The title of this post is much snarkier than I really mean for it to be. And really I’m writing this post because I’ve been such a slacker about keeping up with the incredibly vibrant and thoughtful comment thread that my last post generated. I don’t want any of the people who have commented so far on the last post to feel as if I’m not appreciative of the discussion to which they contributed with their comments. All in all, I’m really and truly grateful for what that comment thread has become – in that it hasn’t become some war between the child-having and the child-free, and it hasn’t become some debate about what “counts” in terms of reproductive choice or rights or something.
That said, there are some things in that comment thread to which I want to respond initially, and they relate to this idea of “reproductive self-esteem.”
But before I get to that, let me just preface my comments in this post with this: I think that every person who commented on the last post commented in good faith and wasn’t trying to perpetuate any sort of “mothers” vs. “child-free women” divide. And I don’t believe that any person who commented in that thread believes that women should be defined through their reproductive capacities, desires, or realities.
But with that being said, I notice the ways in which certain kinds of discourses around motherhood influenced that comment thread, and I do want to respond directly to some of those comments and to extend some of my thoughts… not to call people out in an unfair way, but rather to take this conversation further.
First, a person whom I don’t think I’ve ever seen comment here before, Tem (and then later, Temara), wrote about the ways in which motherhood can be productive for work and possible even if one feels like they are impossible, in spite of one’s anxieties. And my initial response was (I freely acknowledge) defensive. I trace my defensive response to this passage in Tem’s original comment:
“It would be misguided, though, to wait until all your worries and anxieties abated to have a baby. You sell yourself quite short if you think all the things that make you good at your job detract from your ability to parent – your commitment, integrity, strength, kindness, and your voice are all things that would make you a great parent.”
Let’s note that I responded (albeit defensively), and then Tem(ara) clarified her intent. It’s all good. I don’t draw attention to this comment because I think it was heinous, or because I feel like Tem doesn’t understand me or because I feel like I don’t understand Tem.
I think that the word “misguided” was my trigger, and then I was further triggered by the fact that Tem wrote that I was “selling myself short” if I felt that the work that I do detracts from my ability to be a parent. I want to acknowledge right here and now that it was unfair of me to judge that comment on the basis of those triggers. But I also want to note that my tendency toward defensiveness is all about how this discourse on the “motherhood imperative” works. And it has everything to do with what I objected to in my initial post, about reducing women to their reproductive refusal or potential. But more on this once I note a couple of other comments.
Later, nicoleandmaggie (Nicole? Maggie? because n&m wrote something disparate earlier) objected to the turn the comment thread had taken to specific personal rationales, saying:
“But those issues are a very different point than the original post, and somehow seem to sully it for me. In fact, they almost seem to be in opposition to the main point of the post. I’d rather see the details arguments elsewhere rather than this post devolving into the same-old same-old arguments about motherhood and work that assume the same basic assumptions that the original post argues against. The details are individual to people and should not be general statements. All the “here are my excuses for not having kids” are not excuses for many other people who chose to have kids anyway, despite X, Y, and Z. The problem is talking about them as if they’re excuses.
People’s reasons are individual and their own and even if they’re not other people’s reasons, they’re valid. And more importantly, we shouldn’t have to justify what our fertility choices are in the first place, perhaps even to ourselves. There are factors governing why people have children now or later or don’t have children now or later. They’re multi-dimensional, should not apply to everybody, and shouldn’t be such a big deal, especially when they’re not that big a deal for people with Y chromosomes.”
I don’t object to the argument that what we’re talking about is individual reasons, individual situations. But what I do object to here is that somehow reproductive “choice” means we can’t talk about individual rationales for those choices, and I object to framing rationales for not having children as “excuses” whereas nobody (not even N&M in this comment) ever frames having children as needing an “excuse.”
And then finally, cbjones1943 asserts that I am “brave” for writing the previous post, while at the same time this person talks about deciding not to comment on the comments because “girls don’t get (or, want to get) what being an autonomous adult is all about.” Um, I would not characterize a single person in that comment thread as a “girl.” Indeed, the people commenting here (with I think the exception of Comrade Physioprof), are women. And yes, there is a difference. Also, I’m not sure how brave anybody writing a pseudonymous blog really is, but that is neither here nor there.
But so here’s the thing. I’m ok with us (me, my commenters) talking about our personal experiences in relation to the question of or the fact of child-bearing. I don’t think that talking about our personal experiences means that we are somehow getting in the way of thinking about women as people – as not defined by their reproductive capacity. Here’s where I’m coming from: men can talk about their sexual lives, their reproductive lives, and yet, they are men regardless of that, outside of those conversations. If we say that women shouldn’t talk about their personal experiences in relation to sexuality and reproduction, in the service of some kind of “equality,” we’re ultimately defining femaleness (sexuality, embodiment) as negation. I’m not ok with that.
And I’m ok with women providing rationales for not having children, not because I think women shouldn’t have children or because I think such rationales mean that they “can’t” have children, given the constraints of their lives, but rather because there are legitimate rationales for not having children, regardless of sex, and when we take the ability to voice those reservations away from women, and not from men, we do women a disservice. Just because a woman talks about the negatives of having a child in her own life doesn’t mean that she doesn’t believe that she can have a child or mother a child.
Finally, just because women have or voice anxieties about their relationships to motherhood doesn’t mean that they don’t understand themselves, or function as, autonomous adults.
Just as much as women don’t “forget” to have children, they also don’t “choose” not to have children, at least in most cases, as a result of ignorance or low self-esteem. It’s not that women don’t “know” what they choose when they make choices that don’t end up with a baby. And it’s not that they don’t “believe” they can parent a child and that’s why they don’t end up with a baby.
In fact, some people (women and men) just don’t have a baby at the end of the line. Not because they forget about it, and not because they are ignorant of biological realities, and not because they are “afraid” of something that they don’t understand the joy that would result if only they took a leap of faith.
In fact, lots of people don’t become parents because they just don’t.
And if they don’t, they might have reasons, even if those reasons weren’t directly related to the kid thing. Those might not be reasons that you would have or did have, but they aren’t excuses, and they aren’t misguided anxiety. And yet, thinking about reasons doesn’t make a person a coward, nor does it make one a “girl” who doesn’t know what it means to be an autonomous adult.
The fact that I’m not having a baby right now doesn’t mean that I have some kind of low self-esteem, that I’m afraid to have a baby or that I’m afraid that I can’t handle one. It doesn’t mean that I’m making excuses, nor does it mean that I don’t realize that all! things! are! possible! It only means that I’m not having a baby. That parenthood is not in my immediate future.
I almost ended my last post with this, but then I decided not to. Here’s the thing. If I had the identity of “bachelor” open to me, none of this would be an issue. One can be a bachelor, one can be George Clooney, and nobody asks twice why you don’t have a kid. But it’s not normal for a 37-yr-old lady to declare herself a bachelor, much less a confirmed one.
Again, I don’t write this post to disparage those who commented on it – I think it’s been a really good conversation. But at the end of the day? I will say this. I really resent feeling like I have to explain not pursuing motherhood. Because I’m just not so sure what is so virtuous about that. And I’m not so sure why people feel like they need to convince me to do it, when I tell them, that at least right now, that I want my current book more. That’s not because I feel badly about myself or my potential.