January 28, 2008
I have been half-starting blog posts in my head for three weeks now. You may have wondered if I was ever going to write again. I have not been feeling very childfree lately. I've been under the weather, and let me tell you, we are having some weather right now in California -- okay, okay, just a little rain!
I think that from the time I started this blog to present day I have been on an evolution of Self. I have come to terms with that part of myself that is very obvious to everyone who meets me. I am a woman without children. It makes people wonder. I take time to get to know. I did a lot of reading (see our compilation post on all the childfree genre book reviews) during this time. I suspect that turning 40 was a bigger deal that I was willing to admit at the time.
I suspect that every woman who remains childfree, for whatever reason, will go through a similar transformation. Those who choose this path early, often called early articulators, will have a different story. We all do. This is one area one does not want to make assumptions, yet people often do. I am acutely aware of how different my life is compared to most childed women around me. It was not easy in my thirties, let's call them the early married years. There were expectations then; I am decidedly outside of the mainstream in my family choices. Being childfree is reflected in almost every aspect of my life, some parts are simply more visible than others. Now I am hanging out with women whose children are grown.
("Write something seasonal Teri -- write something!") We celebrated Christmas our way this year. Mostly, we have shuttled from family home to family home since we've been married. It was nice to be in our home for a change. We hosted close friends, a couple from Atlanta, my adopted Italian grandma, and an old high school chum. It made for some interesting conversation in the kitchen and at the dinner table. We went for a hike, laughed and told old stories to new listeners. It's not all about the kids for us. Our tree was an outdoor tree with colored lights and the good decorations stayed in the box this year. The halls were decked minimally and I am still trying to put all of it away. I didn't wrap a single gift. The gifts where stacked in the hallway, in the brown UPS boxes they came in, labeled "to" and "from". We splurged on our home-cooked food and focused on our guests.
As we approach Valentine's Day I've been reflecting on the fact that we have not planned anything, and I cannot remember the last time we took a week-long vacation together. Trying to figure out how to celebrate our 10th anniversary this year has been torturous. We've always been more of a "weekend-get-away" couple. Our spontaneity sometimes gets in the way of proper social planning. It is a real challenge for us. Not unlike our childed counterparts, we find many demands on our time. Perhaps demand is too strong a word. A child's schedule is demanding; we feel pulled in many directions. We have the family "must attend" functions, and we have hobbies and seasons to our lives. For my husband it is hunting season, deer and duck. For me it is opera season, and the two months up to a performance are busy indeed now that I have joined the "working board" of the local company. I have always been one to make commitments as a volunteer. It connects me to my community, wherever I happen to be. If I was there for more than a year, I was volunteering. For me, it is part social strategy. Volunteering is a great way to make new friends and feel significant. You matter when you are a volunteer.
Although we have no plans for Valentine's Day, I feel we have more than a little romance in our relationship. It has been a long time since we have had a long weekend, or a non-work related trip. We have uninterrupted dinners together almost every night, sometimes I even light candles. On weekends, we read the paper to each other over brunch. We say "please" and "thank you" and "I love you" often. We have every day romance. I don't mind that my husband may be away on a business trip on February 14th. We still hold hands in public.
I realized that today, compared to when I started this blog, I am in a different emotional place. Last weekend, I was invited to cake and coffee at our neighbor's house. I had not yet met the neighbors across the street and was pleased to know they would be coming too. Both of them, as it turns out, are retired school teachers. The first comment the wife made, after the obligatory "nice to finally meet you," was "I haven't seen any children." I simply confirmed, "We don't have children," and let it hang a moment as if it needed no explanation. Luckily, we had plenty of other things to talk about. "How do you keep gophers out of a garden?" "Will the city allow you to re-open the strawberry patch ?" A rousing conversation of gardening and local politics ensued.
Technorati Tag: Childfree
January 22, 2008
. . .and What it Means for Childfree Women
Okay, Purple WomenTM . . .I have a challenge for you! Open any newspaper or magazine, browse any Internet gossip site. See if you can find any articles, interviews or pictures regarding celebrity moms and their pregnancies or babies.
That wasn't much of a challenge at all, was it?
We live in a celebrity-obsessed culture, no doubt about that. So is this fascination with celebrity babies a harmless offshoot? Or is there a more disturbing implication? And what does it mean for childfree women?
Articles about who's "infanticipating" and "yummy mummies" abound. We're bombarded by up-to-the-minute reports about every single detail of celebrity reproduction, no matter how trivial or boring or personal: weight gain, pregnancy cravings, who's trying for a baby, who may be pregnant, who was "too posh to push" and who wasn't.
My head will explode if I have to read another gushing article along the lines of "Motherhood is the best thing that's ever happened to me/it's the most unconditional love you'll ever feel/I loved being pregnant/I was wearing my size zero jeans three weeks later/I cycled home after the birth," etc. (Okay, so I exaggerated the last part but at the rate things are going, it wouldn't shock me).
So why does this obsession with celebrity pregnancies and babies bother me so much? Shouldn't I just dismiss it as superficial-yet-harmless fluff? Can't I tell myself it doesn't affect me and forget about it?
Except it isn't harmless. And it's a fantasy that's portrayed as reality - with insidious, far reaching consequences. I'm willing to bet that the average woman's experience of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood is a million miles away from the way it's portrayed in glossy magazines.How many times have you read an article speculating as to whether or not a female celebrity is pregnant? The speculation seems almost frenzied if the woman does not have children. It never seems to occur to anyone that maybe said celebrity is perfectly happy and likes her life just the way it is.
How many times have you read an article referring to a female celebrity, no matter how successful and significant in her field, as mother of (insert number of children here).
As if that is all she is. As if that is all that matters. As if woman automatically equals mother.
The underlying message seems to be: it doesn't matter how successful you've been. Life has no real meaning or value unless you reproduce. You'll never be truly happy or fulfilled until you do. Oscar-winning actress? Nobel Prize winner? Astronaut? CEO of a Fortune 500 company? That pales in comparison to what society considers your real worth, your greatest achievement: your ability and willingness to reproduce.
In 2008, is the most interesting, worthwhile, laudable thing about a woman her womb? And that is what I find so disturbing.
This has implications for childfree women, too. Most Purple WomenTM know what it's like to feel isolated from time to time. Chances are, we've all thought "Am I the only woman in the world who doesn't want children?" when yet another friend/relative/colleague announces their pregnancy. We've all probably found ourselves in work and social situations where we're the only women in the room who don't have or want children.
Most Purple WomenTM know what it's like to feel dismissed or belittled from time to time. The myth that a childfree woman is less mature and less responsible, less feminine even, than a childed woman persists. All this celebrity baby mania means that a childfree woman is isolated and dismissed even further.
I'm stating the obvious, I know, but Purple WomenTM are savvy enough to understand that motherhood has always been romanticized. The thing is, motherhood is practically a fetish now and that should concern us, because there's something frighteningly regressive about it.
It's very worrying that this celebrity baby mania/mother worship is happening now - at a time when women's reproductive rights are coming under increased attack on a global basis.
Coincidence? I think not.
So what can we do?
First, I think that we can take a step in the right direction simply by casting an objective eye over the portrayal of celebrity motherhood/celebrity baby obsession. Let's recognize it for what it is: idealized fantasy. We are not media dupes, after all.
The harsh reality of what pregnancy, birth and motherhood can do to a woman's mind and body is not what sells magazines. Most of the general public are not interested in that - they want and expect the Hallmark card, not the real thing.
So the next time you come across a "Kodak moment" article or picture tell yourself that it's exactly that.
- We can remind ourselves that giving birth does not mean you will become automatically whole and wise and instantly adjust to the role of mother.
- Happiness and satisfaction will not be achieved by caving to societal pressure.
- Happiness and satisfaction will be achieved by staying true to ourselves.
Technorati Tag: Childfree
January 09, 2008
One of my very best friends, her partner, and their five-year-old son visited last week. I looked forward to giving the little boy a few swimming lessons, teaching him a thing or two about or regional wildlife. Instead, he taught me a few things, like:
Food and drink can only be enjoyed if it is slurped or crunched loudly.
Kids can enjoy salads for lunch but only if they’ve never seen the inside of a McDonalds.
One of the most fearsome creatures that ever roamed the earth was a giant sloth.
I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to penguins.
Manipulation is an art form.
And, I am definitely NOT smarter than a five year old.
Technorati Tag: Childfree
January 04, 2008
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)
Technorati Tag: Childfree
January 01, 2008
A simple question right? For this generation, maybe so.
But for our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, it is quite likely this question never crossed their minds.
This reality was brought home to me in a casual conversation with my mother over this holiday week. We were remembering my grandmother who passed away roughly ten years ago. Born in Poland, she was a very strong and determined woman who survived wars, near starvation, and the loss of her family home and business.
My mother lamented that at my grandmother’s funeral people stood up and spoke mainly about my grandmother’s devotion to the church and family. A woman who knew her as a much younger woman was not able to speak that day. If she had, she would have told the assembled crowd about a woman who was an accomplished horsewoman, a woman who ran the family business in her early teens while her ailing mother barked orders from her sickbed, a woman who used her smarts and her powerful determination to navigate through the worst atrocities of World War II.
My mother, acknowledging the whole spectrum of her own mother’s experience and personality, remarked, “If she would have been born in today's world she would have been childless and running her own business.”
My grandmother was born close to a hundred years ago. She had eight children.
Technorati Tag: Childfree