I wrote this. It was difficult. It is cross-posted at BlogHer.
Years ago a friend of mine frequently wore a t-shirt that had one of those retro comic strip characters - a woman right out of Mary Worth, maybe - holding her hand up to her mouth to stifle a scream. The thought bubble next to her head said, "Oh my God! I forgot to have children!"
Irony, right. I hated that shirt. I didn't get it. I couldn't imagine a time when I would ever (EVER!) forget something so important. You know, how some people say they forgot to eat? I don't get that either. And whereas I could fully acknowledge another person feeling that way, I knew even then that it would never be me.
Today is indeed Mother's Day, a day set aside for the billions of women who have mothered, intentionally, accidentally, biologically, adoptively - you name it, and please do, as my intention here is not to leave anyone out. I celebrate it for my mother, and my grandmother, and my aunts and my cousins who have kids. I celebrate it for my best friends who are incredible moms. I even got an e-mail from Bill Clinton, wanting me to celebrate it for Hillary.
I do not celebrate it for myself. And I was right about the shirt.
Elisa wrote yesterday about being childfree by choice, from a perspective that is completely different from mine, but which I respect immensely because it does what I love in situations like this - it states her truth, and it moves along.
Unlike her, I have absolutely always felt a biological and emotional imperative to parent. I am in a no-or-few-woman's land where this hasn't happened for me for a very particular set of circumstances that I'm not sure I can adequately explain, but mostly amount to issues of bad timing and relationship failure. I do not know for a fact that I am infertile, although at 37 my time is getting short to find out, reasonably speaking. I am not career-obsessed or convinced I have a professional mission that precludes having my own children. I am not, finally, willingly "child-free" as it's commonly understood and I'm not ambivalent about the matter either.
This is so not fun to write about, just so you know. It's awkward and uncomfortable. It's hard to be funny about it and I've been going for funny lately. It speaks to years of feeling like you're on the outside looking in, of not feeling like you can have a seat at a table you've been waiting for for years, and meanwhile, hello, your feet hurt and you're pissed off and all of the free appetizers are gone. But I do believe it's necessary, so I do it.
I've shared my perspective on the matter on BlogHer before, in posts about pre-emptive fear of infertility and how not having children doesn't necessarily make one "childfree".
The short story (beyond the whole "life isn't FAIR" bit that I'll spare you) is that I was a late bloomer when it came to dating, and when I finally did get going, I dated people who weren't "ready" for anything remotely resembling a family. I did this a few times, and spent a long time waiting for relationships to work out that just weren't going to, although I just didn't know that at the time. I was driven by my heart and not at all by my head, and it's really easy when the years are burning by to think that things will work out, because, well, they've got to, right, at some point? Well, not necessarily. I got burned in spite of my best efforts, I got scared, and in the few years since my last relationship, I have not come across anyone who would inspire me to take a chance quite yet.
In the meantime, I've pursued my education and changed my career path. I've traveled. I've immersed myself in art and music and culture, and a bunch of bad television when that gets to be too much. I have so many friends, sometimes I can't believe it. And my life overflows with family, which is the part that often gets left out of the story for women without children. I've helped my parents to care for my grandmothers, including my mother's mother who died in front of my eyes last September. I've been a support system for my sister, and she for me. I've spent a lot of time with my own mother, in a time of transition for our family that hasn't been easy. Oh, and I even had a dog, who died in March after 13 excellent years.
And in spite of the fullness of my life, there is my shadow side, the involuntary jealousy followed by a rack of guilt when friends have children or talk glowingly about the fulfillment of parenting, the pain when people say things like, "Oh, I don't know what I'd do if I just had my work and not my kids," the inability to adequately express online just how I feel about mommyblogging without coming off like a jerk, because that's not how I mean it at all. I WISH this had been my conscious choice, and that I could accept the choices I did make related to relationships and other things that lead to children as part of the plan that some ultimately benevolent universe has for me. I am not that peaceful about it. I made choices for which I'm responsible, for sure, but I didn't think they'd add up to not having children, if that makes any sense.
Yeah, me either.
My family does not pressure me, never has, but of course they worry. Last Christmas, I sponsored a Salvation Army "angel" at my workplace, where you learn the age, gender and name of a child and put together a package for her. I got a three-year old girl who loved Dora and pink. I went to Target and bought the cutest outfits I could put together, and some Dora toys (So much Dora!), and a pair of toddler-sized Uggs knock-offs. I put them all together in a package, and gave it to my mom to drop off with her stuff. She allowed herself to say to me later that all she could think when she saw it all was how much she wished I had a child, because my heart was so obviously in this, and besides she would be so very fashion-forward. And this was fine with me, because I was thinking the same thing.
I have considered alternatives. I've watched some single women in my life parent, and haven't been sure that I'm equipped for it at all. I want to be. If I could snap my fingers and be financially and emotionally solid enough to provide a life for a child on my own at this point, I would. My Google history contains more than a few adoption research missions, and when I was in Vietnam this March and saw a Western couple holding infant twins they had clearly come over to bring back home, I admit I hung around on the perimeter a little with tears in my eyes. It's just not time yet, although I feel it will be someday.
In the meantime, I move on, and I do not dwell on this situation daily, beyond occasional flashes of fear of a future spent not just childfree, but family-free, which I know is unlikely, but still. This Mother's Day is an okay day. I have work to do and a semester to finish. I don't feel pain or even more than the usual low-level anxiety about where my life is going, with or without a partner or children. I'll see my mom and my grandma and my aunt today and we'll eat cheeseburgers and drink some beers and it'll be great because I haven't seen my aunts and uncles since Christmas just about and I miss them. I'll see my godson who is one of my favorite people. I'll send my cousin an e-card because I'm proud of how she's met some challenges to be one of the best and most competent parents I've ever known. I'll - for the most part - be grateful for what I've got, and try not to focus on what I don't, just like every other day.
Childfree, childless, and other thoughts on the matter from around the Web:
Of COURSE Wikipedia has an entry for "childfree." And of course I disagree with it. Not all of us choose it willfully.
Childfree is a term used to describe individuals who neither have nor desire to have children. An alternative description is "childless by choice". The choice not to procreate has only been popular since the development of reliable birth control and therefore was not commonly seen before the 1960s. Additionally, such an option is rarely seen in non-industrialized countries. Childfree groups began to form in the 1970s, most notable among them The National Organization for Non-Parents and No Kidding!. There have been a significant number of books written about the childfree, although quantitative academic research on this group is just now emerging.
The childfree are a diverse group of people, much like the reasons behind the choice not to procreate; however, childfree people tend to be less conventional, more highly educated, and professional. Despite similarities, childfree individuals do not share a unified political or economic philosophy, and most prominent organizations tend to be social in nature. However, there are a range of social positions related to the childfree that some choose to endorse. To this end, some political and social activism is starting to emerge from a subset of this population.
So many assumptions there, really. Someone needs to edit it, but I don't have time.
SavvyAuntie wants Madison Avenue to stop wishing her a happy Mother's Day. I recommend reading the whole thing, especially if you've been involved in recent conversations online about who's marketing to whom, and what and where and why. (Hi there, there's a person on the other end of that pitch.)
For every Mom out there, there is a Non-Mom. Some by choice. Some yet to be. Some who just can't. None of these women want your Happy Mother's Day wishes. In fact, you are probably hurting some feelings along the way.
She's also Twittering today about missing her mom, among other things.
Let us be open-hearted to those who want, wish and can’t be mothers, those with children who have truly lost their way, those who are without family-emotionally or physically. Today’s “widows and Orphans” can come in many more faces: single, divorced, childless, -wrongly defined as being “have-nots”. We all possess the ability to pour our legacy out into our world. Be it into children, passionate work, abilities, gifts and lives so worth sharing. No one is meant to be excluded in God’s Family. Everyone is allowed a true HOME in this family, a safe, nurturing, truth-telling, accepting loving place and a significant meat and potatoes kind of a role.
In San Francisco and it's not too late? Proving that Craigslist can be a source of awesome as well as profane, check out today's gathering for women without children and those who have lost their moms.
...by choice or circumstance. We'll gather, create a special Mother’s Day acknowledgment of participant’s current realities, & celebrate the joys and/or sadness of this facet of our lives. We'll honor the thousands of year old mythological, cultural and historical annual celebrations of women, peace and creativity.
Noon The morning gathering will end with a light BRUNCH. Afternoon participants are invited to share our food as well.
2 p.m. – 4 p.m. GATHERING FOR WOMEN WITHOUT MOTHERS: In the afternoon, women w/o mothers will gather for a special honoring of the mother’s whom we have lost, or are unable to be with, through death or life circumstance. Please bring a photograph of your mother if you have one.
SeniorWriter Marlys Marshall Styne's Mother's Day card from a stepson she admits that she'd rather usually forget made a difference for her this year.
There's nothing I can do for David; his own mother, who is in her eighties, is in charge. However, I need to be more compassionate. Thank you for the lovely card, David. I plan to write you a letter soon, and I may even buy you a cup of coffee when and if I see you. You may be helping to melt the hard heart of a lonely old woman who has always hated or ignored mother's day..
Sandy at Inspiration Every Day asks that women without children not be forgotten today.
In honor of Mother's Day, I decided to do a week of quotes on mothers. I'm wishing all you gals out there a happy mother's week! Even the childless ones like myself need to be recognized. We still do a lot of mothering; to our furry children, partners, friends and families!
I believe that all women are mothers. We respond to pain as though it was our own, we heal wounds of the soul, we nurture and cherish relationships, we give of ourselves over and over again.
We are all mothers. Even those of us with no children to tend. Even those who have never had the chance to be pregnant at all.
I believe there is a mother in all of us.
And we all deserve mounds of pancakes glistening with butter and dripping with syrup at least once a year.
Embrace her philosophy or not, I'm totally on board with the last line. To this, I say, "rock on."
And come see me along with Suebob Davis, Teri Tith, and Laura Scott on the Who We Are: Childless In the Blogosphere panel at the BlogHer Conference in San Francisco this July. I may be sickeningly nervous, so please be kind.