January 24, 2007


By AlphaGirl, Guest Contributor
Blog Author: Childfree: Uncut. Unedited. Uncensored.

I have always been aware of and sensitive to my environment and setting. As a child, my friends and I would build forts and tree houses, where we would role-play, draw, read or just hang out away from adults. We all loved the way the setting and the environment supported us as we made our way in the world. It was our retreat, hideaway, gathering spot, and its walls held many of our stories and secrets. As adults, my friends and I have turned our individual homes and apartments into our own sanctuaries.

As human beings, we all want to create environments and settings that support who we are now, as well as who we want to become.
The office space decorated with personal items to remind us of life outside of work, the personal items in our cars that turn it from an impersonal vehicle to our very own sweet ride, the home our apartment decorated to meet our individual needs for noise level, light, and activity.

Let’s look at some other environments that are not of our making. The waiting room at the Dr.’s or OB-GYN’s office. Our neighborhood or townhouse/condo/apartment complex. Our favorite food joint. The waiting area and consult room at the shrink’s office. What are the messages that are conveyed in these environments? Are they welcoming, judgmental, neutral, or ambiguous? Specifically, what do these and other settings say to you as a childfree person? Are you welcome there, or do you find yourself wondering what the heck you’re doing there, and wondering whether or not you are “seen” in that environment.

Two personal examples: A friend of mine switched OB-GYN’s after many years of seeing the same doctor. She got fed up with the cradle-laden, baby-photo decorated waiting room and exam rooms. D was childfree before the term was invented, and she got sick of the very pro-baby messages in that setting. She saw her OB-GYN quite a lot for various health problems, so her alienation was understandable. She also wondered how a childless woman would feel in that setting. “Do we not count?” D asked me one night on the phone.

I had scheduled a series of counseling appointments after being knocked silly by a string of personal setbacks. The counselor was competent enough, but the consult rooms at the counseling center were decorated like a child’s bedroom: Toys, blocks, rocking chairs, teddy bears, dollhouse figurines, and stuffed animals. I half-expected a pig-tailed, shrill little girl to burst through the door at any moment and demand that I get out of her room! “No grown-ups allowed!” The setting’s message was quite clear. I just could not get comfortable there; I don’t particularly enjoy being in child-centric settings anyway, (Well, OK ….not at all) but especially not while airing my dirty laundry. So I reached for my bootstraps and beat it out of there. I did, of course, explain my trepidations before leaving.

What settings do you find yourself in?

Are you comfortable there?

What steps are you willing to take to make sure your environment supports you in living a full, happy, childfree life?

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Teri said...

The setting I am having the most trouble with is the tennis club, which is part child day care center. The message "this club is really for families" in the strictest definition is everywhere, on the bulletin boards, in the newsletter photos and in the programs offered.

I don't think I can buck this trend or even feel comfortable there. I was going to sign up for tennis lessons, but I really don't think that will help. I need to find another "space" to be.

My worst experience there so far was a day that I was taking a yoga class and I thought I heard my name called over the paging system. It was of poor sound system so I could not be sure, but in case of emergency, I decided to leave the class a bit early and investigate. The woman at the front desk said she had not hear the page and asked me if I had a child the day care center. I answered "no" and expected her to help me further. She felt no need to do so.

I just walked away shaking my head. Was this ignorace or discrimination? I gues there was no way for her to know that I had a sick animal at home and an elderly family member on death's bed. Nor did I feel that I should have had to, neighter were any of her business, and I was too stumped by her lack of response to tell her off.

Elise said...

My old gym was a full service health club...indoor tennis, outdoor tennis, indoor pool, outdoor pool, indoor basketball, outdoor basketball, indoor restaurant, outdoor restaurant, day care center, massage, nail and hair salon, spinning and aerobics and "baby-n-me" classes...

And oh, yes. Cardio and weights (which is all I want out of a gym).

It was an awful time, believe me. Particularly until I discovered that the locker room I'd been using was the "women and girls" locker room. There was an "over 18 women's locker room" upstairs; which was much better. However, the cardio area and the weight area were often crowded (having 10 indoor tennis courts at your facility takes of a *lot* of space, I guess).

I found a much nicer, more modern gym, with all the latest cardio and weight machines, actually a little closer to my house, for 25% of the cost of the "family friendly" gym (due to the lack of all the rest of that stuff I didn't use!). Also, it's got a decidedly adult focus; no waiting for a group of 15 year olds to get off the equipment. Everything's available and clean, and the rules are actually followed (no cell phone use; wipe down the machines when you're done, etc.), unlike at the expensive gym, where there were attendants everywhere to enforce the rules. The new gym has only one attendant on at any given time, but it's not a problem, because of the fact that everyone just follows the rules.

A gym which is more pleasant, which I can actually *afford*? Wow! I don't get it!

M said...

I love this post. I have often felt the same way at the gyn.'s office, esp. when I'm there for a disabling gynecological condition, and the doctors are more focused on delivering the next baby than on my actuall illness (which is what doctors are supposed to treat, right?)

I thought the same thing when I went ice skating recently too. Pools have adult swim and though it's only for 15 minutes, it's great, and it's nice that it's recognized that adults may want to actually exercise rather than take a large cold bath with a pool full of children blocking every possible swimming path.

I think a combination of settings is best for society: some where all types mix, some that are just for kids, some that are just for adults. I do believe a doctor's office should reflect all their patients, not just one demographic. That's why, as someone who suffers from a gyn. illness, I've often wished I could find a docor who who does not have the letters "ob" in front of "gyn."

AlphaGirl said...

Hi M!
My friend D, as mentioned in the piece had been dogged by endometriosis since her teens; it made for quite a lot of visits, many of them abruptly re-scheduled so the doc could deliver a baby.

She's now with a Nurse Practitioner in her "new" Dr's office that sees her with no interrruptions, and bonus: The office setting is quite "neutral"; it's a very age-diverse practice and the environment reflects that.

I am such a sucker for a happy ending!

Thanks for reading the post, and I wish you the best on your health!

M said...

Hey Alpha Girl,

At least I've found a better obgyn. office, too (even though it's pretty far away, it's worth the trip I think). It's at a teaching hospital, which offers a very different environment than the usual baby delivery centered practice I usually end up at. Anyway, thanks so much for your comment and well wishes.


AlphaGirl said...

Teri- Hopefully, you will find a space for your activities that is more quiet, and hopefully, has more courteous and understanding desk staff. A page is a page, regardless of whether it's for a sick relative/spouse/pet/friend, household disaster, or a problem in the child care center. Since cell phones aren't allowed in most clubs and gyms, we're at the mercy of the front deskk staff, unfortunately.

Great news re: the "no frills" gym! I sure wish we had some in this area. I would love a basic, age-restricted gym without all the bells and whistles..give me some good cardio equipment and weights, and I'm set! =)
Happy work-out in your "new" gym!

Yep, there are times when I don't mind a mixed-age environment..I used to figure skate, and shared the ice with skaters of all ages. We had a chance to see one another practice, and to progress. I found that the presence of giggly teens prevented me from taking things TOO seriously; it kept things in perspecitve for me, and allowed me to lighten up when practicing for competitions.
Aside from that I'm an "adult swim" kind of girl! =)

Teri said...

I did something positive to create my own space at home this week. I finally got my writing desk set up in front of a big window overlooking a green area that is usually dotted with birds. It does present a bit of a challenge in creating a sitting nook in what remains of the living room, but I have staked out my turf!

Great post AlphaGirl, and way to keep up with your commenters!