Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hypocrisy and Respect

It's something I see a lot in the childfree world, and it bothers me a lot. We scream and cry and say "don't judge me", "don't assume X about me", but then in the same breath someone will say something nice about parenthood and immediately the shackles get raised, or they'll say "I was childfree until I changed my mind" and the twitching starts.

Many childfree people find solace in the stories of parents who regret their decision. We look at the woman who resents her children and feel validation, seeing our biggest fears about parenthood happening. And, if we're human, we feel incredible sympathy. If we're not, we go "HA HA HA! Stupid parents" to their faces.

I'm not hopping up on a high horse here. I'm horrified constantly by situations that make me think parenthood should require some sort of licensing process. I get angry at people whose children misbehave and have zero tolerance once normal conversation about what we love and hate about our lives turns into preaching or, worse, accusations about our character. I make judgments all the time about people who I don't think have any business procreating. I have a very low tolerance for misbehavior; I'm highly sensitive, easily annoyed and overwhelmed and because of it I have a really hard time being around kids for more than a couple hours at a time. Sometimes I lose my cool. I bitch a lot to like-minded friends. I'm certainly not perfect.

My issue comes in with over-generalizations, the same ones that we get so angry about. The word "breeders" used as a slur makes me angry, as do many of the vulgar phrases used to describe children at some childfree blogs and communities.

I don't want you to presume I hate all, and specifically your children, but I owe it to you to not call you names. My desire to make the childfree choice a respected one involves respect on both sides.

This also includes not presuming all parents who love parenthood are delusional. I think a lot of people tell themselves little lies to make the hard situations in their life easier to deal with. I think many parents idealize their experience, and I think a lot of childfree women lie to themselves when they say they never think that elements of parenthood are kind of cool. But for every childfree woman who loves her childfree life and knows motherhood isn't for her, I promise you there are a dozen who were born to be mothers. It's an evolutionary fact. Those of us who choose not to have children ARE unusual, and the fact is it will take people some time to get used to us.

But let's try something new. Let's try not getting upset and uppity when someone presumes we're eventually going to have children. It's natural for that to be the assumption. Don't flip your shit when someone pushes the the beginning. If they continue to push boundaries, explain, calmly, your feelings but don't get bitchy and accusatory about it. Reserve your anger for when people really cross the line and actually intend to hurt. The more bitter childfree people parents meet, the more they'll be able to believe that we're horrible, soulless and defective.

Additionally, don't freak out when someone says they were childfree and they changed their mind, or they suggest that when you're older, when your circumstances change, etc., you'll change your mind too. Again, if they make the comment it's one thing; if they push, it's another entirely. NEWSFLASH: Many, if not most childfree people DO change their minds. I know I'm *gasp* not supposed to talk about it, but come on. It's a fact. Many of my friends who are currently trying to conceive were formerly my sisters in childfreedom. It happens. Blame it on hormones, blame it on societal pressure, blame it on maturity, but getting angry about a fact of life is just silly. Because of this I think it's acceptable that people presume we will change our minds, as annoying as it is. Yes, you can and should be offended when people are entirely dismissive, or they push the issue or are disrespectful. But be realistic, and especially to the formerly childfree who changed their minds: be respectful.

Lastly, don't be afraid to admit that there are things you're going to miss out on by not being parents. Don't be afraid to admit that this is sometimes hard. This is a lifestyle choice (although in many ways it doesn't feel like a choice because it's so natural and as much a part of who we are as parenthood can be for others). But we're never going to know just how it feels to watch a child of ours grow, and it doesn't make you a bad childfree person to admit there's a sadness to that.

As I've said in my post, The Rules: Open a dialogue. Don't lecture. Don't judge. There are still things that we'd like to be off-limits, but what I don't address in that passionate post is that we often need to adjust our expectation when someone breaks The Rules and educate people how to treat us respectfully. Part of mutual respect is understanding their prejudices and that those prejudices are normal, and working through conversation, not confrontation, to educate people.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

And so it begins…

Nearly all of my childless friends are now either actively trying to conceive or actually pregnant. It's getting lonely on this side of the fence and I'm having a hard time deciding how I feel about that.

I knew it would only be a matter of time before this happened, and it's just happening later for me than for most. We're all in our 30s, with a couple friends finally decided to try for kids after 35, which brings up all my ethical issues regarding infertility treatments, to be honest. It's all taking on the air of that exclusive club I'm not invited to.

Because of my body's current revolt against my childfree choice, paired with all of my friends switching gears all at once, I've made a lot of mental lists. It's all left me feeling sort of deficient, which I haven't felt in a long time. My usual confidence is being tested more than usual.

But then I ask a friend if she'll be at a concert that I know we both desperately want to go to, but she can't come because her sitter isn't available that night. I see the very girlfriends who are switching gears into baby mode either scrambling to get in the travel they want to do before they get knocked up, or freaking out about how stretched they will be financially when their babies that are on the way get here, and I think my god, that's not something I have to worry about. Fears about what it means for their careers, or whether it's worth it to put an infant in daycare and I thank my lucky stars that I'm not in their place.

And the thing is, when I see them journaling about what they'll miss, how their lives will change, I see that they're struggling with the same questions I'm dealing with. They're just seeing it from the other side of the fence. They're still looking at what they'll miss out on if they make this lifechanging decision, while I'm thinking about what I'll miss out on if I don't.

It's a way that, in a perfect world, we could connect. But I'm terrified to talk about it with them for fear of turning people off as I have in the past. So I clam up for now. Maybe we'll talk about it at some point, but for now I'm just observing from afar and dealing with my issues on my own.

Friday, March 11, 2011

More on the Baby Rabies

Someone wanted to hear more about the conflict that having a body that wants a baby and a rational mind that knows I don't.

The feelings I get are very internal. I'm not the only person I know who's described it as a twinge, but it's like a little twisting or spasm in my uterus or my heart when I see a newborn, or a child doing something cute, and it's entirely bizarre. I'll feel it when I'm watching someone with a child, or holding my cousin's twins, or smelling their hair, or just talking about this.

It's like this incredible feeling of "what if" that inspires the smallest inklings of doubt. It's the literal tugging I feel inside when I read the Essure website and start weighing my options for a permanent birth control solution. It's the tugging that makes me unable to make the final decision to remove all possibility that I will get pregnant.

It's like there's a disconnect in my mind over the concept of having a baby and what a baby means. My mind goes to different places when my body starts wanting the baby. I say things to myself like "it wouldn't be that bad" and my rational brain chimes in immediately with "of course it would!" I don't know if other childfree folk feel this, but for me it's quite plainly an internal struggle. "But BABIES..." "...require every last moment of your attention and energy that you don't have to give." "But, but BABIES!" "…mean the end of your life as you know it and having a constant tag-along who you will resent, and you know you will." The argument rages in my mind and it's frustrating, and I can't talk to anyone about it.

Why? Because it immediately means that I'm really changing my mind, that I'm clinging to this "childfree" label but really I want children. Really, I'm NORMAL. Nothing I can say will make people believe it is not the case. I've tried to explain it. Even in these moments when my uterus is twitching and my stomach is churning and my heart aches, I couldn't begin to list for you the reasons why having a child would be the right thing for me. I can't even throw together a "we would adapt" spiel. Even in these moments the thought of being pregnant frightens me to the core because I think "I'm too old to have an abortion. Too mature and financially secure to live with that decision." I cannot even fathom the idea of bringing a child into this world to live under my care. I don't want that. But like any grass that's sometimes greener, there are aspects that are, of course, appealing.

I do want a little of that joy. I want to know that feeling of watching the ultrasound and holding my breath as the nurse determines whether I'm having a boy or a girl. (twinge). I want to know how it feels to hold my child for the first time (twinge). I want to feel that incomparable love that parents always talk about, that immense satisfaction that I made that. I want that intangible knowledge that my husband and I created a life together, that this child is alive and awesome because of us, and it has my eyes and his smile. (twinge twinge twinge)

But there's a difference between wanting that and wanting years on-end of being responsible for a child's every waking moment, of knowing the only traveling we'll be doing is to Disneyland, if we can even afford that at all. I can't have all those things and still have my hobbies, my work, my peace and quiet and my life as I know it. Being a parent is hard work, and it's hard work that would make me miserable. Me being miserable would make me a terrible, resentful, short-fused, easily annoyed parent and an even worse wife and partner.

I'm at a crossroads in my life right now, but I am 100% sure that I will go through life without knowing what it's like to be a mother. And I'm going to admit what a lot of childfree women will never admit: That kind of sucks. But I'm also going to have a life full of rich experiences with my husband. We'll get to be fully in love as we grow old together, as we travel and experience the world together. We'll never deal with the pitfalls of parenting. We'll never have the heartbreak of having our child proclaim that we're awful and she hates us. We'll never stay up nights worried about the thousands of things parents have to worry about. Our life won't be free from cares, but it will be free from parental cares, and there's value in that.

Mothers and fathers wonder all the time what their lives would have been like if they didn't have children and many come to the conclusion that it wouldn't be worth it because they wouldn't have their child in their life. Well, we look at the decision too, and when we start weighing things, yeah, maybe we'd be pretty great parents, but then we'd lose us in the process, and that just wouldn't be worth it.