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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Childless or Child-Free?

(This post was originally published on March 31, 2011)

I have now reached an age where people are trying to figure out if I am childless or child-free. It's a curious place to be in this Middle Earth that lies somewhere between pity and contempt. If you're child-less, you are a poor soul, but if you're child-free, you're a selfish lout who's denying the basic maternal instinct. However, it's often hard to tell which is which. While there are a lot of people who will just straight up ask you if you're ever planning to have children (and that's with sarcastic emphasis on the "ever"), we, the women without children, often demure, opting for an answer that will not paint ourselves into an ideological corner, and thus prompting even more annoying, invasive follow-up questions. When I didn't provide a conclusive answer to one particularly curious mom who also attended my church, I soon had a special delivery of medical pamphlets on infertility to my home (damn those parish directories!!), and months of awkward greetings at the coffee hour.

The truth is that for some of us, we may not be able to biologically conceive a child or carry a pregnancy to term, and for others of us, we may simply not want to trade in our quiet weekends for soccer practices or children's birthday parties. Whatever the reason, though, by chance or by choice, I've found that whether you're child-less or child-free, we battle common misconceptions and assumptions. We've all been the recipient of or a witness to one of those Grand Inquisitions that goes something like this:

So, do you two have any kids?
No, not yet.
So what are you waiting for?
Just waiting for the right time, but we're trying.
Well, don't wait too long, because if you do it might be too late. Have you thought about adopting?

Or this one:

So, do you two have any kids?
No.
Well, why not?
We don't want children.
Well, how can you not want children? You know, I once felt the same way until we had [fill in adorable baby name]. Now, I can't imagine my life without him/her.

Exchanges like these have, for years, put us on the defensive, forcing us to question who we are and what we value. Worse yet, we've become socially marginalized by our fertile friends who assume that we are indifferent to or hate children. But all of that stops today because I'm throwing down the gauntlet on this uterine apartheid! Child-less or child-free, if you have to ask me, then obviously it's none of your business, and as a parent, you should be sensitive enough to the needs of others to know that.

Now if you're having a hard time, and your curiosity is getting the better of you, then we, the women without children, are going to help you. When you ask us if we have children, we're going to answer, "No," and then we're going to end the discussion. That's it, no long, drawn out, carefully parsed answer nuanced to within an inch of its life, just "No." And when you persist, and insist on asking us about possible medical causes for our "condition", then we're going to say that it's none of your business. Now, we're not going to do all of the work, here. For your part, you're going to invite us to your children's birthday parties, and stop with the friggin' apologies if your baby is fussy when we hold them (our egos aren't that fragile). If we ask you a parenting question, don't be a jerk and look at us like we're the most ignorant person in the world. And, conversely, don't use it as an opportunity to revisit bad habits and ask us if we're planning on having children.

So, child-less or child-free? Only God and my OB/GYN needs to know! I'm just saying:)

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