I wore a maxi dress to work today. The frequency in which I wear dresses to work is about once per month. I am more of a jeans and blouse kind of girl. So on the spontaneous day that I wear a dress like I did today, people notice and sometimes talk about it in the same way they might if I showed up with a tattoo on my face. Most days I don’t mind this. Today was not one of those days.
It was mid-morning and I was chatting with a coworker about my decision to go to 7/11 last night for a glazed doughnut (or two) at 11:00 p.m. I ate the doughnuts right before bed (I had had a day, okay?) and this morning when I woke up the first thing I saw was my crumpled up 7/11 doughnut wrapper on my nightstand staring at me, shaming me, and reminding me of my choices from the night before. While I described this narrative to a coworker, we laughed and I put my hand over the middle of my belly and said “oh well, it was worth it.”
A few seconds later I felt a hand on my shoulder from behind. I turned around and there was a middle-aged woman from another department standing there with a big grin on her face.
“What are you hiding under that lovely dress?” she asked. She looked at my coworker and winked. I snickered and replied: “Doughnuts.”
She didn’t think it was funny.
“Well, that’s not what I was hoping to hear,” she went on to say.
Not again, I thought. It was the hand over the belly. And the dress. Here it comes…
“I was hoping you were showing off a baby bump and you never wear dresses… I got excited,” she explained.
“Haha, sorry, no babies here. Not for a long time. Or ever,” I said, even though my coworker already knew this. She has been asking me about my plans for procreation since I started my job four years ago.
“Well that just makes me sad…” she said solemnly as she walked away.
Right. I forgot. Whether or not I am pregnant should be directly related to how you feel about my being pregnant.
I did not say this out loud. But I should have.
Her sentiments reminded me of something that happened a month ago while at church. An elderly woman with whom I have known for a couple years walked up to me amidst a conversation with a visitor in which I had stated that my husband and I would be celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary this upcoming summer. Upon hearing this comment the woman stated: “Five years already!? Oh honey, you better start popping out your babies now!”
The visitor I was talking to let out a giggle. Before I could say anything the woman continued, “Pretty soon it’ll be too late for you.”
And with that she strutted off to her seat in a pew.
It is time for those who view it as socially appropriate to make comments or jokes about a woman’s plans for child-bearing to understand that it’s not okay. It is also not okay to ask when she’s going to have kids or her reasons why she’s choosing not to. I don’t care who you are — unless you are my husband, doctor, or my best friend of fourteen years, do not ask me or make jokes about my pregnancy status. Or lack thereof. It’s not funny, cute, or kind. In fact, it’s the exact opposite, and depending on whatever my circumstances might be that you likely don’t know about it could be absolutely devastating.
A few months ago I went out with a girlfriend who is consistently one of the most positive and visibly happy people I have ever met. She never seems to have a bad day. I pointed this out to her as a compliment and said I admired her for it. The conversation went deeper and she revealed to me that she’s not always happy, and that her greatest source if sadness comes from not having had kids yet. She explained that she is constantly asked about it and it pains her. She struggles with depression in part because she’s wanted a baby for years but isn’t in a situation conducive to making it happen.
I know another woman who has been married for seven years and trying to get pregnant for six of them. She was told she likely can’t conceive so she has been to infertility treatment clinics for years and had no luck. It crushes her. She never knows what to say when she’s asked about children but confided that the question almost always makes her want to cry.
If someone says they don’t want kids, there is a good chance that there is a reason why that you are not entitled to or need to know. Because that reason is likely not something the woman enjoys discussing.
My husband and I have had the talk and agree that having kids is not a priority for us. Not now, not in six months, and if we so choose, not ever. My plans to give birth to another human life line up perfectly with my plans to work as a back-up dancer for Justin Beiber’s intergalactic tour through outer-space. So as it stands, that equates to never. And you know what? Alongside every other woman who also shares these feelings, we do not need a reason as to why.
Yet all too often, we find ourselves stuttering to justify or explain to other people how we could possibly not want to do the thing you are supposed to do after you get married, that is, make babies, which is a decision that doesn’t fit the favored life script that so many ascribe to and expect of others. Furthermore, when we do try to explain why we don’t want children, it often snowballs into an even more demeaning, presumptuous, and ignorant conversation on behalf of the other person when they say things like “Oh, you’ll change your mind someday,” or, “Sure, you say that now… just you wait a year or two!” But unlike the type of car you drive or whether you wear glasses or contacts or sleep with one partner or five, having kids is not necessarily a choice that you can change your mind about on a whim. Particularly if, like my two girlfriends, it is not a choice you can control.
This should be a no-brainer. But sadly, it’s become a part of the package that is Westernized marriage. If you’re a wife, you’re expected to also be a mother. And if you’re not…well than, what are you doing with a husband and a house and a fresh-out-of-college career if not preparing for your flock of future baby ducklings?
For women, there is hardly anything as inappropriately invasive and ignorant as comments or questions posed to her about her baby-making abilities or parts or plans. Nothing outside of asking her why she isn’t married or why she is overweight, or underweight, or how her menstrual cycle is coming along. I wonder whether people would ever deem it acceptable to ask a woman those intimate and deeply sensitive questions in public. My guess is no.
The reality that such people seem to have failed to recognize or consider is that the process of getting pregnant can be the greatest and most painful source of agony and grief that a woman ever experiences. That’s because she may miscarry — multiple times. And money, an unstable marriage or family, mental or physical illness, lack of support or career decisions could also be factors — the list of reasons goes on.
But the list doesn’t matter. Because the reasons are nobody’s business.
My coworker has no idea whether or not I had a miscarriage last month. She has no clue about the state of my marriage or health or where I am in my life journey. But for women who have dealt with obstacles in conceiving, her comment could have triggered intense sadness and depression and feelings of inadequacy.
Most women understand the intention might be sincere and possibly one of excitement about the possibility of getting to hold your future baby and buy cute clothes and crib accessories for them. But even so, having a baby isn’t about that.
Being a parent is hard. I have incredible amount of respect for parents. I believe the act of child-rearing is among the most honorable and wonderful things someone could choose to dedicate their life to. Parenting requires courage and selflessness and an impossible measure of patience and grace because having a baby is HUGE deal. A lot more so than things like your credit score or sex life or your views on gay marriage. Yet, I doubt a woman from work or church would ask me about those things in public.
My coworker’s comments inspired me to come up with a solution to this problem that works for me and may also work for others who share these sentiments. And the best solution I can think of to get this point across when we are asked about when we will have babies or why we don’t want them is to answer with this simple question: Why do you ask?
If they have the nerve to answer, it’s unlikely the answer has anything to do with the woman who made the choice and is more about them.
Kids are not a foreseeable part of my future. And I don’t need to give anyone a reason why other than because that is a part of what makes me, me. In the same way that motherhood shapes a woman’s identity, so does her choice, involuntary or not, to remain child-free. Period.