When you are my age, everyone starts caring about your uterus. Not in a fun way, where they send it text messages or memes featuring shirtless Jeff Goldblum circa Jurassic Park, but in a very critical, “what the fuck is wrong with your downstairs human factory and, by extension, you” kind of way.
Because if you are a 35-year-old woman without children, they assume that something is, in fact, wrong.
And maybe something is wrong. Maybe you aren’t talking about it because you can’t have biological children. Maybe you are secretly undergoing IVF and it doesn’t seem to be working and the discussion is too painful. Maybe you are in the process of navigating the sea of bureaucracy that is adoption and you don’t want to discuss it. Maybe you aren’t having them for a host of reasons big and small. Or maybe you just don’t want them.
Maybe that’s a big deal. Maybe it isn’t.
I haven’t written about this on the blog – the issue of what it’s like to be 35 and childless – because I don’t find there to be all that much to discuss. It’s a fact about who we are. George Harrison would always get asked what it was like to a Beatle. His response was, “I don’t know. What’s it like not being one?”
I always loved that, because it suggested that every experience is valuable. But it seems like all I read about is the unresolvable conflict between parents and their childless friends. It’s as though at some point, we all stopped being people with feelings, and just started being pawns in some weird culture war.
If you do any analysis of search patterns around this matter, you’ll find they tell an ugly history.
“childless friends don’t get it”
“why can’t childless people understand”
“when do children suck the life out of you”
“why do our friends who had a baby now suck”
I might be embellishing some of those. The point is, I feel like we’re constantly getting bombarded with messages that suggest there is an inherent rift between people who have children and people who don’t, and you are automatically on one side of that debate or the other.
Personally, I don’t think that’s true. I’m not going to stand up and be an advocate for not having children, nor am I going to tell you to have them. I love children. I think they are wonderful and often sticky and an entire lifetime of work and you will NEVER SLEEP PAST 8AM EVER AGAIN. I like spending time with kids because they usually they know all the good gossip and where the grown-ups hid the candy and how to work the TV. But when 7pm rolls around they turn in the Tasmanian Devil and I have no idea what the fuck that is about. I find them exhausting and agonizing and annoying and heart-breaking and kind and brutal and beautiful.
I think they make life fantastic and endlessly complicated. I wouldn’t even begin to tell you what you should do when it comes to having children because I cannot imagine a more personal thing than that. We’d never tell someone how to chew their food, or how to poop, or how to comb their hair, but for some reason, we feel it’s okay to weigh in on whether or not they should make themselves responsible for another sentient human being. And then, if they chose to have that sentient human being, we somehow feel that we have the right to weigh on how they should raise them EVEN IF WE ARE WHOLLY UNQUALIFIED TO DO SO.
The only thing that I truly feel strongly about is that if you really want kids, and for some reason can’t have them, then that fucking sucks. And I am so, so sorry. I wish I could hug you and then we could have a good cry and eat ice cream out of the container and watch old episodes of Star Trek until you feel better (wait, do other people watch Star Trek when they’re sad? Yes, they must).
And that when my friends do have children and still manage to hang out once every six months or so, or return an email, or are able to get the grocery shopping done and maybe take a shower over the course of several days, I’m damn impressed, because I can barely do any of that and I don’t have a tiny demanding roommate who wakes up screaming in my face several times over the course of a night.
But there is a small percentage of people on either side of the debate who are basically being dickbags about this whole thing, and I feel like they’re ruining things for the rest of us. I would like to address those folks now.
TO THE SMALL PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE WITH CHILDREN WHO THINK THAT EVERYONE – ME INCLUDED – ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NEEDS TO HAVE THEM:
Firstly, my uterus would like to note that she appreciates all of your concern. She’s doing just dandy, except for when she decides to slough her inner lining monthly (which tends to coincide with any number of important events in my life) in what can best be described as an outtake from a particularly gory episode of Dexter.
And she would like to humbly request that you stop directing certain comments to us. I’m sure that none of these were meant maliciously (she is undecided on the matter), but they are not making us feel great about ourselves. Here is a brief sample:
“You’ll never understand love until you have kids.” Holy shit. This is poetically condescending. It’s also profoundly hurtful to tell someone that the depths of your emotions are far deeper than anything they’ve ever felt. Is every childless person just a sociopath, then? OH, AND ALSO, IT’S LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO DETERMINE IF YOU HAVE A GREATER CAPACITY FOR LOVE THAN I DO. I love my husband, I love my nephews and nieces, and I would fucking open my own veins for any one them if I thought it would make their lives better. I even love you, you belittling asshole, despite the fact that you say shit like this to me. So don’t tell me I don’t understand love, because the fact that you still have your head attached to your neck says otherwise.
“You don’t know what real stress is.” Yeah, you’re right. My paralyzing anxiety and history of depression are probably just me being self-centered. Thanks!
“You have got to have kids.” I’m always amused when people say this, as though it’s a novel idea and not something that society has been hurtling at me since those tender years before I even menstruated. This notion circles in my head on a daily basis. But you know what? I don’t, under any circumstances, have to do anything. It’s 4pm and I HAVEN’T YET SHOWERED TODAY.
“Well, some of us have children.” Someone said this as a means of shooting down my opinion. That person is an asshole.
“You and Rand would make great parents.” Thank you. Seriously. This is a sweet and kind thing to say. There are many other things I think I would be good at (a brief list: professional cake eater; kitten masseuse; mistress to Daveed Diggs), but likewise, these are skills that will go unrealized.
“You might not want them now, but just you wait!” Thanks for your insight on huge life decisions. You’re right. At the age of 35, I probably just don’t know myself well enough.
“How could you do that to your husband?” or “You just haven’t met the right guy.” The number of women who told me they got comments like this is ASTONISHING. Apparently, if we don’t want kids, it’s 1.) something that we are depriving our partners of and 2.) because of problems we’ve had dating. I can’t even imagine what my gay friends must hear.
“I wish I had your life” or “Must be nice” or basically anything that sort of passive aggressively says that my life is a cake walk. You know what? I could say the exact same things about your life, and your kid. So I guess we’re even.
“Don’t adopt.” Here is what happens: I will be made aware, by some generous soul who thinks that I don’t know rudimentary human biology, that my “time to have a baby is running out.” OH MY GOD THANK YOU FOR REMINDING ME THAT MY INSIDES ARE SLOWLY TURNING TO DUST. Awesome. (Also? My time may already be up, assholes.) And when I note that we can always adopt if we decide we want to become parents, I have actually been told that I shouldn’t because “it’s not the same.” Fuck these people to the darkest corners of hell.
“Have you thought about freezing your eggs?” Have you thought about not vocalizing every thought that enters your mind?
“When you guys have kids …” Nope. Nope. Stop making it sound like a given.
“You wouldn’t understand. You don’t have kids.” A while back, someone close to us was describing a cancer scare they had. They were telling us about those few scary days when they were waiting to find out their results, and I replied that was something that Rand and I knew well. “Oh, no,” they said. “No. It’s totally different when you are a parent.” And I sat there, stunned. I was so overcome with anger, I could barely speak. Dismissing your friend’s hardships and cancer scares because they don’t have kids? That’s a really shitty thing to do. And when does it end? Are the emotions of a father of four more important than a mother of two? Are my opinion and my feelings and my experiences so entirely different because I don’t have children? Fuck anyone that creates a hierarchy based on shit like this.
“You’re being selfish.” Huh. Yeah. I’m a selfish jerk. I guess I should have kids. Wait, NO.
“Who will take care of you when you’re older?” Seriously? That’s your healthcare plan for your golden years? Considering that I just saw your toddler bite the head off a Barbie, you might want to rethink that.
“So … are you guys even able to have kids?” I don’t know – maybe we’re doing it wrong? I’ll send you a few videos and you can critique our form.
Now, I understand that the flip side of this is that there are plenty of people who don’t have kids who are complete and utter assholes towards people who do. And I would like to speak to them, now.
ATTENTION, MY BARREN BROTHERS AND SISTERS!
KIDDING! KIDDING! Please put down that blunt object. Instead, how about we collectively make the following promises to our friends who have children:
We will not dispense parenting advice unless it is explicitly asked for. And guess what? IT WILL NOT BE ASKED FOR. Because the vast majority of us don’t actually have a FUCKING CLUE what we are talking about. Likewise, we are not allowed to give astronauts advice about what they should do in space because we “read an article about it” or watched Interstellar a dozen times. Nor can you perform surgery because you’ve seen every episode of ER. Just sit back and be quiet while your pals are trying to calm a raging human who may be covered in poo, BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT HELPING.
When we want to see our friends with kids, we realize that means bringing over take-out at some ungodly early hour, that the meal might be interrupted by a tornado of crazy toddlering, and that we should get the hell out by 9:45 because that kid wakes up at the ass crack of dawn and doesn’t give a shit as to whether or not Mommy and Daddy are hungover. We acknowledge that any time spent with our friends might be squeezed between naps, interrupted by a torrent of “why” questions, and may involve a lot of bodily fluids. And we will do it anyway because in some disturbing way it makes us nostalgic for college.
When we have our friends over, we will not get upset when their kids touch/drool on/destroy things, because honestly, if we didn’t want it to get touched/drooled on/destroyed we should have put it away before they came over.
We will not compare parenthood to owning a pet. (I didn’t actually even know this was a thing. SERIOUSLY, PEOPLE? NO.) As my friend Sara put it, “I don’t know too many babies that can be left in a crate all day.” Also, puppies don’t wear diapers and are WAY easier to feed.
Although, admittedly, I laughed so hard at this I nearly peed:
@everywhereist one thing I do that I know drives my friends who are parents crazy: I say “yeah, my cat does that, too.”
— Kevin Smythe (@KevSmythe) January 25, 2016
We will not highlight all the wonderful things that our friends used to do that are now more difficult or exhausting or flat out impossible because they are at the mercy of a wee diapered dictator.
We will babysit when they are in a bind. They, in turn, agree to be cool with us feeding their children candy and teaching them how to swear in other languages.
We will offer to help. Sometimes we will achieve this simply by shutting up. Other times, we will ask what we can do, or grab one of the twins before she turns completely feral in the grocery store or help put the lid on a sippy cup while they are trying to hold a toddler because THEY DON’T HAVE THREE HANDS.
We will ask to see photos of the wee ones and squeal about how goddamn cute they are.
“Well, you’re the one who decided to have kids.” Nope. No. No. We won’t even think about saying this.
We will absolutely not get weirded out when, after decades of friendship, we see our friend’s boobs doing what boobs are supposed to do. And if we are in public we will shoot eye daggers at anyone who gives a breastfeeding mother a dirty look.
We will never tell our friends to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” Because we know that 1.) it’s not that simple and 2.) THE BABY DOESN’T ACTUALLY SLEEP.
We will not judge our parent-friends for: using formula/breastfeeding/buying disposable diapers/having food on their clothes/being unwashed/letting their kid use an iPad for several dozen hours/forgetting their child’s name/forgetting our name. (Actually, this is just a good rule for everyone, everywhere.)
“Was he/she planned?” Again, I didn’t even know this was a thing, but sweet Jesus, do not ask your friends if their child was conceived intentionally or not. At the point where the baby is a real live person, I can assure you, it does not fucking matter. (Ditto with the whole “Did you have IVF?” “Do twins run in your family?” Did you mean to space them so far apart?”)
“Are you having more?” Remember how annoying it was when we were badgered about not having children? Congratulations. You’ve become everything you hate.
Most of us, I found, were told the same thing over and over again.
Dear Childless Friends, what infuriating things do people say to you regarding you not having kids? I’m working on a post and need help!
— Geraldine (@everywhereist) January 25, 2016
— MarianaGC (@MaRianaGlezC) January 25, 2016
— Jade (@jadeer1n) January 25, 2016
— Alison Smythe (@alisonsmythe) January 25, 2016
@everywhereist “you’ll change your mind one day”
— Tara Whitewood (@TheSugarDoctor) January 25, 2016
@everywhereist “You can do whatever you want… because you don’t have kids” – Like not having a kid = some orgy-filled booze cruise.
— Ron Schott (@ronschott) January 25, 2016
@everywhereist “Who will take care of you when you get old?” “You’ll probably change your mind”
— kris (@districtkris) January 25, 2016
@everywhereist where do I start? The #1 is that my life is not as good as theirs because I don’t have kids.
— Mel Kettle (@melkettle) January 25, 2016
Dear parents: what things do childless friends do or say regarding parenting that drive you crazy? I’m working on a post and need your help.
— Geraldine (@everywhereist) January 25, 2016
@everywhereist friends that assume we can do anything spontaneous. or are flakey about plans because they can be.
— Norcross ☕️ (@norcross) January 25, 2016
@everywhereist a lot of people see parenting as a disability. I am far more driven because of my kids. I want them and myself to enjoy life.
— Brandon Kidd (@SmashBrando) January 25, 2016
— Beardwright (@TheBeardwright) January 25, 2016
@everywhereist equate it to pet ownership. I only wish my kids were as easy to handle as my dog!
— C (@DesignRecruit) January 25, 2016
The one thing that bonded us all together was this: nearly all of us had had our opinions disparaged or our feelings dismissed. Nearly all of us had people who were entirely unempathetic to our situation. Sometimes, the ramifications of this were devastating.
@everywhereist & “how do you think this makes your father feel?” how do *i* feel after my 3rd miscarriage? You don’t care? Oh, ok.
— Nicole Kohler (@nicoleckohler) January 25, 2016
— Mark Bailey (@mrkbly) January 25, 2016
And that’s when I realized something: the line of demarcation in this supposed conflict isn’t between parents and the childless people. It’s a result of people on both sides of the issue being insensitive to others.
In our diametric culture of good and bad, us vs. them, it’s much easier to look at it as two warring factions. I’m guilty of this as well – in creating this post, I divided everyone into two groups and addressed them separately.
The root of this problem isn’t about whether or not you have kids. It’s about being decent to one another, and respecting someone else’s life and the choices that they’ve made (or the ones they’ve been unable to make), even when they are radically different from your own. There’s no war. There’s just people being shitty to one another because they’re looking for external validation for really big life questions that don’t have a clear answer.
But putting down someone else’s choices won’t legitimize yours. Telling someone that they have to live their lives in the exact same way as you have won’t eliminate your doubts.
Instead, what we need to do is be empathetic to one another. To remember that we aren’t all the same, and that what’s good for one person isn’t necessarily right for another. It’s why we have different television channels and ice cream flavors and why everyone has a different favorite Beatle, even though George is obviously the best one.
It’s why some of us have children and some of us have pets and some of us have miniature York peppermint patties in the freezer. It’s why we all we need to be respectful of the opinions of others, and kind to those we care about, no matter how different they or their lives are.
I hope you join me in this effort to be less of an insensitive dipshit when it comes to the topic of having kids.
Do it for the children.
And my uterus.
P.S. – Thank you to everyone who helped out on this post. I am so angry by some of the b.s. you have to put up with (seriously, what the hell is wrong with speaking to a child in multiple languages?!). You are all wonderful.