People end up childless for many different reasons. Some are unable to conceive or to carry a baby to term; some don’t want children; some have never met the right partner; some of us are with partners who can’t or don’t want to reproduce; and some of us are just victims of bad timing—when you were young enough, the opportunity wasn’t there, and when the opportunity came along, you were too old. There are all kinds of variations on these themes.
But most of the world sees only that we have deviated from the norm by not having children. I’ve experienced that. People have said, “Oh, you didn’t want kids.” I scrambled to convince them that that was not the case, that I did want children, but it didn’t work out. “Well, then, why did you stay with Fred?” they might ask. Soon I feel as if I’m on trial because I’m not a mother. It’s easier to jump in with a half-truth. “We couldn’t.” “God had other plans.” Or, when I was younger: “We’re working on it.”
We weren’t working on it. We were never going to work on it. Fred had no sperm, thanks to his vasectomy, and he was done with babies. There would be no reversal, adoption, or other work-around. But I didn’t want to get into another 20-questions situation. At baby showers, when people would announce that I would be the next to have a baby, I’d just smile or laugh. I didn’t want to spoil the party.
In the book I just finished reading, Childless Voices by Lorna Gibb, she describes horrible things that are done in some parts of the world to women who don’t produce children. They are shunned, imprisoned, beaten, or banished. (I’ll share more about this next week.) But even in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries, the childless are considered “other,” a weird and foreign species.
Gibb writes: “Western society is predominantly pronatalist and the childless and child-free are often interrogated as to the reason for their state. If it then becomes known that someone is voluntarily childless, they suffer from negative stereotyping and may be regarded as deviant, and treated with disbelief and disregard.”
In other words, we get stink-eye. Even if it’s not our fault, if we are childless because it takes two and we don’t have a willing or able partner.
So my question today is this: Do you find yourself lying or shading the truth about your lack of children to avoid awkward conversations? Why? What do you say? In similar situations, what does your partner say? Does his/her story contradict yours? Let’s talk about this in the comments.
Forgive me for missing last week. I had a minor medical situation, but it’s all fine now. See my Unleashed in Oregon blog for a most unflattering photo. 🙂
The Nomo Crones—childless elderwomen—are chatting online again on September 15 as part of World Childless Week. It’s at noon Pacific time. Check the website for information on all the week’s activities happening on Zoom from all over the world. You’re sure to find something that grabs your interest. The sessions will be recorded so you can watch them at your convenience.