the position of almost giving up my will to not have any children because I wanted to give “building a family” a chance.

We broke up. But just so you know, that’s not the reason. The relationship has run its course and it had to end.

Now that I’m on my own again, it became apparent that I really have no intention of having children. I don’t fear I would regret this decision in the future because I know for sure that deciding something only out of fear isn’t going to do me any good. Having children is a big decision that has to be motivated out of love and not by fear. For me, the only acceptable reason one should have a child is that she wants to take care and give her life to another human being. No other reason.

I don’t want to have children just because there’s a huge possibility that I would end up alone and lonely in the future. My happiness is my responsibility. Children will eventually go and have their own lives and it is up to parents how to deal with their own happiness. They didn’t ask to be here. It’s not their responsibility to provide for you, care for you, and make you happy.

I have friends whose driving force to have children is because they just want to see their offspring. “Dili day ka ganahan makakita sa among liwat, Hanna?”

To be honest, I don’t give a damn. It doesn’t affect me if my family’s line ends with me.

When I told my Mom about this, she was less accepting. She said that it’s the way it has always been. But that’s very sad. I wouldn’t be true to myself if I fulfill that expectation. She then said, “So gusto nalang diay kag puro ra lami, wala’y kasakit?” To which I replied, “Kung pwede man diay lami ra tanan, among magpasakit pa man?”

My Mom almost had a heart attack.

But kidding aside, going against the social norms is hard especially when you’re dating someone. You have to end things even if you love them because not doing so is a very selfish thing to do. When you love someone, you don’t deprive them of what their heart truly wants.

They say not having children is selfish or that you are not capable of love. Maybe, I am. But isn’t it selfish to bring forth a human being to this cruel world even when your heart is not fully invested in it? Isn’t it love to prevent that from happening?

In the end, I let the Universe do its work. We can never say what the future holds for us. So maybe, just maybe, my decisions will change in the future. Who knows? I might actually have a child in the future.

I look at life now like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a children’s game book where stories are written from the second-person point of view, and you as the main character get to choose your own actions and decide the plot’s outcome.

So when it comes to deciding my future, here’s what I have to say: I choose my own adventure.

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