World Childless Week

A friend of mine posted on Facebook the other day about World Childless Week. I had never heard of it before, but I felt seen and validated. At church, our worth as women is defined by the contents of our uterus. Six days a week, I am a successful individual, and on Sunday I am seen as a failure due to my fallow womb. Not just a failure, though – often judgment is heaped upon women without children, either because we are believed to have chosen our childlessness or we are believed to have sinned and caused our childlessness. (News flash: plenty of gravely sinful people have children, otherwise there would be almost no need for CPS and the foster care system.)

It doesn’t get much better in online Mormon feminist circles, though. In a well-intentioned but misguided effort to be inclusive of those without children, many (with children) have taken to calling women who don’t have children “childfree” instead of “childless” as if the neutral term “childless” is somehow shameful. Childless means without children but does not specify the reason. Childfree is a lifestyle choice where someone actively chooses not to have children. There is nothing wrong with choosing not to have children, but it’s not the only reason someone doesn’t have them. Once again, I am seen as having chosen my childlessness. I am denied the opportunity to grieve because apparently I brought it on myself.

I am childless. I am not childfree. And 90% of women my age who do not have children are likewise childless and not childfree. Our stories are varied. Some tried to conceive but were unable to. Some tried to carry to term but could not. Some didn’t have the economic means to even try in the first place. Some didn’t find a partner in time and didn’t feel able or wish to raise a child alone. Some have what I call Schrodinger’s Womb – neither fertile nor infertile, not in menopause yet, but the chances of finding someone before that happens get smaller every day.

Most of the time I tell myself that I’ve made peace with my situation, and most days I have. But then I see people who definitely don’t deserve to be parents who nonetheless get to, and I scream at the sky asking God why they’re allowed to and I’m not, because I know I would do a better job. And then I remind myself that I probably still have a few years left and a miracle could happen. Sarah and Hannah got their improbable children. Schrodinger’s Womb rears its head again.

When you meet a person who doesn’t have children, don’t assume that you know why. Don’t assume you know how the person feels about it. And don’t assume that how they feel about it is static. Don’t assume they want to talk about it, but also don’t assume that they don’t. We’re unique individuals, just like you. Become our friends and love us for who we are, not for the potential contents of our collective uteri.

Trudy

Trudy is a legal professional living in the southwestern US. She has three cats who allow her to live in their house in exchange for a steady supply of food and treats.

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4 Responses

  1. JC says:

    I’d never heard of World Childless Week until I read your post. Thank you for bringing it to my – and everyone else’s – attention.

    I’m in my early thirties, so not yet at the point where I need to be terribly concerned about my fertility, but also at the weird stage where I know that I’m not too far away from when it will become harder to conceive naturally or at all. I also know that I’m getting closer to the age where the risk of chromosomal conditions and other complications in pregnancy (gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, increased chance of miscarriage and/or stillbirth, increased need for caesarean section, and low birth weight) come into play and are more likely to happen.

    Honestly, I wonder if I even **want** to deal with that at all. I imagine being a first-time parent in your mid-to-late thirties or early forties is hard enough, but having a child with a chromosomal condition or other disability makes it all the more complicated. The lack of support society gives to the disabled and their family members, low number of quality third party care systems, the uncertainty and being unable to guarantee that your disabled child won’t be abused and/or taken advantage of after your death, and knowing that you won’t be around for **at least** half of the disabled child’s life are all scary to reckon with. I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t want to take that gamble. Given how poorly disabled people are treated by governments, private and public sectors, and social services, it feels irresponsible. I know this is a concern among single friends of mine, and as they’ve gotten older, the desire for children has decreased partly for this reason.

    I liked your quote here: “News flash: plenty of gravely sinful people have children, otherwise there would be almost no need for CPS and the foster care system.”

    This is too true! Nothing bothers me more than when people use Fast & Testimony meeting, lessons in Sunday School and Relief Society, and the opportunity to speak in Sacrament meeting to say things like, “I’m so grateful Heavenly Father TRUSTED **ME** with **HIS** children!” It’s awful that people don’t understand how hurtful that quote is. Like, gee thanks, Heavenly Father, for trusting the 13-year-old girl, homeless drug addict, the parent who exercises unrighteous dominion, the parent who beats her children and screams at them all the time, the woman who can’t think herself out of a wet paper bag, and the fake shallow mean girl with your children more than me or any other woman out there who is faithful, intelligent, kind, and actually has her crap together. 🙄 Really appreciate that.

  2. Lily says:

    I am 55 and never married/childless. I really have taken to heart the idea that if the Lord loved and trusted me I would have been married and had a family.

  3. spunky says:

    Amen and amen and amen and amen!!!! May I add: Never say, “In the next life…” wishing death upon me, or promising that I will somehow be “cured” of childlessness in the “next life” makes being childless feel like a disability at best and a curse at worst.

  4. Pam says:

    I had never heard of this until today and man do I feel validated as well! I also never thought that for one minute my own actions (“sins”) were the reason I was not able to bear children. I grieved FOR YEARS for the inability to have children, and not because I was single but because I had a tumor removed from my uterus when I was 31. I always felt judged because I “chose” not to have children and I suppose that’s correct. Doctors told me that I would miscarry any child I conceived due to the damage caused by surgery so I chose to live without even more pain and loss and that, in the eyes of Church members, makes be a “bad” person.

    I have so much value outside of motherhood or being a wife and I’m constantly frustrated that my other skills and talents are brushed aside because I’m not fulfilling God’s plan for me. As though everyone in the Church has a deep understanding of how God wants me to live my life. If thinking for myself and doing what’s right for me (which in this case is not having children) is wrong, then so be it.

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