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.