The essay

5 thoughts on “The essay

  1. Love it – but I do wonder what it means about so much to learn from people in same-sex relationships and non-traditional families. Is this an assumption that most people in same-sex relationships have no desire, no maternal or paternal longings to have children? Or that many have children but live in non-traditional families, with multiple mothers, fathers and villages to help raise a child/ren?
    I think there are many in same-sex relationships experiencing the same feelings of loss at not having children and many who have been through the ordeal of infertility treatment…

    • Thank you so much for your considered reply here. It’s been really interesting to track which aspects of this essay resonate with different audiences. I’ll post more quotes from other emailed responses within the next few weeks to share some of the other takes. To address yours first:

      I’m happy to say that of the two possibilities you put to me, I’m unequivocally saying the latter: of course Im not suggesting that sexual orientation determines a desire for family! It’s precisely that so many gay friends seem to figure out how to have children ahead of their straight unattached women friends, that I raise the straight/gay distinction at all.

      Anecdotally, gay friends (in couples and prior to that, as single people in their process of coming out and dating), have pointed out to me that they’ve long been open to, aware of, and articulate about exploring non-traditional ways they might have a family; that they have addressed, even embraced, those questions earlier than some of their straight friends who might be confronted by related questions as challenges at a later stage: for example, single women who hold out for the hetero package of Mr Right, marriage, natural conception without medical intervention or financial cost or straight couples who find their path to parenthood obstructed by biology; frankly, anyone else with whom this essay resonates.

      That slide is not to imply at all that gay couples somehow have an easier time navigating their path to raising children than their straight friends, as sexual orientation isn’t the point. The point is that the landscape of socialization around how any of us get to become parents is rapidly changing, as technology facilitates new options that raise questions and new possibilities for anyone who finds themselves outside the vanilla birds-n-bees scenario.

      The story of the gay female couple applying to adopt, on the “map” (elsewhere in the essay, can’t remember which page) should further reassure you that I’ve been taking everyone’s journeys and sensitivities into account.

      For the record, or to state the obvious (!), let’s also be clear that there is plurality across the population, if every stripe: not everyone who wants kids is equally articulate about it (regardless of orientation), and not everyone (gay, straight, whatever along /beyond that continuum) want kids. Some people do, some don’t, some thought they didn’t til they did and vice versa…

      No question, gay women readers who want kids identify with this essay as wholeheartedly straight women readers do. For that matter, straight men who want to become dads also find this discussion equally fortifying. The essay’s focus is on the experience of straight women because it’s a perspective I know best but my overall stance is inclusive.

      It just occurred to me during the process of writing this over several years (years that included the legalization of gay marriage) that gay couples demanding rights to live and have families the way others do might inspire others (specifically involuntarily childless or non-partnered women) who – til very recently – haven’t typically organized around their private concerns the same way and aren’t identified by (or even visible to) anyone else as a (small-p) political constituency to be heard, let alone a voice to influence policy change.

      Lastly, the section you pick up on deliberately refers to the insights of gay friends _and_ single parents (again, whether SP by choice or circumstance) side by side in the same statement: It does so to underscore that there is value to my target audience (say, anyone navigating fertility at the broadest stroke) in looking for direction beyond ones own and present situation.

      Inviting in other perspectives, to allow oneself to be imaginative about how ones life might be, whatever did or didn’t happen, whoever you are or aren’t, seems useful.

      Put simply, sharing others’ stories of living authentically with what best suits you, and adapting to change with resourcefulness, support networks around you, might generate new optimism.

      Simply, a full spectrum of people’s real lived experiences seems worth acknowledging and appreciating as we (as private individuals and as a society) find our way to answering these emerging questions.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and for prompting this reply, hope this adequately reassures you we’re on the same page.

  2. This is a brilliant and creative piece of social commentary for my own generation of women, so many of whom are struggling with infertility and being childless through circumstances not of their making.

    I recognise so many of the milestones along the way (don’t get pregnant, don’t get Aids, don’t be a burden on the state, don’t waste your education…) and it’s about time someone shed light on the crazy U-turn that happened (when was that anyway?) making motherhood suddenly the most important yardstick of success as a woman (that great career that you forged – nah, no one is interested. But got a baby bump, a scan, a baby shower? – stick it on Facebook and feel the wave of validation caress and soothe you – you are a Mum, you have your ‘get out of jail free’ card, if you never achieve anything else EVER, you will still get more pats on the back that almost anyone, except Oprah)

    The small words which really touched me were the author’s hope that we will in future have a shift in attitude so as ‘to cherish women, whether or not they are mothers’ because it seems to me that society uniformly shuns and stigmatises the childless woman, and endlessly praises mothers (of whom, lets face it, there are good and bad and even the good would privately concede that parenthood is not all it’s cracked up to be). We need to find a way to value all women whether or not they become mothers. It’s frequently acknowledged that being a mother is hard work. Well being childless when you wanted a family is one of the most challenging assaults on a woman’s identity you can imagine in this baby mad society. Let the discussions begin!

  3. I just loved this! I felt I was reading my life story in small bite sized chunks! It made me realise that in some ways my choices were not always mine, I was a product of the politics of the time and my simple desire to have a child when I was younger was seen as something to be avoided because of the mistakes my own mother made. I was a product of an unmarried mother in 1960’s Britain and the climate towards such was extremely hostile. When I left school we were indoctrinated with the idea that to be a teenage mum was a disgrace, that you would end up in a council flat claiming benefits and be on the lower rung of the social ladder for the rest of your life! It was such a long time ago, and yet it feels so fresh. I didn’t do uni, but found work and did the rest of the things my peer group did, I became a punk rocker and dyed my hair different colours ever week. I then progressed onto rave music and went out dancing till 3am. I carried on working and dating. My twenties seemed to pass quite quickly and then I was staring 30 in the face. I kind of became aware of my fertility then, that it might run out. I got pregnant easily in my 20’s, but it was always met with derision as I did not have the right job, the right man, a decent home. I had one termination and two miscarriages. I had one last pregnancy at 34 and then never again since. I think it was in the 90’s when I felt like I was living in some kind of sitcom called “Last chance saloon” in that I was trying to get pregnant (even to a stranger). The C.S.A was big in the news at the time and every guy I met was frightened of getting a girl pregnant in case the relationship did not work out and they would be financially ruined, so that kind of knocked that idea on the head. It probably wasn’t a fully formed, socially responsible way to behave in that (in an ideal world) a child should have two parents (of either sex) to take care of them, but it was a mad time and I felt pulled in different directions. I am now in the my late 40’s and childless or childfree, depending on the way you want to frame your circumstances. It’s not the way I thought it would be, for sure. Thanks for doing this essay. It is totally accessible and tells the story of mine (and countless other’s) youth.

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