I remember growing up adamant that I would never have children. A large part of this was because I hated hospitals, blood and the thought of childbirth. The whole experience of pregnancy sounded miserable to me, so I decided I would adopt children when I grew up. Despite my wishes, whenever any adult would learn about my plans, I would immediately be reassured that I would change my mind one day.
Despite having grown more accepting of the ideas of pregnancy and motherhood as the years have passed, the premise behind what I was told as a child still sticks with me. I told those adults I did not want to do that to my body because it would change me forever and put me through so much pain. I was scared and hesitant but nonetheless, they responded with resistance. Why did anyone care if I grew up and had children one day? What difference did it make to them?
The answer to these questions lies in our society’s close-minded view of family. People always seem to frown upon those who are not following the standard protocol of getting married in their young adult years, having a couple of kids and then growing old and retiring. Interestingly enough, research has shown that the nuclear family, or two parents and their dependent children, is the worst family structure due to its isolating nature.
To elaborate, the nuclear family is heavily dependent on the work and contributions of only two people, the mom and dad, whereas in some other cultures, it takes an entire village’s contributions to raise a child. Thus, in the nuclear family, parents become increasingly burnt out and lonely when they are doing everything on their own. Even still, American society continues to use and reuse this structure, likely because it is considered “normal.”
Because of its popularity, we often forget that it is okay to pursue less traditional ways of living. Whether it be marrying your best friend platonically, spending your whole life on your own or even having seven kids from seven different sperm donors, there are many great ways to live that do not follow the white picket fence family storyline of a golden retriever puppy, a couple of kids and a father with his briefcase, suit and tie.
Maybe, if our society accepted and implemented different types of family structures, we would see a world where little girls are not constantly indoctrinated to become mothers one day. Consider the way young girls are often given baby dolls as a toy. They act as the doll’s mother, bottle feed it and push it around in a toy stroller. The more this idea sets in, the more odd and disturbing it becomes. To make matters worse, even as little girls grow into adults they are not freed from these impositions. For instance, women struggle to get hysterectomies between the ages of 18-35 and are sometimes required to get their partner’s permission before doing so because “they will change their minds eventually.”
These various impositions throughout a woman’s life tell us a lot about the ingrained sexism in our lives. We live in a society that tends to ignore that there are many reasons why a woman may not want to have children. For one, pregnancy is a huge toll on the body. There are many uncomfortable realities that we do not talk about because pregnancy is supposed to appear as the epitome of beauty or some fountain of life spectacle.
Though childbirth is amazing, we do not need to make it out to be something it is not. Picture yourself covered in your own vomit, sweat, blood and tears with feces and urine underneath you from pushing so hard to have your baby. Then, you are handed a baby covered in a waxy, white substance connected to a gross, shriveled-up umbilical cord. After delivery is finally over, the vaginal tearing can be so intense that you will need to be stitched back up in your most sensitive area. Once all that is said and done, you are left with a changed body weight and body chemistry that often manifest as insecurities. Because of all these sudden life changes, between 6.5% and 20% of women face postpartum depression.
Even with all that, caring for a child is a huge responsibility. Then there comes the question of whether a woman or her partner should continue their job or become a stay-at-home parent. Notably, 83% of stay-at-home parents are women, displaying that it is typically the woman forced to sacrifice her career rather than the man. There exists an idea that men can be stoic, focused and dedicated to their careers but women cannot choose that as their priority. Rather, a woman is destined for motherhood (but then when she actually does it, she is forever tied to the connotation of being a lazy stay-at-home mom who shops and paints her nails all day long, when in reality she should be praised for the huge job she is doing with no paycheck).
My mom always talks about how she misses and loved her old job, but it was almost presumed that she was going to be the stay-at-home parent because she is the woman. Not to mention, raising a child is expensive, and to compound any hesitation that comes from that, some parents decide to factor in their own well-being if they do not feel they are in a good place to bring a child into the world. And all of those reasons are valid.
Not only does society ignore these reasons, but conversations about the subject also immediately shift to the all-too-common “you’ll grow into it eventually” phrase, blatantly ignoring the woman’s wishes and disregarding the idea that the woman might know herself and what she wants. Yet, men who say no when they are faced with the same question rarely face any resistance.
I spent my life listening to adults preach to me about how amazing the experience of motherhood is and how it overrides the physical and emotional tolls involved with pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. I spent my life listening to men ask me if I was excited to be a “hot MILF” picking up my kids from school. I spent my life seeing men devalue their wives who are stay-at-home mothers because they are not bringing home a paycheck. I even spent my life seeing women judge other women who choose not to have children.
Our society is brainwashed into thinking that every woman needs to grow into their adult years and have children. It greatly fails in the way it forces women into a small box where we all are expected to be mothers. In future generations, we should strive to be more open-minded about ways to live that do not involve the expectations for women to have children. And remember that even when all is lost, the one thing we will always have is the knowledge of ourselves, what we want for ourselves and what makes us happy (whether those desires are socially accepted or not). Never let this sense of agency be dulled by societal dictation.
Anna Trupiano is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.