Whatever happened to sisterhood?
Respecting each other's choices…
So… According to the Pope, if you don’t have children you are ‘selfish’. Marvellous. As if those of us who aren’t parents don’t already get enough grief on the subject.
Moreover, such a statement from someone in a position of authority only goes to underline that, far from being a private matter, choosing whether or not to have a baby is very much viewed as being a topic ripe for public debate.
While I would never challenge my friends on why they decided to have a child, I am rarely offered the same courtesy. Instead I have endured hundreds of debates with family, friends and even complete strangers all keen to share their opinion on the unoccupied, unused status of my womb.
People, and I’m sorry, but it is usually other women, fall into six distinct tribes when faced with a couple who don’t want, or haven’t yet decided whether to have, children:
1. The ‘militant’ mum. In her eyes not having a child is simply not an option. Whatever you throw at her – including ‘I’ve never felt broody’ or ‘I don’t really like children’ – is dismissed immediately. The subject isn’t up for debate. You were born with a womb and you have to use it.
2. The ‘evangelical’ mum. Having a baby has changed her irrevocably and she wants you to share the experience as ‘you can’t possibly know the true meaning of life until you’ve had a child’. Clearly, around me there is an invisible barrier (of which I’ve been blissfully unaware) meaning that I’m not fully immersed in the great journey of life until I conceive and smash through it. Who knew? And no… travel, career, relationships and all the amazing experiences you have along the way do not ‘count’ as giving meaning to your life. I’ve checked. Nothing is, apparently, as ‘important’ or ‘rewarding’ or ‘fulfilling’ as being a mother.
3. The ‘well-meaning’ mum. Desperate for you not to make a ‘mistake’ by staying childless, she will, at all times, involve you in her own children’s lives so that you can see exactly what you’re missing. And, when you’re not there in person, you’ll still receive a constant stream of photos and videos, just to keep you in the loop. If she’s really desperate to get her point across, she may even make you a godparent.
4. The ‘you can’t possibly know your own mind’ mum. Taking a similar standpoint to ‘militant mum’, her approach is less confrontational, more patronising. She knows what’s best for you as, even though you are a perfectly intelligent human being, you clearly don’t understand that your role in life is to give birth. Time and time again she will despatch the classic line ‘you’ll feel differently when you hold your own baby’ in a ‘now run along like a good girl and get on with it’ tone.
5. The ‘misery loves company’ mum. Having ranted for hours about how awful her week has been thanks to little Johnny being ill, or little Tommy redecorating the living room with felt tips or little Lucy having a screaming fit in Tesco, and having told you repeatedly how lucky you are to be able to go to the cinema, have romantic meals out and take exotic trips she will still end the conversation with ‘you totally have to have children’ – and not a trace of irony on her face.
6. The ‘new baby’ mum. Convinced that hers is the prettiest, sweetest, most well behaved bundle in the whole world and therefore ‘the one’ that will finally make you procreate, she will thrust the new arrival into your arms immediately on arrival. Feeling akin to a microwave that everyone is waiting to ping, you’ll be left cradling junior under the intense scrutiny of the entire room (all desperate to detect even the hint of broodiness) while enduring endless comments along the lines of ‘you’re a natural…’ and ‘it suits you…’ and ‘go on, have one…’
Deciding whether or not to become parents is one of the most important choices we make. And it’s exactly that, a choice. There is no right or wrong. We’re not selfish if we seek personal growth through methods other than having a child and there are other ways in which we can enrich the world with our talents and skills without becoming a parent.
We fought for the ‘right to choose’ and, as women, we should support each other’s choices rather than seeking to challenge and undermine them. In my experience, when it comes to the great baby debate, it’s less about the stork flying in than sisterhood flying out…