I was spending a very busy morning nursing myself through a cold complicated by an infected tongue ulcer, tonsillitis, and strep throat — please send hankies and recordings of the world's tiniest violins — and I was watching episodes of the vintage Canadian television show The Beachcombers (don't ask) and hoping that a will to live resided at the bottom of my next cup of coffee, when I decided to entertain myself by starting a list of child-free people over 30 on Twitter, which is now closing in on 100 Twitter users.
To give you a brief history of my own child-free status, it is this: I knew from the moment my childhood friends started daydreaming about being mothers that it wasn't for me, and I only questioned that feeling seriously twice -- once when I was first married to my partner and then again when I had a hysterectomy due to cervical cancer and chose not to pursue my fertility before treatment.
Creating my kid-free list seemed innocent enough to me at the time. I tend to swim in a sea that seems primarily comprised of mommybloggers and daddybloggers, and I was suddenly possessed of the urge to find and collect those out there who fit my particular demographic: people over 30 who do not have children. I intended nothing political by or pre-supposing about it. I simply had the very human desire to see myself reflected out in the world.
The kid-free Twitter list had only existed for about half an hour, though, before I started losing followers and friends on Twitter and Facebook. I received a direct message on Twitter telling me that not everyone wanted to celebrate infertility like I did. An e-mail said that the list was cold-hearted. On Facebook, I was asked what I was trying to accomplish with it. In less than an hour, it was clear to me that a list I had originally intended only to highlight a broad demographic which describes nearly 20% of the population was being misinterpreted as a celebratory slap on the back, a thumbed nose at those who would bring more pesky children into the world, an insensitive celebration of infertility.
As with any subject that has anything to do with children, though, my list ended up unearthing a lot of thoughts and feelings about being child-free. There are as many ways for people to come to their child-free status as there are to come to parenthood, and although some of us make a conscious decision to remain child-free, others of us arrive at it after struggling to become parents. I do feel sympathy for those who feel the grief of infertility and for those who feel they have to defend their choice to have children, but the kid-free list on Twitter describes no political stance, no moral value, and no celebration. It simply describes a broad demographic, my large and diverse tribe.
In hindsight, though, I am not surprised that the list lost me followers and raised ire. There are many unwarranted assumptions and prejudices about the decision to remain child-free, ones which are at once personally insulting, demeaning, and downright offensive to my feminist principles, and they are commonplace.
Here is a short list of some of things people have actually said to me with regard to my child-free status:
- Why don't you like children?
- Oh, I'm so sorry for you. This was said while choking back tears of deep sympathy for my infertility.
- It must be nice to still get to live like you're twenty.
- You can always adopt.
- When I've spent time with women who don't have children, it feels like there is just something missing. They are incomplete.
- Are you worried that your husband might find someone else who can have children?
- Do you feel like you've taken that away from your husband?
- Aren't you afraid of being lonely when you're old?
- And then there is the ever-present assumption that I look down on other people's decisions to have children and that I am not interested in hearing about that aspect of their lives.
Read that list again. Let it all sink in. And now say it with me: WOW.
All of these things have been said to me, and most of them more than once. I am not exaggerating. The assumptions about my child-free status are that I either don't like children or I grieve the lack of them, I am immature, I must still want them even if I say I don't, I am not a complete woman, my husband will love me less and I've robbed him of his dreams, we are going to grow old alone, and I am prejudiced against your children and your life decisions. Taken all together, I am a terrible, no good, very bad person, a child-hater who openly dishonours her husband. I am selfish and lacking in maternal warmth.
These kinds of assumptions are common, and they make me more than a little angry. They minimize who we are in this world and the roles that we play, and they define us by what we are perceived to lack. This is why I felt moved to find my tribe on Twitter. An individual's basic worth does not reside in whether they procreate. Parenthood can be a wonderful choice, and I congratulate those of you who choose it and do it well, but those of us who are not parents are not necessarily deficient in maturity, human depth, love, or generally lacking in any way as though we are broken wholes forever missing pieces.
The kid-free Twitter list is simply here to recognize the nearly 20% of us who may not feel as seen as those in the large parenting niche online in which we often socialize. We can sometimes feel a little ignored, and little less well-loved, a little passed over, and it feels kind of nice to be able to put up a hand and say "I'm here" in a group of other people whose lives look a little more like our own.
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