I write about No Kidding issues every week, and have been doing this for years. Does that mean I am over-sensitised to the issue, as some might claim? Maybe. But it also means that I am very aware of being a minority in this pronatalist world. Others might shrug. But I notice. Comments, attitudes, the choice of a simple word, or descriptor, that I wouldn't use, or that isolates me and my community. And often, in that instant, I am torn. Do I make a point? Just ignore comments? Or try and educate? I don't have a strict policy. It always depends on the person, the circumstances, and how I’m feeling.
A social event this weekend was in many ways remarkable in that there were so many topics to talk about, and so many people with interest in the wider world, that the issue of kids hardly came up. The party was hosted by a friend. She and her partner don’t have children either, and nor do several of her friends I’ve previously met. Anyway, we were all of an age where any children would have left home, so it wasn’t part of the lively conversations that we had. (Well, except for her niece and nephew, but I’ve met their kids, so could talk about them easily and comfortably.) So there I was, happily chatting away with new people, people we’d heard about from our friends for years, and some people I hadn’t seen for 30 years.
I got chatting to someone I haven’t known socially, but worked with for a very short time way back in the late 80s. I mentioned a very happy time in my life, when I had a variety of work (boards, consulting) and also volunteered. She asked about the volunteering. Oh, I said, it was for an overseas medical charity, thinking that the “medical” information might have been enough of a hint. She asked for more details. “Okay,” I thought, “you asked for it!” I explained that I’d volunteered for six years for an ectopic pregnancy charity, the only one in the world that we knew of, that provided online support and advice. She nodded, and noted that she had had an ectopic pregnancy too. You never know, you know? We chatted about it, and about the health system. I then realised that I’ve heard her name (and her husband’s, who I also knew from way back then) a lot from our mutual friend, but never with any discussion of children. I didn’t ask her, and she didn’t ask me. It was refreshing. A little bonding experience, that neither of us felt the need to take any further at the time. (Though now I need to check with my friend to see if they did in fact have children.)
I then got chatting to another woman. We had worked together at our first job post-university, but needed to be introduced to recognise each other (her hair was now short, and mine was now long and grey)! I’d also heard her news from our mutual friend over the decades, and vice versa. We were joking about Swedish Death Cleaning, and she made a comment about the kids being gone, and so we are all ready to leave our big family homes and downsize. I don’t know if I winced, but I must have reacted. I think I stammered a bit. Not because it hurt, but more because I don’t like people to assume that everyone has a “big family home” and so was trying to think how to respond without making a big deal of it. (Even though I still live in what might have been our "big family home.") So of course, she asked if we had children. “No,” was the only answer I needed to give. And then we just continued with our conversation. It’s so nice when people pick up on cues, and don’t pry!
When I was first going through the pain of lost pregnancies and new childlessness, I didn’t want to have to talk about my circumstances to anyone except those closest to me. I didn’t want to risk getting upset, or angry. I don't have that concern now. Then I worried about being seen as other, as being judged. These days, I'm more likely to judge them if they judge me, so that's less of an issue too! And sometimes I wonder if I should be educating everyone, with proselytising zeal. And then when I don’t, I feel guilty.
But you know, these days, I have a choice. I’m not concerned about upsetting anyone by talking about my reality. They talk about theirs, I talk about mine. Fair is fair. And my reality is being childless in a pronatal world. I’ve commented a few times recently on social media posts, for example, gently reminding some mothers that you don’t have to be a mother to care for X or Y. Equally, I feel I do enough here, and elsewhere, that I don’t have to educate every person I meet. I no longer feel guilty if I don't take the opportunity to educate people, even if I am in fact more likely now to take those opportunities.
So each time, I assess the circumstances of the conversation – who I am with, where we are, how well I know them. In this case, I was surrounded by people happily celebrating a mutual friend’s birthday. It was not a time to talk about the realities or stereotypes or assumptions about those of us without children. And I'm very comfortable with that. It's a sense of freedom that I’ve given myself. I hope you feel that way too.