During my evening with friends last Monday, there was just one moment when No Kidding Mali popped up her head from Book Reading Mali, or awesome-Beetroot-and-Feta-Tart-cooking Mali, or just Old Friend Mali. I was doing something in the kitchen (just a couple of metres away) and the others were talking about how quickly the year or years go by. (Yes, we're old!) And one of them, a friend who has never made me feel less-than for not having children (until just then perhaps), uttered some cliched thing about the years going by, babies coming, etc.
"Or not!" piped up No Kidding Pouring-Drinks Mali, in a cheery, non-judgemental tone.
There was a momentary deafening silence, then the conversation continued, and we had a lovely evening.
But I'm glad I said it. Another of these friends bristles whenever I mention not having kids, as if I am complaining, yet it is just as much my reality as her children and grandchildren. (She suggested I could "still adopt" when I was 50!) The other two have always made an effort to respect my reality, as I do their kid-centric (or at least, whilst the kids were growing up) lives, and we always have plenty of other things to talk about together. I have always appreciated their efforts.
Still, these stereotypes that babies come for everyone need to be challenged, and regularly challenged. When babies don't come - for whatever reason, choice or not-by-choice - for 20-25% of women, then that is a significant reality that should not be ignored, glossed over, or treated with an awkward silence. I was literally the 25% in our group of four, and I wasn't going to let myself become invisible.
I feel uncomfortable about it now, perhaps because there wasn't an "oops, yes, sorry <Mali>" response that would have made it better. That might have made me hope that the next time, they'll think twice about using such a lazy and increasingly inaccurate stereotype. These
friends would hesitate to use such a stereotype when it comes to other sectors of the community. So why do they do it so easily around the childless?
Yes, I know that the most significant sign of ageing for
parents is their children. Of course it feels normal to talk
about babies arriving and growing as their primary marker of time. I understand that. Their norm isn't normal for a significant proportion of the population. But by only using this benchmark, we are rendered invisible. That is not acceptable. And I'm not going to let that happen. Not for me. And not for you.