Childfree, Not Childless

In this article by a 55 year old woman about being childfree, this was the part that landed most squarely with me.

At one of many going-away parties, the wife of one of my colleagues in the philosophy department, after asking if I had children or planned to, blurted out a version of what my mother had said years before, telling me that having children was essential because it opened one up to a world of opportunities one would otherwise not have. What stands out in my mind from this conversation was this woman’s anger. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why my decision not to have kids made her so angry, why she insisted so stridently that I was wrong not to want them. I wasn’t angry with her for wanting and having them, after all. What I learned, from this and other conversations on the subject with women who are parents, is that it is usually quite difficult to explain your decision not to have children to those who have chosen to do so without offending them in some unspoken but very deep and palpable way. I believe this is partly because many of them are secretly envious of the child-free and also—perhaps more importantly—see the child-free person as a repudiation of their own life choice and, worse, as a sign of “non-envy.” Imitation is the highest form of flattery and the surest sign of envy. My child-free state was like a mirror that did not reflect their image. I gradually learned to provide nonanswers to questions pertaining to children and parenthood. (It is interesting to note, from my own experience, that men rarely if ever asked me about children and my lack of them.)

Because, well, YES. I was recently told by someone that I probably didn’t understand “their world” and I bit my tongue to keep from saying “oh yes I do – that’s why I didn’t choose it.”

I’ve often taught that one of the things that happens in trans communities – as well as in others, no doubt – that many people want you to do what they did in order to validate their own choices. There is tremendous pressure about a lot of life decisions, but for me, the feminist option is to respect women who decide to have children, no matter what they give up to do so. Me? I couldn’t. Didn’t want to. Needed to write, adventure, love broadly. I find so much maternal expression in so many other things I do; I am both loyal and protective, demanding and comforting. That is, I don’t think you need to be a mother in order to be one, so to speak.

I don’t always feel the same respect back from those who have had children (which, let me clarify, means that I often do). Some of us are still insistent that women can be childfree artists, intellectuals, politicians, and CEOs, that we don’t need to be mothers to be either fulfilled or respected. Not that women can’t do both, but we all know how difficult that is, often achievable only when a woman can afford other people (nannies, babysitters, assistants) to fill in.

In a sense, “mother” confirmed me as “woman” far too much for me to do it, and in some ways I mean that economically than in any other way. That said, I applaud the trans guys who give birth to their own children, and/or who raise them, and who manage to do all that without feeling like their parenting is either feminine or feminizing. My androgyny (of the mind, I’ve been thinking lately) was always so fluid, so pliable and receptive to suggestion that I couldn’t take that risk.

3 Replies to “Childfree, Not Childless”

  1. Heya,

    Understood 100%. I get something similar as a non-custodial mom. Scorn, disbelief. Like I must have “lost” my kids, and the reason must have been bad, since courts favor mothers, right??? (That’s a whole ‘nother issue . . . )

    So . . . what does it mean to be a woman?
    I have NO IDEA.
    As much as I love my boys, I’d rather not have been pregnant with them. It took years, each time, to get shet of the sort of muddy ick of pregnant mind-body and go back to being normal.

    You may be right.

  2. Yes.
    I’d say that’s not the fault of feminism, though.
    Feminism just gave the bad guys the opening.
    It’s the “marketing” aspect of, well, everything. The more discontent that can be created, the more products that can be sold. Everything from mammograms to self-help books to pricy handbags.
    There’s huge profit incentive, not just in one industry but almost global, in having people discontented. Thinking they “could do more.” “Could do more” to be happy, keep kids safe, etc.
    Women, for some reason, make easy marks.

    On another note, back to bodies & babies:

    Elle used the pregnancy analogy to explain to me how she feels as Elle:
    My pregnant body always seems like a huge all-encompassing alien attachment (not just the fetus, but hands, feet, belly, breasts, everything). Elle had asked me to write her some joyful happy stories about being pregnant, and I told her how hard & counter-intuitive that would be. I was describing my “alienated” pregnant feeling to her & she said: “That’s how I feel all the time.”

    It’s so strange, delightful, yes but so often wicked painful, how different we all feel in our bodies.

    I asked her why she hadn’t changed in her early 20s when she’d first looked into it. “Because the doc told me I could never have babies,” she said sadly. I imagine her, naive, hopeful, scared, asking the one question that mattered more than anything; the doc a little contemptuous, laughing at her.

    How is it that the “babies” thing is so foundational an identity for some women, like my Elle, and not at all for others? It’s not like Elle is being told by culture she needs babies; hell, she’s being told she’s doing great as a man. I do love Judith Butler but when I think how much people are suffering because of things that are so deeply rooted they might as well be innate, I want to throw her books around.

    So funny, got your books after finding this blog, and it’s like someone growing in fast motion, because of course I read all those years’ worth of change in a few weeks. Awesome/scary thing about loving a person really & truly (was going to write “loving a trans person” but it’s more than just that), you have to do so much changing & looking into yourself. Makes everything better. Harder, but infinitely better.

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