I just turned 35. Lately, I’ve thought about the “life plan” I made the night of my surprise 15th birthday sleepover – which ironically did not extend past 35 because I couldn’t imagine myself to be “that old.” Thankfully, I met most of my expectations:
- writing degree, check!
- published my work, check!
- cool tattoos, check!
- musician husband, check!
The only two that didn’t come to fruition were moving to Boston and children. Twenty years ago, my plan included marriage and children; however, an arduous battle with endometriosis left me infertile. It wasn’t something for which I planned nor could I help it; I accepted it and began to make a life for myself around it. My husband, Brad, and I looked into adoption; it’s not right for us at the moment, but maybe one day it will be. However, we decided to focus on our fledgling recording studio which opened just this past January, as well as my career as a writer. Even then, being a childless woman at age 35 has made me into a misfit of sorts, especially living in the South.
Even though it’s not my fault and was not my choice, I’m still met with that judgmental side-eye as to why I haven’t tried harder to acquire children.
All the time, we hear about “mom culture,” but there is no “non-mom culture.” I coin “non-mom” because “childless” has that harsh suffix “-less” at the end, as if I’m lacking or coming up short – which I’m not. I’m a fulfilled, happy, productive citizen in a happy marriage which, at this point, does not include children. It’s a lonely place to be, as there aren’t many women like me that I know personally. I’ve had a hard time maintaining friendships and making new ones because women with children have a hard time relating to me and vice versa. This isn’t meant negatively; it’s just hard to relate to someone whose life is the opposite of one’s own. Childlessness by choice or circumstance is a solitary existence and often times, we find ourselves searching for encouragement. So, if you are a women with a childfree life, and the remarks get a little to much, always remember these three things:
1) You have a lot to give.
Even though you aren’t raising children, it doesn’t mean you aren’t contributing. A recent study has circulated social media sites about how people feel a “moral outrage” towards couples who don’t have children. Think for a second about how distressing that is. When completely anonymous, human beings were outraged at other human beings based on their choice about children. When I shared that article, my friend Samantha, a successful attorney happily married to her equally successful husband, commented, “My husband’s ex-wife said I was morally bankrupt because I practiced family law, but had no family of my own. I medically can’t have children.”
The two are not synonymous. Samantha has helped so many families and made a positive impact on her clients though her services. Her career is dedicated to helping others; she still gives even though it’s not to her own children.
Yet, for whatever reason, women like myself and Samantha have our morals put on trial for a choice we didn’t make.
I don’t have children, but I teach English courses at a local community college. I’ve dedicated my life to helping young people become better writers and communicators, so they can find success in a fulfilling career and provide better for their own families or future families. In my off-time, I volunteer with the Endometriosis Foundation of America as an ENPOWR Educator, which allows me to spread awareness to high schoolers about endometriosis and the importance of early intervention.
Even though we are not raising children, we are giving. We are putting good in the world, and we are contributing.
2) The ways in which you find fulfillment are not frivolous.
Any mother will say she finds fulfillment in watching her child grow into a good, productive person. And, why shouldn’t she? Raising children is hard, and doing it well is even harder. I am in awe of women who do it. However, many times people assume non-moms are unfulfilled and sad – apologizing to us when we answer the “do you have kids” question with a ‘no’ and quickly followed up with “what are you waiting for?” with ‘I am unable.’ To be pressed for answers in such a manner is awkward, but having to answer with ‘unable’ makes it even more awkward, simply because the curious individual has somehow managed to pry his or her way into my private life. To add insult to injury, the automatic pity response can be even more humiliating. Don’t pity me. My life is good. The assumption that a non-mom’s life is “empty and sad” is simply incorrect.
We can’t win this. The ways in which a non-mom fills her time are often scrutinized and labeled as selfish or frivolous. My amateur passion for make-up artistry has been reduced to “I wish I had time to sit around and primp all day” while I excitedly explained a new technique I learned, which ironically garnered a compliment from the offender just moments before. My writing is also a very important part of my life to which I devote a lot of time. My words are my legacy and the mark I leave on the world. I care for them, shape them, and develop them just as a mother would to a child. Yet, my efforts to hone my craft have been brushed off with “I wish I had time to waste on things like that.”
For whatever reason these comments were made, the erroneous assumption that motherhood is the only path to true fulfillment and legitimate joy still manages to cut at the very soul of the women for which they were intended. Travel, education, arts, crafts, these are all valid sources of fulfillment and joy – they are not frivolous but the contrary. Chasing your passion, whatever it may be, is one of the most fulfilling things a person can do. Women without children find that deep sense of self-awareness, respect for themselves, and motivation to keep going through this very experience. It’s important to realize one is no better or worse, they are just different paths of equal value. However you seek fulfillment, grow, and develop is valid, necessary, and important.
3) You are worthy and deserving of the relationship with your significant other.
Just because you haven’t “given” your husband or partner children does not make you a failure. Even if you’ve both agreed children aren’t going to be a part of your lives together, others will often remind you otherwise. Recently, I had a conversation with a friend that actually inspired me to write this.
“You’re lucky to have Brad. Like, no offense, but his relationship with you is kind of a waste, ya know? He’d be a really good dad or stepdad to children.”
You heard it here, folks. My husband’s love is wasted on me since I am unable to have children. Sadly, this isn’t uncommon. While I was in the dating world after the end of my first marriage, people would innocently ask if it was more difficult for me since I was infertile.
“Like, do men even want you since you can’t have babies?”
Well, one did, and I’m worthy and deserving of his love. Ladies, you are too. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. I write this with more conviction than I’ve ever written anything else before.
Being judged is a part of life and it happens to everyone, but women who live a child-free lifestyle tend to have a more invasive type of judgment placed on this which demands personal explanations to satisfy those who hold her in question. A child-free life can lack the connection and “sisterhood” that moms have with one another. This connection provides an unspoken understanding and shoulder to lean on when things get hard. When a mom feels as if she’s coming up short, there are others that will offer support and encouragement – tell her she’s doing a great job. I see it on social media almost daily, tongue-in-cheek memes congratulating parents for keeping children alive. What you won’t see are those types of tongue-in-cheek “atta girls” directed towards women who’ve chosen the alternate path. Being a non-mom does not mean our lives lack complexity, or that they are easy, or that we don’t have daily struggles for which we could use a kind word.
This is my “atta girl.” You are smart, beautiful, and worthy of the life you choose and the love within it. Unabashedly chase your passions and never once feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about them, no matter how hard the next person tried to diminish or trivialize your joy.
You deserve that joy.
You are more than worthy.