RETURNING TO THE BUN-LESS OVEN DISCUSSION
I wrote a post a while ago about choosing not to have kids, and it was a post I was incredibly nervous to publish…but publish I did, and the response I got was affirming to say the least. (Review the post, I strongly recommend it. I talked about the shame and implied ‘incompleteness’ for women who choose not to reproduce.)
We had replies, both public, anonymous, and confidential, from all sorts of women. It was a moving experience: I heard from women who spoke of concealed pregnancy terminations out of fear that their peers would condemn their decisions. I heard from women who confessed they hadn’t fought for custody of their children because they knew their heart wasn’t in it…and the silence they’ve had to maintain with even their closest loved ones, none of which would understand their choices. I heard from other always-empty-nesters who were confident in their decision, and I heard from new moms who were struggling as they came to realize this may not have been what they wanted, after all...yet were now stuck without a trustworthy confidante who would hear such blasphemy.
SOLIDARITY AMONGST THE SILENT
It was humbling to hear from so many women who knew the shame, loss, and judgement that can accompany the decision not to have children (or to give up guardianship). It was heartbreaking to hear these stories, but I was glad we’d published the post because clearly, someone needed to say what I’d said: that it can be a brutal journey full of shame and disapproval to be childless by choice.
It made me think of a friend of ours, who is struggling right now with raising her infant. I worry about her, as we hear from her occasionally, usually ranting pretty candidly about how miserable motherhood is. I think about how she tends to vent in anonymous spaces like Twitter, and how the veil of usernames means that this is one of the few ‘safe’ spaces where she can admit to being unhappy. I picture her turning for support to some of the baby-crazy people I’ve met and receiving a speech along the lines of, “Motherhood is beautiful, and all the hard work should feel like a blessing…you’re so blessed to even be able to have kids. You should feel grateful, not miserable.” I think about this girl and how that would increase her sense of isolation, her fears, her self-condemnation, and her depression.
MOMMY SHAME ATTACKS MOMS AND NON-MOMS
There seems to be this sacred line we cannot cross in talking about childrearing. Yet it seems our culture has lost the ability to question (aka ‘observe, consider, challenge’) motherhood, baby making, and baby rearing. This worries me. Every topic in the history of the world that has become taboo has become a topic that isolates people, shuts down learning, and breeds dogmatic structures that cannot be shifted. It’s a ‘you’re with us, or against us’ approach that worries me. It makes people divide up into camps: typically one camp that is pro-message, and one camp is anti-message—but the less popular camp (in this case, the non-babymakers) never feels safe to share their side of things, and this results in friction between the groups. The camp that gets shame on their side, typically, will win every debate.
THE BATTLE OF THE BABY CAMPS
What happens next is that the camps begin to become more militant. I can tell you, with the ongoing pressure to make a baby, my heels are dug in pretty deep about not having one. On the other side of things in the pro-baby camp, I hear from more and more women who are feeling like they don’t ‘measure up’ to the other women in their baby-making camp: a friend of mine is writing a paper right now on the shame women feel who choose not to/cannot breastfeed. Recently, the World Health Organization changed their pro-breast marketing campaign from ‘Breast is Best’ type wording, to ‘Formula is evil’ type wording--wow, so much judgement. Even within the babymaking camp, there is criticism weighing down on women about how to parent, when to parent, even how to feed their baby. This dogma isn’t new, though it is strengthening: my own mom struggled with breastfeeding shame, and actually attempted to nurse my brother to the point of self-injury before accepting that her milk production complications weren’t going to allow her to do this. My cousin nursed her child at the demands of her doctors, despite a clear lactose intolerance in her kid, because the doctors insisted it was best. The pressure to conform to an idea of motherhood is daunting and even dangerous.
I can’t speak to any of this out of personal experience. I can only share with you what has been shared with me, someone who seems to be seen as neutral territory on the topic. I sometimes find myself wondering why women are willing to share their baby frustrations with me and not with others, but the answer is clear: they see people freak out on others, and they’re afraid to be freaked out on. Everything about motherhood seems to be a sore spot, and within the Pampers-Fisher-Price-Gerber-Breastfeeding motherhood propaganda, there’s little room for disagreement, frustration, or second thoughts.
MOMMY SHAME IS EVERYONE'S CONCERN
Shaming non-mothers, or reluctant mothers, or alternative-option mothers is not productive. The next time you witness someone getting pounced on for challenging the status quo for the motherhood dogma we live with culturally, consider stepping in. Remember our friend, the mom who shouts her motherhood despair into the anonymous abyss of Twitter, and remember that for every one person we shame directly, there’s probably another ten that we shame by proxy.
TELL ME MORE
In closing, let me invite you: I want to hear from you. I want to hear from parents who found a safe space to be different. I want to keep hearing from the moms and non-moms out there who have felt represented in my baby blog posts. Yes, I even want to hear from those out there who hate what I’ve written, as long as you can stick to the facts and not throw personal slurs around. On a blog called the NEST, whether I personally reproduce or not, discussion of childrearing is only natural. Email me; I’m all ears.
Jordan's email is projectpriceless (at) gmail.com