Opinion: Stop scrutinising the childless

By Rosie Dawson-Hewes

5 comments
FAMILY UNIT: Deciding to spend my life with someone doesn't automatically means we are going to procreate.
FAMILY UNIT: Deciding to spend my life with someone doesn't automatically means we are going to procreate.

On Monday my husband and I will celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary. I am so excited. We don't really do presents but the one thing we have always done well is cake.

So we've ordered a ridiculously indulgent chocolate cake-for-two that I am so looking forward to. I've actually been dreaming about it over the past few days. The way to my heart truly is, and always has been, through my stomach.

But ever since I got married, it's not just my husband who's interested in my stomach. The seemingly innocent questions about the pitter patter of small feet started as soon as we got engaged, but have intensified since I hit my 30s.

"The clock is ticking," they'll say. I should hope so, I'll reply.

That's kind of what clocks are supposed to do. Oh? You don't mean the clock on the wall? Hmmm. I was 24 when I started life in a new family, with my husband and our two cats.

Read more: Living without children

We always said that once we got married we became our own family unit, regardless of whether we decided to have kids or not. Right after we tied the knot, there was a rush of "when are you having kids?" questions asked of me, as if deciding to spend my life with someone automatically means we are going to procreate. It doesn't. I can love my husband and our wee family without necessarily having a mini-me or three.

After a couple of years, those questions mostly died off. They became limited to people who don't really know us - well-intentioned colleagues who would assume that because we love Pixar films and Star Wars and video games and Lego that we will have kids. Or acquaintances making small talk. But it's not small talk, as reporter Juliet Rowan discovered when talking to childless women for a feature in this paper last weekend.

"This is a topic that a lot of people have very strong beliefs around. We're talking about procreation. We're talking about family units. We're talking about societal expectations," said Ange Wallace, founder of a new online community called Thriving Without Kids.

One in five women never have children, and in New Zealand, the figure is projected to rise to one in four. The reasons for not having children are many and varied.

Some women, like those Juliet spoke to, choose not to have children, opting for a different life filled with other great achievements. But for many childless women, not having kids is not by choice. It can be an intensely personal and emotional subject. So every time that well-meaning colleague drops kids into the conversation it opens a Pandora's box of turmoil.

I am acutely aware that my having been able to choose to stay childless is a luxury. Not all women are as fortunate as I am. I have friends who've battled infertility, trying to smile and lightly sweep off those unintentionally probing questions with jokes or witty repartee, all the while struggling to hold back the tears.

We childless women usually have an array of responses on hand for the inevitable questions about why we don't have kids. From "I've already seen all the good kids' movies" to "because I know Santa Claus doesn't exist, and I'm really bad at keeping secrets" or quite simply "I don't think that's any of your business".

Having children is an absolutely wonderful thing, one that should be treasured and celebrated. But it's not all there is. When we focus solely on whether a woman is going to have children or not, we reduce her worth to just her body organs.
Rosie Dawson-Hewes

But the thing I always come back to is that I shouldn't have to answer questions like this at all. I should be able to cuddle my friend's newborn without immediately having everyone tell me I'm clucky. I should be able to call in sick without being asked on the sly if I'm expecting.

I should be able to choose non-alcoholic beverages at social occasions without being given the questioning eyebrow. I should be able to enjoy my friend's pregnancy announcement without being told by multiple colleagues that I'm the next cab off the rank. "Just go off your contraception and see what happens!" one suggested. I wish I was making this up, but I'm not.

It's time we stop scrutinising and pressuring women.

Having children is an absolutely wonderful thing, one that should be treasured and celebrated. But it's not all there is. When we focus solely on whether a woman is going to have children or not, we reduce her worth to just her body organs.

We all need to think before we ask those questions. There's more to me than my uterus.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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