I’m not living the life I thought I’d lead. In a way I am experiencing a richer existence, it is just different to the template I had subconsciously adopted.
Being a child born during the advent of feminism I figured I’d have the glamorous career, the gorgeous talented partner, a couple of gifted children and a groovy home to boot. My life would be spent swanning around in a relaxed but meaningful manner, the man I lived with would happily burden half the domestic load and we’d both be free to pursue creative endeavours to boot.
Now in my forties I can look back at the plan and laugh at its naivety. If any woman is living that lifestyle, complete with regular time out in a day spa, I would love to meet her. With a dance card that full, something has to give. For me the biggest pain comes from holding on to that ideal, not the discomfort of letting it go. When we don’t revisit our aspirations and instead choose to cling desperately to our dreams, the mental muscles clenched tight are the ones that hurt the most.
Obviously something had to give in this scenario. For me, unexpectedly, it was children and to some extent the career as well. At its essence, I asked myself one seemingly innocuous question “What would make my life simpler?” The first step was letting go of something I could not have, or was not prepared the risks required in the hopes of achievement. For me that was having children (or as I got older, “a child”, singular, one being better than none). To turn circumstances into a choice may for some be considered a mental dance, but it worked.
I have met enough men and women who are childfree yet live complicated lives to know that obtaining inner peace is not about simply failing (or rather choosing not) to reproduce. It is about the choices we make. It is about claiming both the joys and the disappointments that occur in our daily existence and taking responsibility for them. In short, deciding to not be a victim of fate.
Being childfree, for women in particular, tends to fall into one of three categories: an innate desire to never have children, ambivalence about parenting or infertility biologically or socially. The greatest hurdle for the first category is dealing with the opinions of others, the second is the risk that either way you jump it will ultimately feel like the wrong choice but the third group is the trickiest to claim as choice.
Social infertility is about being in the wrong place at the right time. The plumbing is working but the right donor or dream husband/partner is not part of the picture when required. Books have been written by women who feel duped by feminism, that they believed they could have it all and came away angry at being shortchanged. Personally I don’t buy that. Yes I bought the dream but realised it was just that, a modern day fable of sorts. I mean, even the men who called themselves feminist rarely do 50% of the domestics. Perhaps living in shared houses was my first reality check. *
Being childless, rather than childfree, through circumstance is a growing demographic for women. This has as much, or possibly more, to do with the choices of men delaying parenting rather than the cop out of “feminists promised us we could have it all”. With the advent of more reliable contraception and the decreased societal pressure to get married, why should blokes curb their freedom by fathering children in their 20’s or 30’s? So often in this subset of men I have observed that it is the light bulb moment when they get an inkling of their own mortality that prompts them to reproduce, rather than in response to the request of their partner alone. Of course, there are men of all ages who deeply desire having children but the group voicing their ambivalence about it seem greater amongst the comfortable middle classes.
Biological infertility is rampant and IVF is not as successful as we’d be lead to believe. Sperm has increasing rates of abnormality and donors are in short supply in Australia since legislation was introduced ultimately allowing an adult child to trace their donor. It is hard to get a realistic statistic regarding IVF success as it is dependent on so many factors including the type of reproductive issue and age of the mother. But other issues arise when trying to assess the true accuracy of these rates, that being IVF is largely a private industry. There are many ways that a clinic can massage its data. Lets just say it is naïve to expect IVF to solve the problem and optimistic in the extreme once a woman nears 40,
Making infertility of this nature some kind of “choice” is very difficult. All I can offer is stressing the importance of grief counselling, so often overlooked in what can be a long and fraught quest for a child. Through that process, when blame, loss and sadness has been acknowledged and released, an upside can be found if you look for it.
I am sick of judgements being made about my perceived selfishness or regret that I may feel regarding a very personal aspect of my life. But just as a pregnant woman become misguidedly fair game for her luscious belly to rubbed (often by strangers and rarely by request), so too those of us whose uteri remain apparently empty.
My simple life is my greatest ally in claiming “free” over “loss” as the suffix of choice. I have a certain freedom that few of my friends with children have. I am not saying it is a better life but, hell, it certainly is an easier one!
* See the illuminating stats from the ABS regarding gender and housework