She who just had other things to do.

This post has been gestating so to speak, for some time now. It began in early spring last year (hence the slightly unseasonal references), got added to when Cat Treadwell posted about a similar subject last year and got completed today when I recieved yet another well meaning but ill-considered comment.

As the cycle turns again past the Spring equinox, the days lengthen and the sun warms, the world suddenly seems alive with creatures busy becoming, or preparing to become parents as if their lives depended on it. It is a little early yet for the baby birds and many other creatures, but there are lambs – albeit brought on early by artificial farming systems. Most other creatures wait a while for the sun to be a little warmer yet and the food sources to be more abundant. The sap is rising though, and the first scents of lust are in the air. It seems that each thing is starting to express that primary urge to procreate, indeed the goddess of motherhood, that deep, aching, yearning drive, begins (for the females at least) to obliterate all else. For me she is not ever loving, nurturing, soft and yielding, but a demanding bitch who will get her way at all costs and damn who gets hurt in the process. Spiders eat their mates to provide them with the energy to gestate and birth sometimes consumed in turn by their offspring. Frogs mate themselves literally to death to produce clouds of spawn, and Blue tits run themselves ragged to the point of exhaustion, sparing little for themselves as they stuff another worm down a gaping baby’s mouth. As a midwife, I know that motherhood can offer moments of utter beauty and tenderness, but I also know that a good amount of the time, it is not ‘nice’.

As pagans at this time of equinox, we start to get busy with eggs, obscene amounts of chocolate, hares, daffodils and other representations of the spring. We celebrate the first scents of warmer air, fertility and life, the growing fecund earth, our Mother. Motherhood: it is a central theme that runs through out just about every paganism throughout the world, but where does Maiden-Mother-Crone leave those of us who are intentionally childless and intend to remain so, or those who so desperately wanted children but cannot have them for whatever reason. What of the Bitch, Witch, Barren-Woman, Working-Woman, and Woman-With-Just-Plain-Old-Better-Things-To-Do? She rarely features in the equation although she is abundant in Mythology. No, whichever way we look at it, the woman without children is an oddity, a challenge and often, the rest of society is just not quite sure what to do with her. If you are unable to have a child, in addition to having to deal with your own sense of grief and often rage, you are the subject of pity and hushed voices, ‘it’s so sad…, such a shame‘ the sense that no one quite knows what to say as if you have somehow failed in your essential duty. Conversely, woman who chose to be childless often appear to be unwitting prey to those in life who, bowled over by the wonder and joy of their own parenthood, consider it their personal mission in life to win you over, not realising that the source or their own joy is rarely, if ever, as interesting to the rest of the world.

It seems that as soon as a woman gets to a certain age, usually her 30’s, other women, always mothers themselves, seem to decide for you that your biological clock is undoubtedly ticking. How many times have I heard the phrases ‘so, it won’t be long now before…’, ‘you really don’t want to leave it too late…’, ‘you’ll regret it if you don’t, my children are my greatest joy..’ and other such encouragements to bite the bullet and join the mother club. As a woman in her 30’s who falls into the Woman-With-Just-Plain-Old-Better-Things-To-Do category, on explaining my position I am invariably met with either pity or a knowing smile that says ‘one day you’ll crack and then you’ll realise what you’ve been missing.’ On posting something similar to Facebook the other day, irritated beyond measure by yet another of these comments, I was amazed at the other women and a good few men too who empathised. Childless for different reasons, the majority were irritated, hurt or baffled by the assumption that childbearing should be the normal thing to do, that anyone who goes by a different path is somehow not normal, has something wrong with them or simply will not be complete without a baby.

Without doubt, the fleetingly rare times in my life where I have been even remotely tempted to have a child have all been motivated by my ancestors. The understanding that we are at the front of a long line of inheritance that connects us back to earliest humanity and beyond is where, if there is any sense of it at all, my greatest feelings of duty and responsibility lie. If I don’t pass on that inheritance do I fail my ancestors in my genetic duty? Within a religion that holds such deep reverence for our ancestors, I think perhaps there is the tendency for pagans to beat ourselves with this particular ceremonial plank more than others. Yet, in striving to be a thinking, rational, wakeful human woman, in a world where over consumption runs rife within a growing population who not only demand to be fed and watered but comfortable with it, I would encourage every woman to make a conscious choice, wherever possible about childbearing. After all, having a child (or three) will undoubtedly be the biggest increase to your carbon footprint you will ever make, it doesn’t matter how many transatlantic fights you may have made in the past, they will pale in comparison. Apart from anything else, are my genes really so fabulous, that I just have to pass them on? I am not so special and the flow of humanity will undoubtedly continue whether I reproduce or not and I can be sure it will be just as, well… human. I would like to see motherhood as something women opt into consciously and deliberately rather than an opting out of which confounds societies unspoken expectations.

So whilst not negating the role of the mother here at all, I would like to share a celebration of the childless woman. The ones who made the choice not to, the ones who couldn’t, the ones who tore their souls open in grief at the failure and found peace on the other side, the ones who still have to find peace, the ones who never will, the spinsters, the ones who maintained their freedom with fierce courage in the face of society’s norms, growing roses and dancing in the rain. The unheard stories. Sisters I salute you.

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11 thoughts on “She who just had other things to do.

  1. aliceyaxley says:

    Great post Red. I’m a mother myself, and also profoundly respectful of and grateful for the work of all the women I know who didn’t take that path. Good piece of writing. I salute your clarity! May it shield you from the barbs strewn by ignorant people.

  2. joannavdh says:

    Brilliant post. Childless by choice, my life has no room for children – and I’ve never wanted any at any point in my life. I do enjoy some children, but they tend to be quite exceptional children, who are older then their years. Children tend to like me as well – seing a kindred spirit perhaps. I’ve not had too many people trying to change my mind – indeed, all of my friends have only expressed respect for my choice. I have two cats – that’s enough. I love them as a mother would her children. They understand that. No pressure from family either – they can see from my life that there is simply no time to devote to a child, and are still proud of me.

    When the ignorant or thoughtless person says these things, however, don’t take it so hard – imagine it’s like having a preference for chocolate over crisps – or a really nice bottle of red wine. Some people will try to convince you that a merlot is better than a pinot noir, you’ve had a taste of both and know that the pinot is definitely the one for you. So smile, shrug, and turn your attention to what really matters in life – your life.

    It’s getting easier for me to brush off some people’s comments, in the rare instances when they are being thoughtless, or even intentionally hurtful. I can’t change people’s minds, all i can do is get on with my life. I can make people aware of my choice with respect, and without getting emotional about it – and it seems to be working.

    I also wonder if the urge to procreate has something to do with wanting to live forever – by having a child your own sense of mortality may fade, as a part of you is invested in your child. Those who have faced the fear see no need.

    So, I’m with you, Red – I stand by the warrior maiden, I honour the Mother but empathise with the maiden and crone more. My goddess is the antlered woman deep in the woods and on the wild heathlands, untameable and free to choose, free to do as she pleases. May you always remain so as well. x

  3. Yes! Thanks for this. I’m married but child-free by choice, and I’m getting to that age when people are starting to hint and nudge that my biological clock is ticking. The older I get, the more I find myself having to confront the sexist assumption that wanting a career instead of children is somehow inappropriate for a woman.

    When people tell me that having children was the best thing they ever did, my favorite snarky response is: “Well, of course. After that, you wouldn’t have had the time or energy to do anything better.” 😉

  4. ” Children are Blessings ! ” ” Maiden, Mother, Crone “…..well, where does that leave a woman like me who was BORN with repro parts from the back shelves of the missing/misshapen/non working gyno department ?
    Great blog post…I’ve been thinking similar stuff for years and am so happy to see it online !

  5. […] She Who Just Had Other Things To Do […]

  6. Nimue Brown says:

    As a breeder, would just like to comment that the whole maid-mother-crone (pre babies, babies, too old for babies) definition of womanhood drives me nuts. It’s so reductive, even for those of us who reproduce. Being a mum is important to me, but it’s not the sum and total of who I am, and all that stuff you’re talking about, drives me a bit nuts too. Can I add to the list the women who birth and are so crippled by Post natal depression that the process is mostly hell, the ones who were forced or pressured into pregnancy, or got there out of ignorance, the lost and confused. It’s not the be all and end all and we’d all, reproductive or otherwise, be a lot better off if we held a better shared perspective on this one.

    • Thanks Nimue. I suppose in the whole vast experience of what it means to be a woman I would consider that there is room for all the stories. As someone who teaches women’s studies I could equally have written a thousand words on birth, motherhood, postnatal depression, neonatal death, gender equality etc, etc, etc. Today it was choosing to be childless. As midwife I have worked day in, day out with mothers, the ones who lost babies, the ones for whom birth was the most life affirming thing they have ever done, the ones with screaming postnatal depression. I love my job and honour women every day for their general amazingness.

      I think we need to be careful of inferring that telling one story negates another, that seems reductive in itself and was certainly not my intention. It is precisely my point that women should not be defined by their status as mother (or not) but my experience is that so often, childless women are. I have no doubt that mothers are too and find it equally galling.

      As for a shared consensus, I wonder how possible that is when the stories are all so wildly, wonderfully different. Perhaps the only consensus we could realistically have is to honour that difference of experience.

  7. Nimue Brown says:

    Oh, it’s intrinsic to the nature of blogging that you so often end up telling a fragment of the hugeness, I go round this one all the time, did not mean to imply any criticism of what you’d witten, just to offer another fragment of the picture. Any kind of reductive story that comes to dominate is a pain in the arse, in any form. Maid mother crone is a bugbear for me, anything that challenges narrow stories has to a good thing.

  8. Oh yay and amen to that!

  9. Beth says:

    I’m childless by choice as well and have only been troubled by being told that I was selfish. That’s so wrong, especially considering that it takes courage to be self aware; to let go and open up to other possibilities. I remember once saying that there’s a big wide world out there that needs nurturing.
    Not long before she passed away, I spoke with my Mom, a mother of six, about not having children. She was deeply understanding and encouraged me to embrace any freedom and opportunity for growth by studying, travelling, or doing whatever I felt was best. I suspect my Mom imagined other things she could have been doing.
    While in my late thirties, I spoke with women, mostly in their forties and fifties, who chose not to have children. Every one of them said that for brief periods of time they needed to purge a little doubt but in the end did not feel regret and were thankful they trusted their gut.

  10. Heather Awen says:

    Love this. I get pregnant no matter how much birth control is used when I have sex in Ireland where my family is from and many still live, as they want to get into this world thru my body. I taught homeless children and adored them but have never had any illusions about how hard childrearing would be, unlike my friends selfishly creating humans to give them the childhood they wanted and by not being like their parents, they went into opposite of parents mode and made huge new mistakes. On a naturopathic bovine hormone medication I ovulated and wanted a house, a man with a gun on the porch, a nursing baby on my breast and two other kids to order about. It was weird and if other women are hijacked every month by that hormonal desire, I understand better why people not suited at all for parenting end up parents. As an eco-pagan,I cannot justify breeding more humans when we’re soon to be at 8 billion. People’s green babies will rebel and drive SUVs. I come from the 1970s back to the earth hippie movement kids – people make fun of their parents and friends like any group, they rebel. Environmentally I can see no reason for encouraging babies. Wicca, making a Murrey’s pretend fertility into a real religion, where everything is about sex, all duotheism, may say it is a nature religion but very little of it actually helps the other-than-humans. The motherhood emphasis included. Also personally I am tired of baby sitting my friends’ kids when visiting my friends as they are depressed and exhausted from having babies due to being drunk, trying to save a marriage, or their own unmet psychological needs. Why they thought it would be fun and easy is beyond me. This leads to “Call me in 15 years.” Sadly though, I tend to side with kids when their kids get to be teenagers, as I saw their parents make these mistakes and the teenagers hold mirrors to my friends they do not want to see. It is hard to be on their teenage kids’ sides. I only know one good parent of all my friends. The rest I already can tell what their kid will be saying in therapy 30 years later. AS someone who loves kids and land, I say no more making babies til we get ourselves sussed out!

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