Sue on Childless by Marriage wrote about being blamed for her situation, and how that makes her feel, as well as the differences in the labels of childfree and childless, and how she feels about that. It’s a good read – you can find it here. But I had some thoughts that belonged here rather than in her comments section. Because just as I wrote last week – that for much of our lives we havemore in common with parents than we realise – I think those of us who are No Kidding because of infertility have more in common with the childless by circumstance or childless by marriage and even the childfree than maybe any of us realise.
Firstly, I feel that those of us who suffered infertility
often have to justify why we don't have children, just as the childless by
marriage, though often with different questions, and for different reasons. "Why
did you wait so long to try to have children?" they ask. "Was your
condition age-related?" “What did you do wrong?” or even better, “what’s
wrong with you?” or the insensitive “you’re not doing it right” or (the insensitive
male) “I’d get you pregnant,” etc. The variations we’ve all heard are endless. And
of course, the perennial "why didn’t you adopt?” The questions are intrusive, impolite, often unthinking. The situation is complicated. As well as infertility, many of us may share some of the same issues as those who identify as childless by marriage. After all, negotiating whether to venture into IVF or donor cycles, or whether to adopt, are variations on the question of whether or not to have children. The decisions are just taken at different stages in the process. Whatever and whenever decisions are made, we have one thing in common. Our reasons are personal.
However we have become childless/childfree, prying questions or throwaway remarks like this irritate me. As I’ve said before, and as I’ll say many times after this, I don’t feel that any of us (childfree, childless, or alone by <insert reason here>) owe anyone an explanation for why we don’t have children. And I’m quite happy not to answer people, divert them in some way, joke about it, or otherwise convey that it is none of their damn business! Politely, of course. In the main!
Time changes how we feel too. When I started this blog, I had in my About section that I sometimes felt childlLESS, and sometimes childFREE. But I removed that a while ago, because I don’t like the feeling of being defined as either of these labels, or both, and besides, I dislike the fact that any label like that invites judgement, in the same way that whatever answers I might give to why I don't have children can invite judgement. As I wrote almost ten years ago in November 2011 in Childless, childfree … or what?,
“The problem is that the labels childLESS or childFREE automatically convey additional information about our history, and our feelings about our situation. And (as you may have guessed) I don’t always want to share that information. These labels make a point of telling people we either feel a loss and that we are living in sadness, or that we are delighted we don’t have children and celebrate it daily. Some people are very comfortable with those labels, and that’s fine for them. I can certainly understand that some people might choose to use the label childless because they don’t want to be grouped in with all the negative accusations that are (sadly) often directed at the childfree. At times I have felt that way too, particularly in those immediate years after we learned we would live without children. In those years, I certainly felt child less. But, even then, that is not how I wanted to portray myself to the world. I abhorred the idea of pity, and I hated the prospect of successful parents looking down on me, having achieved something I couldn’t. My situation was private, and my feelings about it were private. And so the label childless felt too defensive, too negative, and I’ve never comfortably used it."
In 2011, when I first wrote about this, I was already eight years on from ending my quest to have children. Now, it has been 18 years. Today, in 2021, I mostly just feel like me. Not having children is part of who I am, but by no means wholly who I am. I use the label childless here on this blog because I know people use it to search to find our community, because it is how so many of us feel when we are in pain and are trying to figure out what the future holds, and because we lack any other word for those of us who never had children. It reflects who I was, rather than who I am now. I don’t like labels. It's not that black and white. I explained further, in a little rant, in 2011:
“The problem I have with both of these labels is that they allow others to make a judgement about our choices, and invite an emotional response (pity, superiority, horror, disbelief, etc). And that isn’t fair. After all, the words parent or mother don’t have any such connotations to them, do they? They don’t say “mother by choice” or “mother not by choice” or “parent by accident” or “mother by drunken binge on a Friday night in the back seat of the car of a guy she’d just met in the bar” or “parent by broken condom.” They don’t say “parent after ten years of trying to conceive and thousands of dollars of fertility treatments” or “mother who thought kids would save her marriage” or “ happy mother who always wanted kids and got everything she wanted” or “mother who thought she always wanted kids till she got them and now wishes she didn’t.” The words parent or mother are just factual statements.”
As I said then,
“Fact: I’m a woman, first and foremost.
Fact: I don’t have children.”
But there’s much more to me that that too. And just as I don’t defend my hair colour (though actually, sometimes I do have to defend my grey hair since I let it show through last year), where I live, my career choices, my fear of heights, my love of reading and walking and travel, etc I don’t feel I need to justify why I don't have children. And I don't feel the need to have a label on my No Kidding status. It’s nobody’s business, unless I choose to share. That is one thing I am happy to tell anyone who asks!