When I was pregnant with my third child six years ago, my weekday routine was crazed but exhilarating: each morning I kissed my husband and five-year-old son goodbye, clipped my three-year-old daughter into her stroller and power-walked a mile to her daycare center in downtown D.C. and then another half mile to my office at The Washington Post.
Early one morning as I passed the Dupont Circle metro exit, weaving the stroller and my seven month bump through crowds streaming off the escalator, a woman my age walked towards me with a Mona Lisa smile on her face. She leaned towards us as she got closer. Then she paused expectantly near my ear. Instinctively, and with curiosity, I paused to hear what she had to say. Maybe she wanted to cheer “Go, supermom”?
“Breeder!” she hissed under her breath with surprising venom. Then she melted into the crowd with a satisfied smile.
Since that day, oddly enough, I’ve had more respect and sympathy for women my age without kids. My view now is: wow, childfree women must feel righteous enough about their choice to verbally assault a pregnant stranger happily pushing a three-year-old on a crowded city street. Plus this: it must make them terribly angry and resentful to have society laud me for being pregnant and having children, while condemning them for choosing not to breed.
Some women physically cannot have children -- that’s a different situation. But women without reproductive barriers who choose not to have babies in our kid-obsessed society face suspicion, insensitive personal questions, denigration of their morals, marriages and sexuality, and ostracism by their families, co-workers and society at large. They are repeatedly interrogated and even threatened: “You thinking about having kids?” “Have you tried?” “Is there something wrong with you?” “You’ll change your mind one day”… “The best thing I ever did was have kids”…“Don’t you want to pass on your family name?” “You’re depriving your mother of grandchildren”…and the nastiest: “You’ll change your mind one day – and it will be too late.”
No wonder these women resent us working mamas when we fly out the door at 5 pm to make daycare pickup before Child Protective Services does it for us. Even though we work double time, juggling daycare, school obligations, sick kids, and mama discrimination at the office and at home. Despite the long hours we put in at home before and after our colleagues. Their resentment does not directly correlate with the reality of moms’ work ethic – which I’ve found to be universally admirable. Their resentment, although targeted at moms, is larger than us co-workers, and I’m completely sympathetic to their anger.
To women without kids, moms look like a different species. But we were once women without children. I’ve always wanted to have kids, but there have been many stretches, including times after I had children, when I envied the childfree. Girl, going kidfree would have been a whole lot easier than the mess I wallow in today. My life would not be empty or directionless without children; in fact, I’m sure I’d be more focused, more driven, in many ways less frustrated by my daily life and what I’ve compromised to juggle work and family. So my mantra? Go ahead and hiss at me on the street, if you need to. But breeders and childfree, let’s unite if we can. In our own ways, we all face the bias of a culture that deifies motherhood – and yet refuses to recognize in any realistic, supportive ways the joys and challenges of having, and not having, children.