The time has come to talk about division. It’s one of those grown-up topics like bad art. Hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. It is what it is. The subject comes up in discussions of gender, race, religion, color, nationality and more. This time, it’s reproductive realities.
At first, I thought this post would go a little deeper into a comment-and-response experience I had after a recent NotMom Blogger Profile. A reader’s comment included this:
“I guess I’m saddened by what seems like another division in humanity…just be [you], not a “NotMom” Blogger…you are who you are,”
Her comments went on to lobby against a childfree by-choice life, but I digress. I’ve heard a sentiment like this once before. Why would you, how can you, carve yourselves out of the world? We’re all one, but if you’re anti- kumbaya, you must be clinically depressed or unnecessarily revolutionary.
The NotMom Blogger in question responded to the commenter directly, as did I. Looking back, I think my response – my message – was not as clear as it could have been, so here’s the highlight:
“The division already exists with no input from us, the women without children.”
The idea that this blog and others like it create walls where none ever stood offer comparison to a schoolyard kid in a rage. One kid pissed at a teacher revs up the other kids. Holler loud enough about the injustices of elementary fare and somebody eventually throws a stone through a window although very few of the other kids had a problem with the school or anybody in it.
That’s not what’s happening here.
All of our readers, on both sides of the ‘why don’t you have kids’ equation, are very, very aware that they are among a minority of their sisters around the world. Most of them have known that, and felt it, for many years. Organizations, programs and service aimed at Everywoman too often use “Mom” as their primary descriptor without a thought. Uneven work schedules between same-salary employees recur because one of them doesn’t have a “family” waiting somewhere. And the media? Fuhgeggedaboutit.
That’s all that was in my head for this post until the next day, when my Twitter and Facebook post about a woman who wrote to an advice columnist about her childless brother got several NotMoms fired up. According to the letter, a rich, childless man announced to his 3 (also rich) siblings and parents that after participating for several years, he and his wife were opting out of the only-kids-get-gifts part of Christmas with the family.
Adding in her brother’s generosity to his church’s giving circle and his wife’s godchild, the man’s sister made several negative assumptions about why he’s changing things. As of the writing of the letter, she’d made no attempt to talk to her brother one-to-one.
Soon after the message hit my Twittersphere and news feed, my social media got much more social. The story touched a jingle bell nerve, perhaps particularly with by-chance NotMoms, though I heard from all sides:
“it’s entitled bullshit like this that made me stop all communication with my entitled family.”
“Nothing like having your siblings get mad that your ‘gifts’ are not enough.”
“I feel [angry about] my siblings getting upset that I don’t have enough pictures of my nieces/nephew up in my home.”
Because I know for a fact that the author of that 3rd quote is coming to grips with infertility and all that it means, reading her tweet made me gasp out loud. Some women who wanted kids can handle niece/nephew stuff on the frig and every surface. Some women can’t. Each little framed face mocks the never-gonna-be face of their child. Watching somebody else’s kids bouncy with Christmas morning excitement can kill. Better to volunteer in the kitchen and avoid a stray public tear.
Writer 3 followed up that her sibs “can’t see how something like this can affect others.” So I wonder: Can websites like this one help to improve the situation? From where I sit, it sure couldn’t hurt.
Offensive comments aren’t always intentionally hurtful, of course. Who doesn’t know that? Mistakes and misunderstandings happen. But, a NotMom can hit DefCon 1 – “stop all communication” as Writer 1 says, when friends or family are told that kid-centric stuff bums you out and they just keep pushing your buttons on behalf of Their Child. It’s on the edge of Mean Girl.
What I know for sure is that stories like these have happened forever. Across the decades, who did wounded, offended or angry NotMoms talk to about their experiences? Shaming, teasing, whispers and other rudenesses about women without children have been broadly accepted for years. Childless women took it in, with little protest.
Now, the Internet is doing what geography can’t. It’s linking women who’ve yearned to find other women walking the same path. That’s all. It’s the same for young moms, mocha moms, moms of twins and so on, who bond, and flock, and enjoy being with others who understand what their lives are like. It’s not unnatural when we do it. It’s just a tad unheard of.
Women without children – NotMoms – are one more minority group finding their voice. We were more quiet perhaps, but we were here all the time. We know that we are much more than our uterine output, yet that’s where the culture scrunches eyebrows and spotlights our otherness. We can shake that up, and we are. Ongoing cultural change is more than an African American President and legalized marijuana and same-sex marriage.
The final input for this post came from a young woman I met this week from Kenya. She leads a micro-lending entrepreneur program for women there. She said that African women who fail to bear children are “stigmatized”, which I knew. My surprise came from her follow up: “The women are stigmatized as those with AIDS and HIV.”
Now, I haven’t read every word about AIDS in Africa, but I’ve read enough to know that that’s some capital S shade going on. And so, I smiled but very seriously said, “Surely not really as strong a stigma as the AIDS patients experience?”
“Not that bad,” she admitted. “But, it is very bad. You are doing a good thing to help these women find each other, wherever they live.”