Sunday, July 18, 2010

You're a woman. Now make some babies!

This post was inspired by several posts over at Shakesville regarding the idea that women who choose to remain childless are selfish. I agree with the commentary at that blog, so I recommend you check it out.

The idea that deliberately childless women are selfish is a general theme when it comes to policing women in this society and smothering them with ideas of what other, more important people expect them to do with their lives as opposed to allowing them to make their own decisions without comment. When a woman, especially a married woman, chooses not to have children, it opens her up for all sorts of comments ranging from her being selfish to the idea that she must be very unhappy because she doesn't have kids.

And in
this piece about men who really really want to be daddies, the wishes of men are added to the mix of reasons why women should feel terrible if they do not reproduce as society (and perhaps their husband) expects them to. (Trigger warning on that link for descriptions of reproductive coercion)

According to this piece, there are a growing number of men who desperately desire to be fathers, but are hitting roadblocks because the women they are with would rather do things like pursue careers, or they just plain aren't interested in being mothers. The disturbing part of it all is that it shows that some men want to be fathers so badly that they will pressure their wives into trying to get pregnant.

Take Neil, whose wife Fiona was made a partner at a PR company and does not feel ready to be a mother. Neil said:

"I'm putting pressure on her to stop taking the Pill and to leave the situation to fate," he admits. "I know it's a decision we've got to make together, but I don't want to be an old dad. A baby would make my world complete."
There is a sad but interesting point here. Evolving gender roles and opportunities have allowed more and more women to progress in careers that they may not be willing to give up right away to start a family. They have also allowed men to express their desire for fatherhood more openly. While that may seem like progress, where women used to be forced to follow husbands pursuing careers, they are still facing opposition to living the lives they want from husbands who are willing to coerce them into having children to fulfill their own desires.

It's great and all that men are coming around to the idea of fatherhood and that they don't have to be alienated from their feelings when it comes to wanting children. But women should also be allowed to be true to themselves, whether or not their visions for their futures include children. They shouldn't be ridiculed or looked down upon for not fitting into other people's expectations. All in all, women still lose.

I guess this whole motherhood/children thing has been on my mind lately because of the unsettling trend among girls I went to high school with of getting pregnant and married before they turn 23.

I'm relatively young, but I have known for most of my life, with much certainty, that I will never be a mother. Children tire me. I have never been able to stomach babysitting for more than a few hours at a stretch. Holding babies makes me anxious, and I have several memories of being a child and family members practically forcing me to hold a baby, a new member of the family, because why shouldn't I want to hold a cute little baby? The thought of being responsible for a human being, emotionally, financially, what have you, terrifies me.

When I've expressed these feelings to various people, generally my family, it has been said that I will change my mind once I grow older. You know, right about the time that this society will start expecting me to pop out some babies and fulfill my womanly duty of self-imposed motherhood.

Not to mention my type 1 Diabetes and the difficulties of managing the disease with another human growing inside me and the potential complications that could arise from that. Not to mention the obvious idea that me parenting a child that I did not want to be a parent to is the ultimate form of unfairness. Not to mention that with those things taken into consideration, I might sound like a good person who has made the right choice when it comes to bearing children.

But that's not what people will see when they look at me in a few years and ask if I have children. Or if I want them. All they'll see is the word "Selfish" stamped across my forehead. Unfortunately, as long as women continue to be necessary for creating babies and as long as we live in a society that believes that arbitrary expectations are more important than the desires of individual women, it's a brand that many of us will not be able to escape.


innessfree said...

I completely agree with you. Personally, I would like children, but I recognize that it's MY choice and I have no right to foist that choice on others, or to withhold it from them. However, I recognize that my future motherhood may feel bittersweet, because I actually feel the opposite of most people--

I think that it is selfish to HAVE children, not to remain childless. I can't understand how it could be conceived as selfish to forgo motherhood, considering that the world is severely overpopulated. The argument that we must propagate to preserve the human race is ridiculous, since we are thriving TOO vigorously. Parenthood is pure vanity. (Unfortunately, it's a vanity that I wish to ascribe to. I know, I'm a hypocrite. But if I can't get pregnant naturally, I'm not going to do all those ridiculous fertility treatments. I'm going to adopt, since that makes far more sense than forcing reproduction.)

Furthermore, I think it would be far more selfish of a person to have a child, fully knowing that he/she isn't really cut out for parenthood.

innessfree said...

And thank you for your post. :)

Saranga said...

"When I've expressed these feelings to various people, it has been said that I will change my mind once I grow older"

I'm 30, I still get people telling me this. Even those folks who I have known for 10 years and who I have always answered the question with I don't want kids.

It never fails to get tiresome.

Christina said...

As another childfree woman, I agree so so much. People expect me to change my mind, but I am certain that children are not for me and have known this my whole life. I just dismiss those comments as much as I can, but I expect it'll get harder as I get older (I'm 24) and it becomes more and more of an expectation that I have/want kids.

The part about men pressuring their wives to have kids is chilling but sadly not surprising. I have an ex boyfriend who would definitely have been like that had we stayed together long enough. I'm super grateful that my fiance doesn't want kids either and is actually scheduled for a vasectomy next week.

Of course, the fact that it was really easy for him to get his tubes tied whereas nobody will even consider tying my tubes is another issue... Obviously women don't know what they actually want and can't be trusted to make decisions like that. So infuriating!

Amelia said...

@innessfree: I would have to agree with the idea that there are a lot of children in this world who are already here and in need of caring parents, which might be a reason for people to consider other means of parenting, such as adoption, as opposed to having their own children. However, I would not feel comfortable thinking of anyone who decided to have their own children as selfish. Mostly, I think I feel this way because if we reverse my argument in this post, it would be unfair to label people based on our personal ideas about how they should handle their reproductive capacities, and what kinds of families we think are better than others. But I definitely agree that it's horrible for someone who knows they aren't ready/wanting to be a parent to be coerced into or otherwise become a parent because really, that's a lose/lose situation for the child and the parent.

@Saranga: I'm afraid of that! I'm still in college now, so no one in my family is seriously expecting me to settle down for at least a few years, but I know they'll start asking questions because that's what people do in my family: Get married and have babies. Ugh.

@Christina: Thanks for your comment. It actually brings up a really interesting point that had come up with my mother a few weeks ago. She said that after she had my younger sister, her second child, that she wanted to get her tubes tied. This was in the very early 90's. She said she had to go through counseling before they would tie her tubes, as if a woman could not possibly want to do away with her natural reproductive capacity and be mentally healthy. Infuriating was exactly what I thought when I heard that! Does anyone know if that's still common practice? I have no idea how those things work. I should probably do some reading.

gimcrack girl said...

@Amelia and @Christina, I'm from the UK, and i have a friend who had two children of about 3 & 4 and she asked her GP to get her tubes tied (both births were emergency c section, the second nearly killed her andshe was also told any further pregnancies could kill her) and yet she was told she couldn't have the op. Apparently, at 25, her tubes could magically untie because she was so young. She was given various forms of contraception instead. I find it odd that they advised her that further pregnancies would be life-threatening, but wouldn't tie her tubes, although she wanted it. Maybe the docs were right, about the magic, and contraception was safer...

Creativechaos said...

Very well said, Amelia. It is frusterating when women have children and they clearly were never meant to have kids. In the experiance I know first hand, the girls grew up unloved and a little mentally abused. The mother left her 14 year old daughter and told her to find somewhere to go. With no money or anything. Yet somehow every women is pressured to have kids, because it is the 'right' thing to do.