If you’re a woman, you already know the drill. We grow up, we meet a man and get married, we have babies, we become mothers. End of story. This is still the modus operandi for women in 2018, even though we’re meant to have progressed as a society.
But what happens if we don’t have children? We already know that if you choose not to have kids, which is your complete right, then the comments you’ll get will range from ridiculous to patronising to downright nasty. Things like, ‘What if your husband wants kids?’, ‘You’ll change your mind when you’re older,’ and ‘Why are you being so selfish?’
And what if you can’t have kids?
A woman who is trying to get pregnant and discovers she is infertile not only feels the grief from having her dreams crushed. She also feels the pressure from a society that still screams at women that they need to have babies or they are useless.
Often as women get older, women without children face a sense of destabilisation where they are no longer sure of their position in society. You’re told you’re neither young and ‘attractive’ but nor are you a mother safely ensconced in her family life. And despite all of our ‘progress’ as a society, it still takes a strong type of woman to reject these two dominant narratives of female ‘success’. Not to mention the fact that there is still such a strong tie between female identity and being a mother. Which is great if you have kids and can ‘fulfil your purpose’, but not so great if you can’t….
Often women who can’t conceive say they feel as though they’ve failed at life because they feel as though they haven’t achieved this goal or purpose. Many of them grow to hate their bodies as they feel they are broken or have let them down. Many worry that their relationships will struggle, that their families will be disappointed. It makes me wonder how I would feel if I couldn’t conceive. Right now, I’m nowhere near ready to have children, but there’s still a sense of expectation from myself and others that I will eventually – it’s just what happens. But what if I couldn’t….?
So along with the pressures of insecurity, identity and medical procedures, the sometimes unexpected and isolating pressure that comes from a woman’s peers is really the icing on the cake. Women will interrogate other women, asking you they don’t want kids, constantly reminding them their clock is ticking, getting pitying looks from women before they march onwards with their army of children.
Why are we doing this to ourselves – and each other? As fellow women, how are we not relating to and respecting each other? There is definitely an element of internalised misogyny at play. When we’re praised continuously for adhering to traditional gender roles, it becomes so normal that we don’t see anything wrong or unusual with the way that we think. One woman may negatively remark on another’s childlessness to make herself feel better about her own maternal identity. Even if inside she may be experiencing envy at the freedom of choice that this childless woman has. But who are we to do this?
Instead, the next time you see a woman who doesn’t have kids, don’t ask her why. Don’t ask if she’s planning on having them soon. Don’t tell her that her biological clock is ticking. She’s probably been through enough already without the casual interrogation of strangers who think they know best.
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