Happily Ever After…Without the Kids

This is a guest post from Jordanna Max Brodsky. Jordanna hails from Virginia, where she made it through a science and technology high school by pretending it was a theater conservatory. She holds a degree in History and Literature from Harvard University. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, where she is working on the second book in the Olympus Bound trilogy. She often sees goddesses in Central Park and wishes she were one. Follow her on Twitter @JordannaBrodsky.

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Deciding not to have children was one of the hardest decisions of my life. But once the choice was made, you’d think it’d be easy to create an equally childless heroine for my debut novel. You’d be wrong.

The Immortals tells the story of Selene DiSilva, a vigilante in modern Manhattan who defends women from the men who abuse them. Three thousand years earlier, she had a different name: Artemis, the famously celibate Greek Goddess of the Hunt and the Wilderness. So what’s the problem? She’s a virgin after all—that’s one of her most defining attributes. She shouldn’t have kids!

Yet the societal pressure to procreate—an inexorable force we women know intimately—has filtered so far into our consciousness that it dominates our popular culture. Name me one character on television or film who proclaims that he or she is even thinking about having kids and doesn’t wind up with a bundle of joy by the time the credits roll.  Commitment-averse men snuggle with their newborns; accidentally-pregnant single women decide to have the kid anyway; miscarriages are always followed by a successful pregnancy (I’m talking about you, Downton Abbey!). Heroines who avoid the issue, more often than not, do so because they’re teenagers. But hey, even Hermione grows up to marry Ron Weasley and have a passel of red-haired kids.

Imagine, for a second, a happily ever after for Cinderella and her Prince in which they get married, travel the world, have a lot of fun, and live to a ripe old age together—without ever having children. Something just rings wrong, doesn’t it? So for whatever reason—be it evolutionary imperative or simple peer pressure or something in between—it seems we’re still stuck with only one possible happy ending: parenthood. 

So there’s Selene, my celibate, kickass, hard-as-nails, mostly-immortal, former-goddess heroine. Her solitude made sense back in Ancient Greece: the patriarchal society that conceived her couldn’t reconcile the image of a powerful, bow-wielding huntress with a loving wife and mother. But today, we no longer consider femininity and ferocity mutually exclusive. Our superheroines can love and be loved. So I had no problem introducing a man into Selene’s life—a brilliant classics professor who’s always assumed his beloved Olympians are only figments of our collective imagination. His wit and intellect provide the perfect complement to her heroism and physical superiority. Selene must struggle to decide if preserving her virginity still makes sense in a modern world of sexual liberation. Her self-imposed isolation might be about to end. But…then what? First comes love, then comes marriage, then come demigods in a baby carriage?

Those questions got me thinking about why so many women consider Artemis their favorite Greek goddess. Surely it’s her strength that we love. With her bow and arrows, she’s a better shot than any man. Unconstrained by tradition, she runs through the wilderness with only her female nymphs to keep her company. If a mortal man dares see her naked, she’s liable to turn him into a stag and send his own hounds to rip him to shreds. For so many of us, life is a constant negotiation to make ourselves seem less intimidating—we envy Artemis’s unapologetic, relentless ferocity.

But how essential a role does her childlessness play in that appeal? With no family to care for, she can do whatever she darn well pleases. Despite the unconditional love most women feel for their kids, they still occasionally dream of leaving them behind and taking to the woods once in a while. Dancing with wild abandon beneath the moon, racing across the hills with a golden bow, avenging innocent women who’ve been abused by men…sounds pretty awesome.

I certainly don’t want to take away everything that makes Artemis so extraordinary. But my Selene is a modern goddess—she’s living by a different set of parameters. I want to do what’s true to the character, but I’m also aware of sending the right message to readers. I’m just not sure what that message is. That Selene can have a happy ending without children? Or that in today’s world, she can be a mother and also retain her autonomy? That’s the dream: that women can have it all. But for the vast majority of women out there, is that a reality? Would it be for Selene?

One thing I refuse to do is give her a child in a final epilogue, so that we can just imagine a blissful future motherhood without witnessing the realistic challenges of childrearing.  Because let’s face it, if Selene has a kid she’d might have to give up on her three-thousand-year-old commitment to help the women of the world because she has her own baby to look after. Option two: Dump the kid off with a nanny for twenty hours a day while traipsing around Manhattan fighting crime. How often do you see that in a movie? Can we accept a mother who doesn’t make her children her first priority? I have my doubts. Seems to me, that’s still a male-only prerogative.

I do know that even if a woman can have both independence and motherhood, that doesn’t mean she’s obligated to. I don’t judge women who choose children over freedom. I hope people don’t judge me for making the opposite choice. Yet as I wrote the end of The Immortals, and as I began plotting out the second book in the series, the question reared its head again and again…will readers be satisfied with an eternally childless heroine? Will I? And if even I, a woman without kids, am sorely tempted by the happy ending of motherhood, then what does that say about my own life choices? Is reality influencing my fiction—or the other way around?

In the end, I have to fall back on the truth as I’ve experienced it. And here it is: my husband and I share a joyous life full of art, love, friendships, family, and travel. We like our lives. We can explore and take risks and give our time and affection freely to whomever we want. Does any of that compare to the sublimity of parenthood? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you, because I’ve never had a kid.  But it’s pretty great so far.

There are two more books to go in the Olympus Bound series, and to be honest, I still haven’t decided Selene’s ultimate fate. Unlike the rest of us, she doesn’t have a biological clock to eventually make the issue moot. And so the issue comes up over and over: Can she have a happy ending without a kid? I face the same question myself every day. Up to now, my answer has been a resounding yes. For those of us without children—whether by choice or not—I’m proud to create a heroine who, so far at least, feels the same way.

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