Sunday, June 26, 2011

birth, death, shame, compassion and comments

I awoke to an odd comment on another of my blogs. Early on a Sunday morning, someone in an outer Melbourne suburb had been visiting the site of a local blogger, clicked my non-de plume in his links and got redirected there. From there they chose just one title in the recent posts, an entry that consisted of just two sentences, and felt compelled to comment.

The two lines mentioned a Guardian article and my friend Lucy’s response to it on Deliberately Barren. The visitor did not read either piece, instead they vented their spleen, presumably driven by the title of the post Is child-free the new black?

Anonymous wrote
“Cecent (sic) people who have never had children - never truly know what it is to love somthing (sic) or someone more than life itself.

I feel sorry for all the barren, self centred types.”

Someone I don’t apparently know felt an overwhelming need to connect with me, to us, to tell us we are wrong, inadequate, lacking the ability to love and are driven by ego.

I stopped myself picking apart the inaccuracies in anonymous's comment (who am I to judge someone else’s equally as woeful spelling?) and remembered Brene Brown.

You see, last night I found some podcasts I’d downloaded 2 years ago and spent a couple of hours listening to the wonderful Dr Brown talk candidly about shame resilience. Did I feel that anonymous was trying to tap into some seam of shame within me, that I wanted to attack them (I keep wanting to write “her”, there is something feminine about this response) in return?

Brene Brown says many wise things about the difference between guilt and shame, and also empathy and compassion.

Taking a step aside from myself and anonymous for a moment, I’m a little overwhelmed by the judgments that are continually made about people who don’t have children. Regardless if this is through choice or circumstance. Over the last few days I’ve done my best to wade through the comments on Clem Bastow’s piece in The Age last week. But I find the volume and intensity of emotion somewhat alarming. To summarise the majority fall into two camps – those that negatively judge Clem with scorn or pity for saying she doesn’t want to have children and others who say 'ho-hum this topic is done to death, this article is so last century'.

But you see from anonymous being driven to comment on a mere headline, the issue of not having children is still relevant today. Why else would someone who doesn’t know me, or Lucy, feel compelled to name and shame the “barren” as being self-centered and incapable of experiencing love?

I want to sit and have a chat about those two points for a minute. No attack. No judgment. Just virtually toss them around with anonymous, without assigning a value. Is that possible?

Anonymous is alluding, I believe, to unconditional love. When I sat with my dying brother through his final weeks I believed I experienced this holy grail of love. There was nowhere else I wanted to be. My small business ceased to exist. I’d happily have moved to the end of the earth indefinitely (or at least the city he was dying in). To some extent all my needs evaporated. There were irrational thoughts of what I’d barter to save his life (for a while I considered giving up sex forever, yes unconditional love is tinged with an element of insanity). I’d eat and sleep occasionally but my life revolved around him. I could not think of any other time in my life I felt this way about my brother.

As messy, noisy and scary as death is, there’s such a privilege to sit with someone while they are dying. To be permitted, or welcomed, to be with them for their final breath.

Though this process was privileged and life changing, it was also utterly private. It’s not been something I’ve felt the need to share so publicly before. But when I meet people who find death scary, when people I’ve known have run from these experiences, I don’t judge them. I don’t believe there is weakness in that. Not everyone wants to witness the death of a stranger or a loved one. I feel compassion for their fear. I hope that in their life they become less afraid of death and dying. I don’t wish them to be shamed by their feelings around it.

At the times in my life when I desperately wanted a baby. And yes, desperate is the most appropriate word to describe the longing. It was all about having MY baby. A piece of ME. A person who’d ensure my immortality by ensuring my DNA, MY essence, perpetually through time. (Reading the words as they pour out, I’m struck by the fact that I have just written about fearing death. Coincidence?) Perhaps that proves anonymous’s point, that I am self-centred after all. Because I could dress the desire up in so many other clothes, but deep down, the essential ingredient in this yearning to reproduce was me. Perhaps my selfish craving was unique and that all the other men and women who become parents have never had an inkling of that desire.

The TED talk below has nothing to do with being child-free. It’s a thank you to anonymous, for helping me get in touch with my vulnerability. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Is motherhood the pinnacle of a woman's life?

The lovely Clem Bastow, Melbourne freelancer and hip chick about town, celebrates her 29th birthday today with an opinion piece in Fairfax about the plans she has for her uterus.

So many parents (particularly new ones) look with pity on those who are childless through cruel circumstance, and with scorn on those who remain so by choice.

Often I'm chastised, by those who have had children, about my "choice to remain single and childless". When I respond that it was likewise their choice to have a family, they fall mute or change the topic.

I refuse to subscribe to the idea that having a child is the pinnacle of a woman's existence. We're constantly told that people didn't know true love, or understand the meaning of existence, and so on, until they had a child.

Read the full article in today's Age.

Happy Birthday Clem!

Update 25.6.11

This article garnered a lot of varied responses, not the least from the comments on Fairfax. The hornet's nest was well and truly stirred. The following comment was not atypical of the majority of those who felt compelled to tell Clem what they thought of her.

Miss Bastow, you would be best to simply stay silent rather than use your words to spread your own negativity, weirdness and confusion. Too many young women (and men) have been encouraged to supress their natural inclinations by the likes of you to their regret latter.

A more thoughtful (and useful) ripple can be found in the local blogging community. I really valued Penni Russon's post on her blog Eglantine's Cake.

I wanted to say something here, about choices. About the many women I know who have chosen not to have children, and those of us who have chosen it. I wanted to say that choices pretend to be bipolar, especially in mainstream media, but they are actually nuanced, complex and as individualistic as the individuals who struggle with them.

And as a mother of three Penni continues, "Motherhood is nuanced too".

Parenthood is something other than the pinnacle of existence. But this is because existence is a continuum too. There's no pointy end. Motherhood doesn't have to negate ambition, creativity, professional success, sexual desire or individualism(as Clem Bastow comes dangerously close to implying). But neither does the desire to be childless negate a sense of family, community, love or selflessness and I support both Clem Bastow's choice and her need to write about it.

Beautiful post Penni.