That last story about being child-free and happy has gone somewhat viral. I’m honestly a little surprised. I knew it’s a relatable topic, but because I also feel it is such a hush-hush one, and because I’ve always received somewhat shocking responses from even the most liberal minds, I didn’t think there would be too much agreement all round.
But I was wrong this time. Apart from the insane number of shares and views, I’m overwhelmed by the number of personal responses I’ve received from people who googled me to find my blog and email address to write in to me. I’ve received an inordinate number of messages, and have actually fallen back on responding to each of them because it was the weekend and that means less laptop time. I’ve received messages of relief, expressing solidarity. I’ve even received IMs on instagram (!!), and an email from someone in Austin pointing me this incredible story that they thought might be of interest for me to explore. There was this crazy reddit thread that downright gobsmacked me, as much as it reassured me when I saw the balanced, nuanced arguments presented in there.
Clearly this is a common, increasingly popular phenomenon and a choice that leaves most people feeling lonely. But only until you find someone likeminded speaking out about it, and then you have a safe haven to express your views. What I realised is making a choice that is unpopular comes with this absence of the confidence, and a space to voice this, or similar, opinion.
I know I’ve felt threatened, judged, and have been downright shut down when I have talked about this in public before. Forget trying to get family and people from older generations to empathise or understand, I’ve had women (feminists too) tell me how they simply couldn’t understand why as someone who clearly loves children and would seemingly be a good mother, I did not want any of my own.
The apparent logic in that statement still completely eludes me.
This is rthe eason I’ve stayed away from writinf about this choice before, despite how close to my heart it is. It’s a lonely choice, lonelier still when you try to articulate it. But maybe it was about a ripening of thought, the passage of time that allows a thought process to marinade and reach fruition. Something about writing this essay felt like I was eking out the specific from the generic.
And in that sense, writing this essay as been cathartic. I felt it in my bones even as I was working on it. And getting the final edits done on the piece was like tasting a kind of satisfaction I haven’t tasted in a long time before. It gave me a sleepless night of anticipation to see the live version. And that almost never happens.
About the responses, I have a few observations I want to record:
1) the stereotypes, the breeder-pushers, the resistance to accept a non-conformist choice, the immediate need to judge, slap a label and put it into a neat little box in order to understand something slightly deviating from the norm is a REAL, and GLOBAL pattern
2) 9 out of 10 trolls were men (surprise! surprise!) with regressive, inarticulate, misogynistic statements (I can’t even call them arguments)
3) I momentarily contemplated engaging with the comments and views, but the piece went so viral so quickly, I instantly decided against it to avoid being glued to my computer for three days straight. In my absence, most of the people who rushed in to defend the piece and the stance, and who responded to trolls with quite a bit of patience I have to add, were young women. There were men too, but the women outnumbered them
4) in my personal circles on fb and twitter, most everyone who shared the piece with vociferous kudos were people who are undecided about children themselves, are leaning towards not having them, or are already clear about not having children
5) only a handful of mothers I know have shared the piece with vehement support
6) only ONE woman, a mother, admitted in a comment on fb, something that I have so far brushed aside as not really possible, but after discussions with a few honest mothers I know, am beginning to see the truth in the inherent jealousy that makes some part of the animus against the child-free. With a series of examples, she showed how even for the most capable mothers who have all the support to have it all and never really sacrifice too much despite the demands on their time, there is a note of bitterness when they engage with child-free people. This is not to say they regret becoming parents or do not love their children. She then bared her soul and admitted that she cannot imagine her life without her daughter, but said she’d be lying if she didn’t talk about the moments when the desire to escape motherhood hits hard.
I shared a screenshot of this comment with a close friend, who is also a mother to two cherubic kids I adore, and we agreed that this woman needed to receive medal for her honesty.
In over glorifying of motherhood to the point of fetishising it, we’ve taken the cultural thrust to push parenthood on young people as some ultimate state that completes your life, to the next level. And in doing so we run the risk of sometimes painting an untrue picture. Or a picture that feels like it is too good to be true. I am constantly feeling opposing views on the matter because on social media, I am up to my gills on the wonders of motherhood, but in reality I have enough friends who share their challenges and the brutal truth about how hard it can be. About how kids can just be bloody jerks and pains in the ass, and how motherhood just isn’t for everybody. I’ve even had a friend tell me very bluntly that if she hadn’t let her uterus and hormones call the shots in her late 20s, she’d be happy to give motherhood a miss.
So it was very refreshing to engage with so many people, parents and child-free people alike, who came out to voice their opinions, and honestly share the other, less-talked-about parts of motherhood. I’ve had some wonderfully stimulating conversations that stemmed from my essay, with friends over the last three days and who knows, maybe it will be fodder for future pieces.
Those of you who read the essay, shared it, liked it, talked about it, left a comment, wrote to me — thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’ve helped me bring clarity to and solidify a part of my identity that has taken a long time to come into its own and meld into my being. This experience has helped me own up to my decision, and to feel liberated by it.