The Vagenda

The Discourse Surrounding Female Procreation is a Big Bowl of Fuck

Recently The Guardian ran an article titled “Should we care that smart women aren’t having kids?”. According to the author, Sadhbe Walshe, some man in a white coat reckons maternal urges drop by 25 per cent with every 15 IQ points. Paradoxically, instead of concluding that smarter women are perhaps making smarter choices for themselves (re: partners, careers, children) he surmises it means smarter women are actually dumber because they don’t align with basic biology: procreation.
So let’s add that to the pile, shall we? To the seemingly unending parade of Men of Science who harp on about women choosing to have children later in life being selfish, deluded bitches who will regret the 20 thousand quid they’ll have to spring from their lovely fat savings account to have five rounds of IVF before having a baby. Alone. And then realising they can’t cope and it was all a terrible idea and they can’t return said child like a Hermes handbag.
And the interminable Daily Mail stories featuring bitter first-person pieces by post-menopausal women lamenting the fact they never bred and frequently have the almost irrepressible impulse to steal a baby from a pram in Boots when its post-pregnancy mother is staring vacantly at the aisle, wondering how it came to this?
Let’s not forget the “young mother” phenomenon. The “she had two children before she was 21 and went on to get a degree and everything, ooh, look, looky here!” rags-to-riches slow clap story. The judgement on women who have children too early or too late. Who have too many or none. Who regret having them or not having them. Single mothers. Middle-class ladies with nannies; women on benefits with a brood of eight. Miracle quadruplets, selective abortions, life-saving ‘designer’ siblings, the crushing despair of infertility. The judgement on women’s fertility, reproductive choices and bodies never ends.
And god forbid you even start me on getting back that ‘post-baby body’.
The discourse around procreating when it comes to women is, quite frankly, a big bowl of fuck.
Asking a woman you barely know if they intend to have children is almost as offensive as a stranger stroking your pregnant belly in the supermarket: everyone thinks they are entitled to know the intimate details of your reproductive decisions and processes as they would assess a brood mare. That includes men and women.
It’s a no-win situation. No matter which way you turn or who you speak to, everyone has an opinion about your body, you’re ability to breed and the decisions you make.
No one talks about the chaps in this scenario. The Science People don’t mention that since we are no longer treated like chattel and farmed off to husbands and can own property and have careers and such, women are able to decide that certain relationships are not right for them and they have no desire to breed within a destructive relationship. They don’t talk about men leaving it later to have kids, or not finding the partner they feel comfortable having children with. It’s as if women have the sole agency on procreation. Just as WE are solely responsible for getting ourselves up the duff, we are solely responsible for making any and all decisions about bringing a child into the world and raising it. They don’t talk about the 21st century and choice. But while they bang on about selfish old career women, society is almost as unkind to the women these scientists believe are having kids at the “right” age. 
We live in a paradoxical time. People are people. A single woman of 17 can be a marvellous parent to her children. A woman in her late 20s with a husband and a nice house and a job can fail immeasurably. 
Our judgements (as women) are born of our own desires, our own ideals and our own personal situations. We have little right to judge another woman’s decision unless there is neglect or abuse involved.
The ‘experts’ who use the media to lecture women about their reproductivity can get to fuck. I know women who desperately wanted children, but spent many years in terrible relationships with horrific in-laws who could not bring themselves to bring a child into that environment and, when they left, it was too late. I know some who desperately do not want them but their partner does and so they face an agreement of divorce within three years if the woman doesn’t come round. Another, who wanted children more than anything. Her partner did not. They agreed that in their later years they would foster children. Another, who is in her early 30s and is considering dropping her birth control to have the kid she so desperately wants but her partner is unsure about.
Contra to that, a great many of my friends have had children recently or are pregnant. I am 35, recently single and childless. Yes, I’ve got a goddam cat. However there’s no real category for me – I’ve alternately cried watching One Born Every Minute and then supressed the urge to yack. Over the years I have swung between never wanting children and desiring them terribly. Now I’ve accepted, after a few long-term failed relationships with partners I could never have seriously contemplated children with, that this might never happen.
While I’m resolute never to be that person who weeps at friends’ kids’ birthdays, neither am I that interested in the children themselves. I’ve never been a person interested in babies or children. In fact, much of the time they give me the creeps.
But justifying having children as “you’ll feel different when it’s your own” or The Worst “you’ll never know what true love is until you have a child” makes me want to stab someone. You can’t devalue someone for not having given birth. No one remembers Sylvia Plath for her kids (she fucking messed them up with her repeated attempts to gas herself) they remember her for her poetry and writing. Having children or not having children should not ultimately define you as a person. It changes you, but it is not finally you.
I know I can have a fulfilling and lovely life without children. Even if I become the crazy old aunt my friends invite for Christmas because they’ll be worried I’ll be all alone with no heating and a microwave dinner for one, but I can’t worry about that. I often imagine the kind of love and wisdom I’d impart to a child of mine. How they’d grow and become some wonderful person and I’d be partially responsible for that. And then I’ll re-read We Need To Talk About Kevin and freak the hell out. And then I accept how my life will be with children (of my own) or without them. I know I’ll have a life with children and friends in it. One with love, hopefully. I’m on the fence and ready to accept and embrace whichever happens, who I might meet and what we might decide together. Or alone. Life’s like that. Then again, I might not be able to have kids (and I’ve had an abortion! OMFG! Call the procreation police!)
But just stop the fucking judgement already, for all of our sakes. Let women have a baby or not have a baby. You don’t own her womb or biological clock or even the sperm that might make the grade. We’ve got enough going on with Reclaiming the Night, the Gender Pay Gap and those horrific sanitary towel/feminine hygiene products adverts thanks very much. Leave our uteruses alone. Whether we have real babies or cat babies it is about us and our partners (and let’s not forget gay adoptive men here). Like gay marriage, everyone else’s life decisions are not your problem. And if you got out of your laboratory and out of your stupid research facility you’d speak to actual women and stop blaming them for what you think is some kind of reproductive heresy. Ta.
- LMc

14 thoughts on “The Discourse Surrounding Female Procreation is a Big Bowl of Fuck

  1. Thank you for this. I am 30, and for the first time in my life, in a relationship with someone fantastic. I was never a baby person, but suddenly, I would really, really like us to have one (it will be gingerish, just like us, and prone to shrivelling to a crisp in the sun, but that’s ok. We can get suncream.).

    But it’s going to be a few years until we can because I don’t want to have a child until we own a house – I don’t want to have the concern of a landlord deciding to sell from under us, as has recently happened to friends of ours. That’s before we even consider the effect it will have on my job (ie it will nuke it – the bloke is a freelancer in addition to being a bloke, so he’ll be ok). It sucks, a bit. And endless articles about declining fertility and whatever do not help with my occasional, panicky ‘OMG I’ve left it too late, it’s not going to happen, OMG OMG OMG’ moments, which I am trying so hard to quell, but which keep coming back every so often.

    So – thank you. And yes, Men of Science, will you just leave us the fuck alone, please?

  2. This is absolutely what I needed to read right now. I’m a disabled woman in my 30s who’s had two miscarriages this year and is fucking confused enough, before I even start engaging with the opinions and judgements of medical ‘experts’ and the general public!
    Thank you!

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you! This has been long awaited and well needed. I am in the “I don’t want a baby” camp and have had all the usual nonsense and questions, but had not really thought about it from the perspective of women who do want/have chosen to have children. Thank you for this piece, I have shared it all over social media :D

  4. Brilliant. Thank you.

    I’m 36, childless and with you all the way. I’d like children but am now so grateful they didn’t arrive ‘when they should have’ in my early thirties when I was in an unhealthy relationship and they would have ended up with a monster for a father. I’m a primary school teacher and an Auntie so children play a big part in my life and at the moment I’m happy with that and cherishing my freedom!

  5. Hey guys, thank you all so much for your response to my article. It was a bit ranty but I’m so glad it that it resonated with women of all walks of procreation (or not). That was the intent. Best of luck to all of you, whatever you choose or whatever happens.
    (Lindsay Mc)

  6. Thanks for this great article.

    As you pointed out there are so many judgements about why women don’t have children, often falling into two camps, that women are either ‘maternal’ or not – so black and white, when life is full of nuances. Personally, my situation is one of those complicated ones that cannot be defined with a snap judgement. I would have loved to have children in the right circumstances, i.e. if I was in a loving, stable relationship with steady financial circumstances. Unfortunately, this did not happen for me in the required timeframe, despite aiming for this.

    However, there were quite a few friends and acquaintances who told me just to get on with it regardless, and that I would regret it if I didn’t in later life. The assumption always was that a woman obviously isn’t maternal unless she is prepared to do absolutely anything to have a child, including sleeping with strangers and putting herself at emotional and physical risk.

    One ‘friend’ took it upon herself to give me unsolicited advice about procreating and ended up bellowing at me in the street that there were ‘grandmothers younger than me’ and that I should just sleep with any guy ‘I had half an eye for’. This was at the age of 38, when I had just seperated from my husband after quite an unhappy relationship.

    After this point I went through quite a long period of feeling devasted about my circumstances and wondering whether I should just get on with it and have a child at any cost. However, a few years down the line I am so happy that I was sensible and didn’t just get swayed by my emotions, where I could have ended up bring up a child in an unhappy and destructive environment for my own selfish reasons.

    I can now appreciate the good things about being child-free and still love my friends’ and relatives’ children. There is enough space on our planet for all types of people – we don’t have to fit into one box.

  7. Yes, common sense at last. Motherhood doesn’t define a woman any more than fatherhood defines a man (unless either choose to define themselves that way.

  8. The gist of this article is something I completely agree with, but there’s a part of it that comes across as vaguely anti-intellectual. It’s scientific fact that becoming a parent alters the way you think; the brains of both mother and father undergo actual chemical changes at the hormone level, resulting in often quite dramatic revolutions in thought process and the like. It’s true that the love of a parent for a child is separate to any kind of love a non-parent is capable of (and no, the child doesn’t have to be your biological offspring for this change to occur). The “you’ll feel different when it’s your own” is a genuine phenomenon that occurs as a result of your ‘empathy dial’ being jacked-up by the various biological changes in your body. I don’t understand why the author is irritated by this.

  9. This statistics programme on iPlayer might help with your occasional panics: More Or Less

    I’m a year behind you in a similar situation, and enjoy knowing there’s no real evidence base for all those millions of articles.