Don’t assume I care about your pregnancy because I’m a woman. The barren, child-free truth.
Girls are trained to want children and to want to be mothers. It’s been that way for millennia. It’s only recently that motherhood has become optional. When I was a child, all girls were given dolls to practice with. Sometimes we wanted those dolls, we begged for them. We loved them with all our hearts.
Other times we tore them apart limb by limb. There’s much to love and not love about reproducing and becoming a mother. Maybe when we’re young and twisting our doll’s head off it’s because we’re rebelling against our biological imperative on some level.
Now it’s starting to become acceptable to choose to be child free. It seems more couples are making this decision. I never questioned whether I really wanted to have a child. I expected to want to have a child. In fact, I thought it would be a personal tragedy if I didn’t have children.
I never had a baby and the time for trying is over. I went through a battle with infertility from ages 38–41. I lost. Was it me? My age? My (ex)husband’s mostly okay sperm? Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. The end of the journey was incredibly painful. I cried for my not to be born child and no one could understand my mourning. I wouldn’t compare the loss of “an actual child” to a one who would never be, but people do. Loss is loss, there are no scales to measure or rank grief.
I put off my baby quest until I was in my late 30’s. My primary concern for years was resolving the myriad of health problems I had. After I got healthy, I should have jumped right into baby making. But I have to admit, I was turned off by the prospect of having a baby and what it would physically involve. I didn’t want to risk losing my health again.
I wasn’t thrilled by the prospect of having my vagina torn apart or my abdomen cut open. The pain! For what? Mothering is hard work. So many dirty diapers and all that crying. Kids bring all kinds of things home with them from daycare and school everything from lice to the plague, I think. Then there’s all that sleeping parents don’t get to do. Children are an expensive hobby. Do parents ever get to retire? What’s the point of all this family making?
Oh, sure children bring joy. I won’t deny there’s plenty of joy. I wanted the joy part. But all the rest of it, not so much. I was lucky to have been a step-mother, I had the joy without the diapers. But it had been so drilled into me that I should want a biological child, I never thought it was optional. After the process failed, I realized that although I invested my body and heart in the process, it really wasn’t the choice of my heart.
Women do have a choice about having children, and sometimes, no choice about not having them. There’s no one size fits all option or experience.
The other women.
There are difficulties that come when you don’t have a child, whether you want one or not. Other women are what makes it hard to live child free. It’s not just that they force their mothering world on you, sometimes they say horrible, stupid things.
Other women make infertility challenges worse. A woman I used to work with, who was just one year younger, got pregnant at 37 the first time she tried. She loved telling me about that. “We went away on vacation and when we got back I realized I was pregnant. It was just like that.” She told me that story after I mentioned I’d been trying for a year. It was like she was competing with me and bragging that she won.
Once I asked a woman if her daycare center had cameras so she could watch her child during the day. I was just making conversation. I didn’t really care. I was sorry I asked. She told me she wouldn’t want a daycare with a webcam because her child was so cute some crazy barren woman might take her. Presumably, because barren women would hack into the webcam. Honestly. People. She knew my last IVF failed and yet she said this to me!
Women who don’t want children hear things like, “oh, you’ll change your mind when you meet the right man (or woman) — or when you get older.” They are told about all the joys of motherhood as if they had made an uninformed decision. Parents tell them they want grandchildren. They get cautioned that they’ll die alone as if that doesn’t happen to everyone. These comments are so demeaning and show a lack of respect. Women do know their own minds.
There seems to be one kind of women with kids — the kind that expects you to be interested in their pregnancy, their ultrasounds, their baby pictures and all their baby stories. Why is that? Why should all women love babies, want babies, or be happy about the prospect of there being more babies in the world? It’s not always the case. I can’t speak for all childless women, but I think most of us are tired of pretending we’re interested because we’re afraid of being considered bitter barren bitches if we let on that we don’t care.
Sometimes it’s a burden to have to listen to baby stories and look at countless adorable pictures. These mothers types seem so overwhelmed with their own happiness that they don’t seem to realize other women have different feelings and experiences.
For some child-free women, listening is nothing more than a few boring moments that aren’t hard to endure. But sometimes, for some women, having the baby talk forced on you is painful. It’s an emotional conflict. It’s natural to be happy for someone when they’re happy. This doesn’t negate feelings of sadness, pain, or disinterest. No one ever assumes a man is interested in a woman’s pregnancy. Why assume that all women share the same feelings about children and reproduction?
No baby on board.
It was difficult when other women were going through infertility treatment and showing me pictures of their perfect 8 cell embryos. They assumed I’d be interested. They never considered my feelings. They knew I had lost the infertility battle and never asked if I was okay about hearing their stories. I put on a smiling face. I was encouraging and happy for them. But I was also sad, angry, and bitter. At times I was annoyed or just bored. I wanted to move on and put all that baby stuff behind me but they kept pulling me back in.
How I felt didn’t matter. I knew that if I expressed my feelings, I would be seen as selfish. I resented that I couldn’t tell them to shut up and get out of my office. I didn’t want to hear about their infertility treatments or their baby’s kicks after they succeeded where I failed. I resented how much their worlds revolved around themselves and that they forced their world on me.
6% of married women aged 15 to 44 years in the United States are unable to get pregnant after one year of trying (infertility). Also, about 12% of women aged 15 to 44 years in the United States have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term, regardless of marital status (impaired fecundity).”
Is 6–12% too small a group of human beings to warrant sensitivity? Is it too much to ask that we acknowledge that women experience infertility and miscarriages? And there’s a growing group of women who simply do not want to be mothers.
Ask any infertile woman about the ignorance of the fertile. The unthinking comments — like, “you’re so lucky to have your freedom”, or “you can take my kids any time”. And then there’s the sure winner, “why don’t you ‘just’ adopt?” which is sometimes followed up with the suggestion that adoption somehow magically gets you pregnant because that was what happened to someone their sister knew. Adoption is not at all easy. There are a lot of difficult decisions. The process is long, invasive, expensive, and emotional. It’s not “just” something you do like just going to the grocery store.
Infertility is difficult to talk about. It’s hard to explain the ups and downs of living for a positive test every month for years. Peeing on a stick several days a month, for years. Living for signs that don’t arrive. The regular blood testing that leaves you with scar tissue. All the times you’re told to slide down on the table just a little bit more so you can have a wand full of cold gel pushed inside you so your doctor can scrutinize your ovaries.
The whole process turns a lovely part of a woman’s body into nothing more than an ovary tunnel. Forget about what it does to your sex life — everything fun and wonderful about it disappears. It becomes a chore, something that has to be done on nights you’d rather sleep. Sex changes from “don’t stop” to “just do it already”.
When you’re going through this medicalization of your formerly sexy body, it’s just not something you want to share, or experience. Perhaps the insensitivity the infertile endure is our own fault. We don’t talk about it. But it would be nice for all couples experiencing infertility if they didn’t have to deal with smug fertile comments. We’re all glad for you that you can take it for granted that you’ll have babies whenever you decide. Be grateful for it and stop assuming your world is where everyone lives.
I’ve seen hostility between childless and childful women. Frankly, I’m surprised there’s not more backlash sometimes. Once, after being complimented on her youthful appearance by another woman, my friend Sara told her she owed it all to being childless. Sara went into detail about how her body was unchanged. Her vagina was intact. Her hips hadn’t gotten wider. She never spent years being sleep deprived and she was able to travel whenever she wanted. The woman was a little shocked. Maybe it wasn’t nice, but I was silently cheering Sara on. It was an us versus them kind of moment and she won. The sisterhood of the childless is so often subjected to pitying looks and comments, insensitive oversharing. Her jab at that mother felt good. Yes, it was petty. There really shouldn’t be an us v. them.
Perhaps one day everyone will respect that women have different experiences when it comes to motherhood and having children and take care not to be myopic and insensitive.
© 2017, A. Breslin. All Rights Reserved