Being raised in the early ‘80s, I was a tom-boy in the simplest of senses; very much influenced by my dad, interested in nothing but sports, intimidated by boys that were better than me at things, and still played with barbie dolls, my little pony, and played dress up and dance party with my girl friends every chance we got. Influenced by television, as it was my babysitter and my primary means for learning english as a toddler, I was introduced to the social constructs of relationships by observing Buggs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Goofy and Clarabelle, Chip’n’Dale, and all of the characters on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. Making friends was never a problem, even though I was a shy, quiet kid. My parents always asked me what I wanted to do when I grow up and always enforced the idea that ‘you can do anything.’ Somewhere along the line, the idea of families, marriage and having children was introduced. Never by my own parents…I can remember that much…but eventually I had this notion that my life ambition was to go to college, get married around the age of 22, have children by the time I was 24 and live a thriving lifestyle with this happy cookie cutter family that I dreamed up in my head.
As an adult, I’ve come to understand and find it fascinating that life never turns out quite the way we plan. People I’ve encountered that put their careers first ended up with children before they could even begin establishing their careers. People similar to myself, who have always wanted children, have been faced with the reality that maybe the opportunity of bringing that to fruition might be far more complex than they had ever imagined it could be. Others have gotten married, with the intention to be with that person forever, and have found themselves long departed from their first spouse and happily living the life they had hoped of in happiness with another. Regardless, the social encounters have been quite unique and far from the stereotypical lifestyle that my television babysitter introduced to me.
With that, what has become of everyone else’s perception of what a cookie cutter version of a happy life should be? As a woman who has recently strayed from being single and fully independent, I had become very aware that my aspirations to be married and have children had long surpassed that deadline I gave myself. After the age of 20, wedding after wedding ceremony had me convinced that I would always be the brides maid and never the bride. That, I was okay with. Once I hit 24 and was diagnosed with cervical cancer, more of life had to be reconsidered and strongly evaluated. The doctors always said that there was no reason I could not have children after the procedures, and yet, I continued to have unexplainable medical problems that too many specialists refused to acknowledge and chose to not pay attention to me enough to help fix. As far as they were concerned, I was making things up.
Half of a decade would pass before I would find a doctor that once again cared enough to pay attention to my problem and acknowledge that it was real. In the meantime, I was growing older and everyone continued to ask me, “Are you married? Do you have any kids?” Stranger, or not, it was always the same questions. As a woman close to 30, I was socially expected to have already started that cookie cutter family I dreamt of. I had come to terms with that reality and was very open about my situation. My new-found husband was very aware of the choice he made in marrying me, with the potential of the relationship leaving us with or without kids someday. But finding more and more of my fellow matrons discovering that they could not or would not have offspring showed me that the continued demand to do so went far beyond myself.
Over the short four years that I have observed the people around me grow in relationships and as individuals, society has revealed itself as a culture that continues to demean women who lack the ability to reproduce, or simply choose not to. The act is considered unnatural and against human nature.
Human history shows the demand to spread our seed and thrive as a species, despite the dilemma of over-population and famine. Is it truly a demand any longer, as human nature, to want to reproduce as an outcome of intercourse with another human being, or has it become a social demand by the environment in which we have developed culturally? Through history, if a woman could not create offspring, she was left with nothing and was not considered desirable enough to obtain a spouse due to the lack of inability to carry on the blood line. Since Woman’s Suffrage, women have gained the ability to own property and attempt to thrive as men do, despite the fact that they are still drastically unequally treated in the work place in many aspects of various fields, and continued to get paid less than a male counterpart. A career driven woman is no longer bound by the limitations of having to be a parent if that is truly not what their instincts desire. And on the opposite end of that spectrum, the woman that wishes to raise her family and be a part of her children’s lives are often bound by financial limitations and forced to allow strangers to influence their children, or their children influence themselves, because they are forced to leave the household in order to contribute in maintaining a living for their offspring.
Stereotypically, for men, it is a choice to reproduce. Should it be claimed an accident or not, sperm isn’t just stolen and inseminated on its own. Should a man not reproduce, it is because they rationally made that decision or chose a woman who in one way or another made that decision for them by either already having children at some point in their lifetime, refusing, or being incapable of reproducing and leaving their romance strictly as a couples endeavor that will not inherit offspring without an election to adopt somewhere in the future, etc. Of course, there could be a number of reasons, but whatever those individual reasons may be, infertility is out of the question in terms of social acceptance of a man, until the man chooses it to be a concern.
While men are never questioned; and it very rarely becomes a topic of conversation within their social circles and through their encounters with society, women are very often looked at with grief and confusion when they admit to being over a certain age group and childless. That face of, “What is wrong with you?” Or simply, “Why?” lingers on that expressive canvas that tells all when a person just doesn’t quite know what to say.
Women often have to confront their peers, tell all, face the ridicule, or just walk away fully aware of their judgement as they become the topic of controversy acting against a social norm.
Become an adult
Help raise grand kids
Even straying away from the social construct of being married has become more accepted than the idea of not conceiving. Having a child out of wedlock as an adult has a far less taste of disdain.
As women, we are not doing our part in society if we do not reproduce: we are not contributing to the socioeconomic growth of our communities; the population will have to compensate for the lack of consumers/tax payers/laborers that keep this country operating (and yet there are so many people jobless and incapable of supporting themselves without some kind of assistance); there will be no one to carry on the family name, “Dun Dun Dun.”
What about starvation?
What about lack of water sources?
What about the world full of illegitimate or unfortunate children that already do need homes who are locked into foster systems or living on the streets?
What about the land that is over populated and destroyed?
What about the overgrowth of pavement over farm land and waterways?
Is it so much more important as a human being, to mentally, physically and spiritually become satisfied and/or potentially healed by creating a life? Especially without the security of having one that is sustainable economically. Our environment crumbles beneath us, and all around. Is it more selfish to conceive the child for your happiness, or to save the child from what environmentally leads to a potentially impending horrific doom (that others may aspire their offspring to be the salvation of)? To knowingly place such a burden on their young, even before they have developed into an organic state.
Why do those that make the ultimate sacrifice to not experience life with the amazing wonder that comes with child rearing have to be looked at as defective and afflicted? I have learned that acceptance of this fact is the greatest selfless act in the world. Especially for an individual, man or woman, or otherwise, who has ever, even once in their life, wanted a child. Many people that I have encountered that make the conscious choice to not have children are very aware of what they’re giving up. Should they choose to experience such a life endeavor, they do aspire to adopt and contribute to society by helping to hopefully better someone’s life that already wanders this Earth. No rest on hopes, dream, aspirations, or an endeavor for money as someone else’s burden. The acceptance in the reality that life truly is your own.
No cookie cutter “champagne dreams and caviar wishes,” as Robin Leach would always introduce ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ for all the world to admire and be in awe of. Life truly is what happens while we are busy making other plans, as Lennon made the phrase so popularly known.