I’m tired of having to explain this to people. I’m downright weary. After last week, I chose to write this article as a reference guide for anybody who wants to have this conversation with me going forward.
Yes, I’m annoyed.
I’m annoyed because I keep having to explain this to people in the year 2019. I keep having to explain myself over and over again to friends, to family, to people I don’t even really know.
I know you might say, “Well, Caitlin. Don’t you know you have no obligation to explain yourself to other people?”
Yes. I know that.
However, I don’t believe stonewalling is an effective way to be heard and making sure somebody knows where I stand is more important to me than my silence. I shouldn’t have to avoid conversations because they make the participants uncomfortable. I shouldn’t have to shy away from clearly stating what I want or don’t want to do with my body.
I am going to go there with people because I deserve better than this. I can understand if somebody doesn’t know where I stand on an issue, but to disregard me when I’ve told you repeatedly is ridiculous.
So here I am. Screaming it from my keyboard.
Not all women want to have children.
Not all women derive their life’s purpose from procreating. Not all women can even physiologically give birth. Some women want to have children but explore purpose in addition to having a family.
So what do we do about the people who do not want to have children? Are they not valuable members of society?
It is 2019. I keep saying this because, people, we’ve been around on this planet for a long time. It’s time we became more flexible about what we think gives life meaning and became more respectful of each individual’s choice to do what they want with their time.
If you have children, if you want children, if you think having children is the greatest gift you could ever imagine, I think that’s wonderful. I like seeing other people fulfilled and I’m glad you’re clear on what gives you meaning.
Have your beliefs, but stop pushing them on others.
Stop expecting everybody to believe what you believe.
I don’t know how many times my partner has let his family know we aren’t interested in having children. He continues to be drawn into an ongoing dialogue where he is pressured to buy into the value of having children.
I have told a friend of mine repeatedly having children does not give me purpose. He continues to make comments to me about the beauty of a woman’s ability to create life and he discusses it in the context of purpose.
I texted him in all caps the other day about how some women intend to contribute to society in ways other than birthing offspring. I don’t use all caps lightly. If I send you something in all caps, it means I’m serious.
It’s not that I don’t think it’s amazing women can house and then birth a child. I definitely cried when I watched a birth in nursing school. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen, but women do a lot of incredible things and I don’t think that’s always recognized.
My coworkers at my last job would make comments about “when you have children…” despite me saying it wasn’t in my plan. Switching “when” for “if” would have been totally fine for me. I’m not unreasonable. I’m not going to freak out if you ask me if I want children or leave it open to possibility in the discussion.
My issue is this: when I’ve been clear with somebody that I don’t currently intend to have children and you keep talking to me about when I’m going to have children, it presumes you know me better than I know myself. It tells me you think I’m not serious or just haven’t realized my purpose (babies.)
It is a thinly-veiled reductionist discourse that is rampant in our society, which constantly tells women not to trust themselves and it is this story that perpetuates things like rape culture, domestic violence, emotional abuse, and other issues in our society.
When we tell women they can’t trust themselves or their bodies we set them up for decades, lifetimes even of invalidation and disconnection from the self.
It’s a problem. A big problem.
When you repeatedly come to me telling me about a woman’s purpose and the beauty of being able to procreate, you minimize my entire gender to a biological function, even if it’s a pretty incredible one.
Let me be clear. The female body is amazing. I’ve personally spent a lot of time reconnecting with this part of myself the last year and it’s been profoundly healing.
If you are out there and you can’t imagine a life without children, I commend you for knowing what you want. All I could ever want for somebody is to know what gives their life meaning and be able to have that for themselves.
My issue is when people decide that there is one way, one purpose and don’t dialogue about the vast and divergent ways in which women can create meaning for themselves.
I watched a television show recently that profiled a music teacher. She and her husband never had children, but she dedicated 30 some years of her life to creating a safe space for her students and encouraging the exploration of music and art.
There are women who want to live a life of service.
There are women who embrace their ability to lead others.
There are women who create amazing art.
There are women who raise wonderful humans to continue our species.
There are women who own businesses.
There are women who run parts of government.
There are women who mentor.
Do I have to keep going?
I want to live in a society where we ask people what gives them meaning and then encourage them to contribute in a way that resonates.
I want women to be looked at as diverse, brilliant humans that are more than just their biological functions and in order for this to be the reality, people need to look inside and be acutely aware of the words they use with others.
How do we talk about family? Are we asking somebody what they want for themselves or just assuming? Do we believe others just haven’t seen the light when it comes to procreation? Are we uplifting and encouraging women in their daily lives? Do we see the contributions of women around us? Are we acknowledging those contributions? Do we hear of a childless woman and think less of her?
Is there some level of self-analysis going on? There needs to be.
We all have our blindspots. I know I’m personally still learning a lot about racism. But if we want a society that’s better for all of us, we have to be willing to do the work to create it. A big part is recognizing how we limit people who are different than us, even if it’s through our words in a brief conversation. This matters. Our words matter.
For the men who may read this, let’s be honest here: my reason for writing this article and the experiences I referenced earlier were all with men. Not women. Men. Men talking to me about having children.
Men, I know you hate being called out and made to feel vulnerable but do better. You’re part of this conversation too.
Perhaps that’s what irritates me the most about this. My friend talked about women’s having the economic support to procreate and raise a family being the solution to our political problems, but let me give you all a basic anatomy and physiology lesson here.
Women cannot make babies by themselves. They don’t decide to have a baby and then will a fertilized embryo into their own womb. That would be pretty amazing, but we aren’t self-fertilizers at this point in time. There are at least two parties to the equation (I see you out there with your in vitro and surrogacy and adoption.) There needs to be sperm. That sperm comes from a man.
Why don’t we talk about men this way?
“What a beautiful gift for men to contribute their sperm and create life.”
“Steven, when you have children, you’ll understand.”
“A man’s job is to raise children.”
It sounds odd when the genders are flipped, doesn’t it?
I’ll tell you why you don’t hear these things in conversation as often or ever.
Blatant and internalized sexism.
I’m not pulling a bunch of research for this because it’s not that kind of article and I’ve done way too much emotional labor already today, but anecdotally I’m sure you know somebody who had an absent parent whether physically or emotionally and how much it impacted how they view themselves and how they cope with emotions.
Men are just as responsible for the creation and well-being of a child should they choose to bring one into the world. They are a model for what it means to exist in this world.
Yet, we treat men as if they are somehow secondary to the process of procreation. We treat them as if their life has meaning beyond their children, which it does, but my point is we don’t treat women this way. Can’t both parties be responsible for the babymaking and raising, but also have a purpose outside of that?
Again, unless they’ve chosen procreation to be their purpose.
I’m not suggesting we pester men just as much as we pester women when it comes to procreation, but it’s certainly not remotely equal right now. You don’t hear people talk to men about their internal clock or ask them when they are going to have children. The former I’ve never heard happen and the latter, certainly not as frequently as it’s asked of women.
A woman’s biological clock is nobody’s business or responsibility but her own.
Plus, a man’s biological clock matters too. I can’t believe we even needed to prove this, but an aging male impacts the pregnancy and the fetus just as much as an aging woman does. Why are we just beginning to talk more openly about this?
Sexism. Blatant sexism.
Men should be treated as an equal part of the procreative process and this goes for when there are actual children in the mix too. I can anticipate some comments about how children are just given to the mother by the court system after divorce and Caitlin, THAT ISN’T EQUAL.
I don’t agree with that either, but I’m not here to get into all the shortcomings of the justice system.
I think both parental figures are super important in raising a child and don’t think children should be taken away from their father unless there are extenuating circumstances. I’m talking about a heteronormative relationship here for the purposes of this article, but all members of a family are an important influence and model for future behaviors.
I believe in equality in all situations.
I just want to be treated like the individual I am and have the freedom to choose my life’s purpose, whether children are part of that or not, at my leisure, without question, without continued commentary on it.
It’s not a lot to ask for. It really isn’t, but it requires men (and women, too, though I’m not specifically writing about that here) to be somewhat self-aware and poignant when choosing what they say to the people in their lives.
I may not personally believe children are my purpose in life, but I do believe we can all do better when it comes to how we talk to women about their bodies and their purpose.
I don’t think the answer is to focus solely on helping women to embrace family life. If we give women the freedom to choose and pursue their purpose, our society will be better for it. In fact, I think our society will improve if we encourage women to contribute in meaningful ways, ways they define for themselves.
Let’s get to work. I wonder what would happen this week if everybody who reads this chooses to recognize a woman in their life and acknowledge something she’s contributing to society. I wonder about the impact it would have.
Let’s focus on uplifting the women in our lives to succeed. We will all be better for it.