I recently read a blog post by a woman who, like me, has had to come to terms with the fact that she is infertile. She wrote that a friend of hers, while upset, expressed the opinion that a woman who has no children has nothing.
I have been mulling over this that post since I read it. A lot. It has taken me a while to actually write this, because I wanted to address the issue properly. I can see that her friend was distressed and spoke without thinking. Most people would not intentionally insult their infertile friends.
I wish I could say that I don't think people really feel this way. But I think they do.
My best friend from high school and college roommate is one of the people whom I think would say the same thing about me today. I always supported her aspirations toward a family, even though I thought she should value her career and master's degree more than it appeared she did. I know she feels that children are everything. I think that if she wasn't a mother, she would feel that she had nothing. She had her first child this year, and even though we are no longer friends, I am happy for her. Still, I am glad she doesn't know my situation, because I think she'd look on me with pity, and she shouldn't.
Despite my lack of children, I have a lot: a loving partner, family and friends, a fabulous job, money, a lovely apartment in a great part of town, a fantastically sweet puppy, a nice car, the ability to travel, lots of creature comforts, a kitchen that is usually full of delicious food, and so forth. My life is FULL of amazing stuff. It sometimes overwhelms me.
Yet there is still this attitude, one that I think is usually not openly expressed, or if it is, hastily: If you are not a mother, you have nothing.
I believe this attitude is what brings on the cajoling and the desire to convince those people without children that they do indeed want or need to have them. And any one of us out there who doesn't have children has probably been told at some point they should have children. Because people view it as a "ultimate" and a "necessary" part of life. And they believe you will have nothing if you don't have children.
To me, trying to convince someone that they want children or that they should go to all lengths to have them is like trying to convince someone they shouldn't be gay. It is just wrong. People know what is best for their lives. People know what they want and who they are. No one wants to be told that their way of living is wrong. Yet, people are constantly trying to tell people who don't have children that their way of life is wrong, and in the process probably accidentally insulting those who are infertile.
I understand intellectually that being a mother is a very encompassing experience. I get that some women feel it is completes them or has given them a purpose. I get that for a lot of women, motherhood has been a life-long desire and is to them the most important aspect of their life. To this I say, "Wonderful! Fabulous! Great!"
But these women also have all the support on the world in their motherhood. And we non-mothers do not. So, World, what if we could kill this attitude that motherhood is everything?
I mean, let's be honest, Women. We all know we have a lot more than just one thing to offer the world.
If I told any one of you, "You know what, you are an AMAZING accountant, but if you stop being an accountant, you are nothing. You have nothing," you'd probably tell me I was crazy or off my rocker. You'd probably think of your wonderful partner, or your hobbies and interests, or the charity work you do, and think, "No, I have a lot of other things going on here."
But saying and quietly believing that if a woman isn't a mother, she has nothing -- or some variation on that -- places motherhood above all else.
I'm not saying that every woman or human has that attitude. What I want to point out is that this attitude persists in our culture and implies that the non-mothering women of this world are significantly less important than the mothering ones.
It feels like such a 1950s attitude to me, to think of being a Mom as the highest calling for women, but I believe that people truly do think this way, and the reason I believe that isn't just because I am infertile.
Let's look at the United States, and what's on TV, in movies, up for debate politically. We are still arguing about reproductive rights for women. LGBT people are in most states still fighting for the right to marry, even though Kim Kardashian can be married for 4 months and make millions of dollars off of her TV wedding. In the U.S., we like traditional values.
You can live in places where you can be non-traditional and highly accepted. But, all-in-all, we are still very traditional culture. Parenting is part of that. You get married? Everyone expects you to have kids. I can't physically have kids, and people still expect me to have kids.
The average American sees over 300 advertisements A DAY. Imagine the percentage that includes images of happy Moms? Probably a large number.
So yes, the idea that being a Mom is the most important thing you will do is huge in our culture, and that's hard if you can't. But to say that other women have nothing? That's extreme.
That hurts women who went to all lengths to become a mom, people who did fertility treatments for years and were unable to conceive, women who spent thousands -- in some cases hundreds of thousands -- on that process and still had no baby. They have to survive in this world. They don't need to be told that they have nothing, most of all because it isn't true.
On the flip side, I feel lucky that the majority of people I know believe "to each her own." That is refreshing. Most of people I know and care about respect my way of life, and I respect theirs. I do have some friends who think being a mother is everything, and honestly, I respect that, even though I personally believe that letting any one facet of your life take over your whole being isn't a good thing. Balance is good, to me. But everyone is different.
I'm not sure my words can change much of anything, but my hope is that maybe someone out there reads this and perhaps becomes a bit more sensitive. Watches their words. Considers that not everyone feels the same as them. That not everyone is capable of having children. That not everyone wants them. And that we are all wonderful as we are, that there's no need to judge. We all have our challenges in life. Let's try to support each other through them.
This post originally appeared on Life and Thereafter.
Nicole Ciomek is a search marketing manager who lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, Ross. In her spare time she's an avid traveler, outdoor enthusiast, and vintage clothing hunter. She was diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer in October 2009 and subsequently had a hysterectomy as treatment. She's been living with infertility for 2 years and blogging about cancer, infertility and her life at nicoleciomek.com in that time.