August 06, 2007

How I Became a Purple Woman

Guest Post by LynnS
Ireland

As a child, I vividly recall one Christmas in particular - for weeks beforehand, all I wanted was a Glow Worm, nothing else. (If you're a child of the 80s, you might remember!). My relatives seemed slightly puzzled by my choice. They kept asking me why I didn't want a Cabbage Patch doll or Tiny Tears, and they kept insisting I'd change my mind. I stood firm, though - I told them that I wasn't interested in "some stupid, boring doll", even though it seemed practically every girl I knew wanted one.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I woke up on Christmas morning and found a Tiny Tears doll and no sign of a Glow Worm anywhere. Strangely, though, I wasn't surprised I'd been given a doll. I knew I was expected to play with it and at least give the appearance of loving it. You hardly need to be a psychologist to see the pattern emerging. . .

Other incidents come to mind: when my cousin gave birth to her first child, I congratulated her on the card and not her husband. My mother told me I'd forgotten to put her husband's name down and I told her I didn't. Why should I? She'd done all the hard work, not him. My mother was scandalized, of course, and insisted I add his name but I knew I was right.

I also remember when I was about twelve and letters were sent home from school about the Rubella vaccine. I asked why we needed it and when my mother explained why, I crossed my arms and earnestly pointed out that I didn't need it because I wasn't ever going to have children. (Of course, I had to have it anyway. . .)

In retrospect, it's glaringly obvious that I was what you might call an "early articulator"!
Tellingly, every time I tried to express my feelings, I was pressured, patronized and occasionally treated like I ate babies for breakfast. Unfortunately, some things are slow to change. . .

As I progressed through adolescence, I was bombarded by messages from the media and society in general that motherhood was the greatest experience a woman could have. A childless woman was ( for me anyway) rarer than a unicorn sighting. (I'd never even heard the term "childfree").

The few childfree women I knew were objects of pity and scorn, if not downright viciousness - even though they all seemed far happier than almost all the mothers I knew. From quite a young age, I sensed that the derision these women faced was prompted by jealousy yet nobody was willing to admit it.

I was old enough by then to recognize the financial and emotional strain parenting put on a person. My own mother often seemed stressed out, depressed, frustrated and resentful. I was puzzled by this: she was the first one to lash out at "career women", as they were then called, yet motherhood didn't seem to make her happy. Odd as this may sound, I was grateful things turned out that way: it forced me to open my eyes and think and decide for myself. It meant I learned to disregard society's expectations, no easy thing in staunchly Catholic Ireland in the 1980s, and understand that no one could live my life for me.

When I was 20, I started reading feminist works by authors such as Gloria Steinem, Naomi Wolf, Susan Faludi, etc. Inspiring as they were (and still are) there was still something I couldn't pinpoint until years later: even feminist writings seemed to assume that women were or would be mothers. A turning point for me came when I stumbled across a copy of Ellen Peck's The Baby Trap in a used bookstore. This book had a profound and lasting effect on me. I felt relieved, thrilled, vindicated. It confirmed what I'd always known and I was so comforted to know I wasn't alone, that there were people out there who shared my feelings. For years my not wanting children had almost felt like a dirty secret.

I was 23 when my niece was born and even though I could see the appeal of babies and why a woman would want one, I still had not the slightest desire to have one of my own. My youngest sister was born when I was 14 so I have some idea of the level of sacrifice, exhaustion, worry and expense involved.

My 30th birthday was a milestone for me, like it is for many people. It was actually quite depressing because I seemed to be the only one who wasn't a mother - it really brought home how isolated I was, even though I've never regretted my decision. Despite being on the receiving end of a few snide comments of the "just wait till you hit thirty" variety, the older I get, the more certain I am that I've made the right decision for me.

Over the years, I've gotten every bingo going - I'm sure most Purple Women will know what I mean. The one that I get most often is "it's selfish not to have children".

Ahhh, that old classic. Except it cuts no ice with me.

I tell people if they look it up in any dictionary, it'll be defined as being concerned only with one's own welfare with total disregard to others, or something similar. Exactly how does my choosing not to have children affect them? It doesn't really - except that it makes them consider their own choices. If that makes them antsy, all I can say is that they can't have been that secure about their choices in the first place.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the fact that I have wondered what will happen when I get older. Will I look back and regret not having children? I truly believe that I won't. And if I do? I would far rather regret not having children than having children and regretting it.
I never volunteer the information that I'm childfree - not because I'm embarrassed about it, but because I can't be bothered wasting energy explaining and defending my choice.
I make it a point never to ask anyone about their children or if they have any in social settings. It saddens me that in the 21st century society persists in glorifying motherhood, while women who choose not to become mothers are all too often viewed in a negative manner.

There is hope, however. I believe that generations to come will realize that parenting is a choice and not a predetermined, unalterable path. If people really think about whether or not to have children, the happier everyone will be.

Ask any Purple Woman and they'll tell you that not conforming to society's expectations can be difficult sometimes, no matter how happy you are with your decision.

Remember that the path less traveled has its own rewards.

And remember this piece of advice my grandmother gave me which I've never forgotten, and never fails to make me smile:

"If it won't make you laugh, it won't make you cry either!"

[Editor's note: AlphaGirl reviewed The Baby Trap for us last year. If you are interested in picking up a good book in the childfree genre, just click on the book review topic a little lower in the sidebar to see all our reviews. If you click on the link under the title "Feed Your Mind" and purchase your next book via Amazon.com, you will be supporting this site!]

Technorati Tag:

7 comments:

Alaskanmama said...

I think it's a fantastic adventure to do what you want in life, and screw everyone else! I have children and think, for me, it is the most rewarding thing I could have ever done for myself. But my adventure is not for others to share. Someone still needs to make the big bucks and flip my burgers. Why not a woman?!

It wasn't until I had children that I discovered who I truly was and what I wanted in life. I don't know who I would be right now if it weren't for the birth of my daughter. I am envious of those who are so steadfast in their self-reflection that they can stand in adversity and know exactly what they want.

Great post!

LauraS said...

I laughed when I read about your aversion for dolls. I, too, remember the Christmas when I unwrapped the doll that just cried tears and peed when you filled her with water. What a useless and awful gift, I thought, and the only time if filled her up with water is to use her as a squirt gun and chase my little brother around the yard, threatening to pee on him.

AnitaD said...

LOL@Laura's story. Sounds like something I would do.

I first realized I would be a purple woman when I was about 8 years old. I came from a strict upbringing and was taught you must be married before you have children. A teacher at my school became pregnant and was not married. Everyone was talking about it in the neighbourhood about how horrible it was. At that age I thought a girl just automatically becomes pregnant at a certain age and you just better be married when it happens. I didn't know about sex yet. I told my parents...I hope I can find somebody to marry before I start having babies. They peiced it together that I thought it automatically happens. They explained that one doesn't automatically start having babies. It's a choice. I thought I had been given a great gift. My eyes widened and I said. "Oh good....then I'm never going to have babies. ...pause....but I might want to get married."

M said...

Love this post.

It's funny, I often feel I have nothing to say about being childfree and then I come to this site and, well, write epic length comments! But, it's because I can always relate so much to what I read here, and this is often the only place I feel this way (in regard to these particular issues, of course).

Two statements that stood out to me from this post:

1) "From quite a young age, I sensed that the derision these women faced was prompted by jealousy yet nobody was willing to admit it."

I have often wondered about some of the really harsh comments I've heard about the decision to be childfree.

Do other people's decisions to not have kids really have bearing on another's life in such a significant way as to merit some of the more, uh, "intense" reactions that are out there? In my view at least, in relation to comments I've heard or read, I'd have to answer no.

I don't think jealousy is always the explanation, but overall, like any other difference that touches a nerve in some people, I think the reactions to this topic are often so much more about the person's own unresolved issues (whether those be jealously, regret, guilt, or whatever else) than about there being actual inherent problems with the behavior that's being critiqued.

2) My other comment is about this statement: "My 30th birthday was a milestone for me, like it is for many people. It was actually quite depressing because I seemed to be the only one who wasn't a mother - it really brought home how isolated I was, even though I've never regretted my decision."

I think this is such an important point. For me, my being childfree is not something I normally give much thought to on a regular basis. I am very content with my choices and know that my lifestyle is as it should be at this time. However, when I do give thought to this issue it is due to the type of isolation and exlusion described in this post, as well as due to what at times feels like society's tendency to accommodate certain types of families (childed one) over other types.

As a side note, I want to say that those who have planned or considered children all along don't really experience during their "childless" years what we childfree experience in this regard. The difference being, the not-yet parents simply haven't had kids yet; we childfree aren't having kids, period.

I often hear parents saying that their experience before kids was not one of alienation, but I believe that that stems from the knowledge that they were in the majority insofar as wanting kids. Because the truth is it isn't so much that we don't have kids that makes us different to others but that we don't want them.

I'm sure the childless can feel excluded and alienated too, but I think they are at least generally accepted in a way the childfree often are not, since they do want kids and thus are considered "normal" and fall into a category that certain others can understand.

As long as one's needs aren't being fully met in the community at large, smaller communities get formed that can speak to those needs. That is the case, I think, with many groups.

I wish there was more attempts at inclusion and unification from every direction (in many regards, not just around childfree issues), but that only works if all sides want it to and if all can and want to be respectful of others' choices and lives.

Like Lynn, any negative feelings I may have about being childfree are not about doubting or regretting my lifestyle and circumstance, but about feeling alienated and excluded by individuals as well as some of our community tendencies as a whole. Being the social, interdependent creatures that thrive on community that we humans are, that is not always pleasant or to deal with.

So thanks Lynn and Purple Women for again and again confirming for me that I am not alone, that many, many people feel very much like I do. It may not be a necessity in life to have that reassurance but it sure does feel good to have it nonetheless!

Lynn said...

Thanks to all, again - it's great to get feedback!
@ alaskanmama - thank you! I wish others could be as open-minded as you.
@ lauras - I'd almost forgotten about the peeing lol. I still don't like dolls either!
@ anitad - I think it's great that your parents explained that having children is a choice. I wonder how many parents do?
@ m - thanks! Even though I write about being childfree, it's not something that weighs on my mind every single day. You made a great point when you said that parents didn't feel alienated before they became parents. As you say, they wanted children in the future - the childfree don't. Ever.
I do think it's important to discuss the downside of being childfree. Society is geared towards the childed and dealing with some people's reactions can be difficult. It doesn't mean you doubt or regret the actual choice to be childfree.

joy said...

Try being a Filipina in her 30's! Even though I've migrated to the UK, it's inevitable I'd run into someone from the Philippines who can't get their head around the fact that being married and childfree can also spell bliss. I'm not averse to having children, but at the moment, parenthood is solely focused on being Myko and Thaea's mom - they're my 12 year old Japanese Spitzes. I love them to bits!

joy
The Goddess In You

joy said...

Can anyone help me find this definition of a parent, which was expressed as a job advert? It contained phrases like: no sick leave, full time job, no holiday pay, working 24/7, but it's fulfilling etc.

Please drop me a line on joy@thegoddessinyou.co.uk.

Many thanks in advance!

joy
The Goddess In You