January 04, 2008

The Flip Side

By LynnS
Regular Contributor
Ireland, U.K.

Several years ago, I had a conversation with a young woman on a train that I've never forgotten. We began chatting in that curiously intimate way strangers sometimes do when traveling. It wasn't the happiest time of my life - I was getting over an engagement that I'd broken but that didn't make it any easier. There were quite a few reasons for the break up: for one, I simply wasn't ready to marry. I'd noticed a controlling, jealous streak in him that worried me. Back then, I didn't know who I was. (In fact, I would reach my 30s before I did). There was one reason, though, that set the seal on my decision to call it off:

I had always known I never wanted children and I had made that clear to him.
He would make patronizing remarks like "you'll change your mind when you're older" despite my repeated insistence that I wouldn't. He couldn't seem to wrap his head round the fact that I had not the slightest desire to reproduce.

I wasn't prepared to compromise. I definitely wasn't prepared to spend my life with someone who would disregard my feelings and who seemed more interested in going along with society's expectations than examining the reasons why he wanted children. So I called the engagement off. Shortly afterwards, I got chatting to this young woman who I'll refer to as K.

K had a two-year-old daughter, despite the fact that she'd never wanted children. She told me that she'd, quote "caved in" unquote and had a child. Her husband and her mother pressured her and society had done the rest. K knew almost immediately she'd made a mistake. She hated being pregnant and said that she didn't appreciate how her body was her own until then. The thought of giving birth terrified her. When her daughter was born, everyone was delighted - except her. "I felt nothing towards her. She didn't even feel like mine. I thought it was the baby blues and it'd get better but I still feel detached from her two years on."

I told K that I never wanted children. K was supportive of my choice and said it was an equally valid one and should be respected. (If the term 'childfree' was around then, I hadn't heard of it).She freely admitted she envied me and warned me to stick to my guns and "not to give in to pressure like I did. If I could turn back the clock, I would." K felt that nobody ever tells women the truth about motherhood.
She told me that she felt she no longer had an identity or independence. Her husband, especially, did not seem to view her as an equal partner or a person in her own right.
K went through the motions of caring for her daughter, saying "I put up a good front but I feel like I'm living a lie."

Listening to her, I felt sad and angry. She succumbed to pressure, yes, but how unfair that that massive pressure was placed on her in the first place. I sensed she was overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and shame and probably had no one to confide in. I think she was able to talk so openly and honestly with me because she knew I would not judge her. I hope I was able to help a little.

This is the flip side of the coin we never hear about, I remember thinking. K seemed to feel so alone but I bet she's not.

We got off the train and said goodbye. I never did see her again. I've thought about her from time to time and wondered how she's doing.

I'm grateful we met, though. I'd been second-guessing myself about my broken engagement and I'd been feeling irrationally guilty for refusing to have children. Meeting K cleansed me of that. Whenever I'm bingoed, I remember her because I know if I'd gone with the societal flow I'd be walking in her shoes.

I'm convinced we met for a reason. I learned an invaluable lesson that day.

Listen to your instincts. If you're in any doubt about having children - don't.

Flickr photo by Malingering (cc)
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Robin said...

That "trapped feeling" is what I would be so afraid of. Good advice to not do it if you have doubts - I think so many times the opposite view is pushed in our society - that everything will be wonderful once the baby is here and to just plunge ahead. I think the risk of regretting doing it is much worse than the risk of regretting NOT doing it, as an innocent person is now also involved who didn't ask to be here. Great post!

Kimberly Anne said...

It's such a nasty, dangerous thing to pressure people into having children, as K knows too well. We're bombarded by the idea that becoming a mother makes everything right and perfect, and for too many people, that's just not the case.

My husband and I watched a movie last night (it rhymes with the word "schmaitress") we had been told was great. Through the entire thing, the main character doesn't want the baby, but once it is placed in her arms, POOF! She transforms from an unhappy, complicated woman to SuperMommy, and life becomes shiny and magical.

How many women get sucked in by this kind of lie, and how many children suffer because of it?

Dana said...

Wonderful story! I wish that all the women who felt like K could be strong enough to not cave-in, and that not only could they be aware they HAVE a choice, but to be able to MAKE it.

It's not always easy, but the alternative can be hell.

LauraS said...

One of the reasons I remained childfree was because I feared I would become like K--I would regret having kids or be an unhappy and resentful mom. I had observed a few of these moms in my neighborhood and I saw how passive aggressive they were with their kids. I didn't want that life for myself or my future family.
Hurrah, for you Lynn for sticking to your guns.

Angry Grrl said...

It sure would be nice to be validated for listening to our instincts, though, wouldn't it?

Miss Kris Dove said...

I just *know* that would be me if I were to have a kid(hence the reason I refuse to give into pressure).

thinkergirl said...

I have a friend (the only one out of all of 'em and they ALL have kids) who will admit to this same sort of regret. She was "coerced" a bit by her husband to have kids. I can see how it could be easy to be convinced. EVERYONE likes to tell you it's the best thing they ever did, even if they didn't think they were ready, etc. You so rarely hear about this side of the coin. If more women told the WHOLE truth, maybe we wouldn't be jumping in so carelessly.

By the way, I have never been so impressed by a childfree blog. And, I've been looking at a lot of 'em lately for comfort. I want to say that you (the contributors, editors, anyone involved, etc) are well-spoken, rational, thoughtful and admirable. Role models for me, you might say. I feel a little like I've finally found a "place" where I fit in. I wish it could be a physical place, but this is a great substitute!

Tanya said...

My best friend had a baby almost a year ago. When she told me she was pregnant, I asked her if she was going to take care of it. She said, no, that she had to 'be responsible for this one'. I pointed out that abortion is not irresponsible, especially when one is not 100% certain she wants a baby.

She told me it was lose the baby = lose her husband and she really loves her husband. Funny thing about that is if he really loved her, he would not have made her make that choice, in my opinion.

Her pregnancy was hell from the get go. She loves her son now, but she suffered greatly to get there.

She's still not 100% thrilled to me a mum, but she's coping. I find it sad that she has to COPE and can not be truly happy.

Thomma Lyn said...

Excellent post. I'm childfree, but if I'd caved to societal pressure and had children, I'd probably be much like K.

It's sad that we women have drummed into us by society that we cannot have "full lives" unless we have children. I, for one, feel exactly the opposite: i.e., I wouldn't have the kind of life I consider "full" if I'd had children!

So it's a matter of perspective. The childed life is not for all women, any more than it is for all men.

And as other people have pointed out, I'd much rather regret not having had a child than regret having had one.

Robin said...

That's exactly what I'm afraid of.

GottabeMe said...

I too broke off an engagement. I was 27 at the time. We had been together for three years. After we became engaged, he gradually shifted more and more of the responsibility on to me - looking for a house, figuring out where and how we would bank, figuring out how we would save for the wedding and stuff...everything. I was supposed to be the social director, home and financial administrator. And he was a slob. Getting him to do minimal stuff like wash dishes was a struggle.

He just expected that I would take on all of the responsibility and that all he would have to do was work.

And he was so immature. I was beginning to realize that I didn't have any urge at all to have kids, and whenever I asked him about whether he wanted kids, or whether he could be happy without kids, he would say "I think it would be fun to have kids." which just make me realize how he had put absolutely NO thought into it.

Breaking that off was the best thing I ever did. I never doubted it and never looked back.

I too have become more and more comfortable in my own skin, and gotten to know who I am, since that point.

Lynn said...

Thanks for the comments all!

Sad part it, I bet there are a lot of Ks out there. I'm sure motherhood can be draining under the best of circumstances, so I can't imagine what it's like when you're pressured into it. Likewise with pregnancy.
I honestly think K tried to convince herself that "it's different when it's your own" - sadly, that wasn't the case.

I didn't mention it to her, but I remember thinking if her husband truly loved her, he'd never have pressured her in the first place.

Like I mentioned in the article, I think of her whenever I'm bingoed and I feel stronger and vindicated as a result. So I just thought I'd pass it along, should anyone find themselves in need of a boost. . .

AlphaGirl said...

I am blown away by K's story..not saddened(because it happens more than anyone is willing to admit) but blown away by the honesty of it.

Ours is the first generation where parenthood is truly a choice. I think stories such as K's should be required reading in every high school, college, and discussed during "family planning" appointments with the doctor.

I think every young woman(and her partner) should spend time talking with brave women such as K to get the "real story" behind coerced parenthood. There are many, many K's out there, and in a perfect world, they would reach out to secondary and post-secondary classes, community groups, and individuals to tell their no-holds barred stories. In this day and age of pronatalism run amok, those stories need to be heard early and often.

not_a_bingo_fan said...

Argh, I've been Bingoed something fierce, and here is the perfect place to vent. A friend of the family told my Mom that if I (TL) put all the energy into children that I put into my cats, then my "best side" would come out.

What is it with this "one size fits all" mentality? If somebody waved a wand and changed my four cats into kids, I guarantee you that my "best side" would not come out -- I would turn into one miserable woman!

And this, from a woman who's known me all my life.


I feel better venting. Comments like that don't make me doubt my chosen path, but they infuriate me by their shallowness, their patronizing nature, and their puddle-deep assumptions about what other people may or may not choose for their lives. And what a crock, the assumption that motherhood must always be the "best" part of any woman.

Thanks for listening! :)

Ashley said...

As a mother who loves my jobs, both as a mother and a writer, I would be horrified to think that any woman would purposely be so inconsiderate as to have a child who was not wanted.

Cassandra said...

Nobody wants to be pressured into having a child. My own mother used to put pressure on me and my brother to have kids. But now its not the case with me. However my mother wants us to hurry up and get married.

So in some ways you cannot win. There is point trying to please everyone, you will only end up failing, and most of all hurting yourself.