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What I Learned After Thanking Women Who Choose Not to Have Kids

04/21/2015 12:40 pm ET | Updated Jun 21, 2015
Dougal Waters via Getty Images

I wrote an essay a little while back, thanking the women who actively chose to not have children. That was really it: I addressed the women who wanted to remain child-free, thanked them, and cited a few reasons why a "thank you" for staying true to who they were was in order.

It was short, quick piece: something I downright wrote in passing after someone made yet another snide remark to my best friend, who has been vocal for years about not wanting to have children. I genuinely thought nothing of it. Like most of my posts, I expected a few comments, maybe a handful of shares, and an inevitable fade into obscurity.

Two weeks later, my inbox downright blew up.

It was safe to say that my little piece -- the one I wrote in passing -- had gone viral. Within a month, the post would be shared over social media nearly a half of a million times, with 2,000+ comments. People were writing response articles and discussing it on other blogs and websites. Whether it was through a comment, an email, or a blog post, everyone had something to say. And I learned a few things from the experience:

1) People will assume you are only saying that because you don't want to have kids as well. This is how I know my piece went viral: four months after its initial publication, my mother-in-law called up my husband, telling him that she received a link to my article in an email. She wanted to check in and make sure that I hadn't changed my mind about parenthood.

This was a pretty common sentiment. A lot of people assumed that I was only thanking women who chose not to have kids because I was part of the child-free club as well. Am I currently child-free? Yes. Do I plan on staying child-free forever? Nope. Even after spending nearly a decade working as either a babysitter, a nanny, or a preschool teacher, I still want to have children of my own. Would I be a-okay if I go through my entire 20s without once being pregnant? Yup, and -- given that I'm closing in on 29 -- the numbers are in my favor in terms of that happening. But do I hope to someday be a mother? You betcha.

You can have a completely different path in life and still respect those who aren't on the same path as you. In fact, you can be on one set path and feel a strong desire to speak up in favor of those on that separate path because you don't think it's fair how they're being treated.

2) People will get mad. There are few ways to anger people quite like questioning what they were brought up valuing. Going against the grain in such a public forum forces people to do one of two things:

1) Reevaluate their value system, or

2) Get very defensive about their value system.

Unfortunately, Number Two happens with a lot more frequency. You would've assumed that I had said that no one should ever give birth to children, ever. You would've assumed that I had said all children are icky, sticky, yucky brats, and I hate them all. There were a good number of people who had some interesting things to say about me, as well as about the women who choose not to have children. It can be very easy for people to immediately demonize what is different (especially what is decidedly and unapologetically different).

3) Some people don't want your thanks. I had to swallow a whole lot of pride after reading a few response pieces that essentially called me out for thanking women in the manner that I did. A few pointed out that my essay came across as a proverbial pat on the head: a "there, there, you're still a good girl" from someone who didn't know what it was like to go against societal expectations like that. They had a point: I really was an outsider looking in and basing my thanks from my own position in life.

While everyone will react to things differently, some will find it patronizing if you thank them for essentially living their lives. And that's perfectly okay. The same way everyone is going to go down a different path in life, everyone is going to take reactions to their paths differently. In fact, some will see that "thank you" as doing the exact opposite of what you were setting out to do.

4) You can't just thank one group of people.This was one response I really wasn't expecting. From comments to emails to blog posts, I noticed that a lot of people did not care for the fact that I was only thanking women who choose to remain child-free: "What about men who choose not to have kids?" "What about women who can't have biological kids and therefore adopt?" "What about women who foster?" "What about women who chose to have kids and are great moms?"

I learned that there will always be groups who are going to feel left out. I was tempted to write a follow-up piece called: "To Everyone Who Does Anything That is Good or At Least Not Bad."

5) You will strike a nerve -- and in a way you did not expect. There is one email that always sticks out in my mind. Or, really, a set of emails. The first one was one of the nastiest, meanest emails I had ever received in my entire life. She had a lot of interesting things to say about my piece, my abilities to write, and who I must be as a human being. It took a lot of energy not to tell this woman off, and even more not to just delete her email (and then let her comments get under my skin and fester).

In fact, the only thing stopping me was this nagging gut feeling that said I needed to be nice. So I replied back, apologizing that my piece had affected her in such a way and wishing her happiness. In the reply email, I learned that the woman's life was fraught with miscarriages and stillbirths before being rendered sterile. This was a woman who had desperately wanted to give birth to her own children, but couldn't. She didn't choose to be child-free -- but she was, regardless -- and my piece thanking those who wanted to be had hit a tender spot.

While it's never okay to lash out at other people because you are hurting, it reminded me just how contentious of a subject motherhood can be. Whether you wanted to become a mother or not. Whether you became a mother or not. It's not just about choosing to become a parent. It's not just about any number of the hot-button motherhood debates: breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding versus stay-at-home versus daycare versus every possible avenue of childrearing. These topics can create such a visceral response because, at the base of it all, it's a subject that can strike the heart in ways few other things can.

6) Some people just really needed that simple recognition. I'll tell you why my piece went viral. It's not because it's particularly well written or even all that good (at least not more so than any number of the countless pieces out there that get only a handful of shares). It's because that simple "thank you" was something a lot of people needed to hear. Something they had not ever heard in regards to their choice to be child-free. Like I mention in the essay, what they usually got was the opposite of a "thank you," followed by a barrage of "You'll change your mind"s and "You'll never get a husband that way"s.

And that's something that, really, everyone needs at some point. No one fits the mold perfectly and sometimes a simple, "Thank you for being true to who you are," is needed, especially when you're surrounded by people who think you are wrong. Even if it does come with a little hatemail and a lot of arguments in the comments section.