I live in a community where most women my age have children. In fact, I live in a community where a significant number of women half my age have children. That means at 32-years old, I'm a bit of an oddity because I have chosen not to reproduce. I don't mind being an oddity. I'd rather be seen as strange and endure the curious stares and inquisitive assumptions of my neighbours than have a passel of kids ruining my breasts, swallowing my income and distracting me from my career.
I don't mind that I'm able to come home after a 12-hour day at the office, have a glass of wine and prepare a rather elegant meal without having to worry about the kids' lunches, the shitty diaper pail or that little Johnny's grades are steadily declining. I don't mind that I don't have to listen to children cry or whine. I don't mind that I'm free from saving for someone else's expensive education and I never feel compelled to speak of the bowel movements - or lack thereof - of the people who reside in my home.
What I do mind, and it irritates me as much as Archie Bunker's sexism, is what I've come to call the cult of motherhood. Why is it that some new mothers - even the women who were previously funky and free and independent thinkers - find it necessary to force and foist their new status as breeders onto other women's shoulders? Why, why, why, why, why?
Case in point. On a recent trip to Yellowknife, a woman I would barely call an acquaintance struck up a conversation with me at a jazz and blues bar. Amid the smoke and guitar riffs, I told the woman that I met her toddler son the day before and found him to be beautiful. I should have fled the bar at precisely that moment and spared myself the baby-pusher's onslaught. After inquiring about my age and whether or not I had any little ones biting at my ankles, the woman -- let's call her THE UTERUS -- proceeded to say, "You should have a baby." I was quite taken aback. I replied, "No, I should not have a baby. I am not momma material. I do not particularly care for children and they do not interest me." I told THE UTERUS I was quite pleased with my life and that I soaked in the freedom to pursue whatever goals I chose to pursue. And, after spending 12 or so hours with her son, I was yet again reassured of my commitment to remain childfree. As beautiful as the tot was, he was also exhausting, never-ending and really, really not my style.
But, as is the case with all cults and obsessive doctrines of thought, those immersed in the belief are unable to accept that someone else wouldn't enjoy, benefit or revel in that way of life as much as they themselves do. Eyes gleaming madly, THE UTERUS spent the next seven or so minutes trying to convince me of why I would do well to reproduce. In a voice much like that of a mosquito's whine, THE UTERUS told me how fulfilling it would be, how much it would change my life. She talked of another woman she lured into the cult and how grateful that woman was to have become a mommy. The conversation only lasted seven minutes because I walked away. I've tried arguing with religious zealots, racists and hard-core believers of all sorts. I know it's a losing battle. I know enough to walk away.
A few weeks ago, I was out for chicken wings and beers with some friends and a woman who became a mother a year ago joined us. Sure enough, after a rousing conversation of sex, pap smears and menstrual cycles, the talk turned to motherhood. I shared my story of THE UTERUS. I remained strong in my commitment and spoke eloquently about how a child would hinder my plans to publish a book in the next year, effectively kill all plans for future travel and kibosh my independence and joie de vive. My friend, let's call her THE OVARY, appeared unable to accept my explanation. THE OVARY questioned why I wouldn't be able to travel the Arctic photographing ravens and elders with a baby on my back. THE OVARY wondered why I couldn't just put those plans aside for a few years while I lovingly doted on a wee one. THE OVARY said I didn't know what I was missing -- as if she knew what it was that I wanted and needed in life.
I do mind this sort of sentiment. I mind it very much. If I can accept that some women choose to become mothers, why can't those same women accept my choice to remain childfree? There are things that I love dearly - photography, writing, sex, dogs and cooking - and yet I am able to restrain myself when it comes to forcing others to join me in my pursuits. I have never feverishly demanded that someone try lesbian sex because I like it. I have never pushed a friend to step into the kitchen to whip up a banana curry sauce because it turns my crank. I have never told someone to buy a dog or write a poem.
I spend a great deal of time wondering exactly what it is that encourages some women to disrespect the choices others make. I think about it extra long and hard when I'm trapped on a plane with a tired, frustrated mother who lets her child screech and wail because she is at her wit's end. Here's what I have deduced about the cult:
1. Misery loves company. The cult is comprised of a group of women sorry to have seen their lives destroyed. Not all mothers belong to the cult -- just the baby-pusher variation mentioned above. This species of woman is often financially broke, they are no longer free, they don't recognize their own reflection in the mirror and they're terrified that instead of wanting to discuss the third wave of feminism and its place in the new millennium, they'd rather talk about baby feces and teething rings. They are miserable. They want you right there beside them.
2. We, as women, are programmed from birth to be mothers and try as we might, old habits die hard. It is extremely difficult to break a train of thought - a train that left the station the moment we were given our first Baby Wettums doll -- that's been imposed upon us for years. It is to the direct benefit of the patriarchy that we continue to pop out babies. It keeps us economically dependent and it keeps many of us out of the work force and away from the upper echelons of power and management. The patriarchy has been so successful in their campaign that women en masse have adopted it and begun a campaign of reproductive harassment.
3. Women are human and are just as capable as men of fucking up (i.e. making errors or applying inappropriate baby pressure). If you've just become a mother or are dreaming wistfully of the day when egg meets sperm, please, please, please, we beseech you - let us make our own choices and we'll leave you to make yours.