October 8, 2017

Childfree Women Lack Humanity

Childless women lack an essential humanity. (Miriam Schaer)“Childless women lack an essential humanity.”

Embroidered across the front of a delicate white toddler’s dress in scarlet letters, this searing slander offers a 21st century modern twist on the proverbial “scarlet letter”. Miriam Schaer a multimedia artist and teacher (Columbia College, Chicago), directs her creative wizardry on childfree women in her online installation for the International Museum of Women‘s MAMA: Motherhood Around the Globe.

New York artist, Miriam Schaer, has created a series of almost disturbing pieces about the perceived value of a woman who chooses not to reproduce… I think you’ll find Schaer’s toddler dresses embroidered with expressions of both confusion and disdain, hurled at women who choose not to have children, both unsettling and thought-provoking. (Strollerderby)

Almost disturbing? I’d suggest that these images are disturbing.

But they also are provocative in their simplicity and their “scarlet letter” resonance. No audio guide is needed to engage the viewer or to invite reflection. These quotations are familiar to the childfree, and they drip with prejudice and downright hostility. But rather than hurt or defensiveness, they trigger a more profound (and more important) question: Why? Why are childfree women threatening? Why do childfree women lack humanity? Why do childfree women meet with intolerance?

Baby (Not) on Board: The Last Prejudice?, addresses the question of why the existence of women who choose maternal independence over child-rearing angers or offends so many people and institutions. The work presented here is part of a continuing exploration of our culture’s pejorative views about women without kids. For Baby (Not) on Board: The Last Prejudice?, I hand-embroidered representative negative comments on baby dresses using red thread to create scarlet letters. Gathered from interviews with childless women, online research, and personal experience, the statements taunt and accuse, and are typical of an endless flow of critical statements that seem to be growing bolder even as non-traditional families are gaining greater acceptance. (Miriam Schaer)

Each image vibrates with smug intolerance, but collectively the images tell a different if somewhat elusive story.

I detect a theme of fragility, of an almost desperate attempt to denigrate and disempower women who have not chosen to be mothers. I detect fear, fragility, urgency, desperation and intolerance. I detect an unquestioning, un-curious, bullying theme. And why? I suspect it is because childfree women are actually gaining respect and acceptance.

Prejudice increases in proportion to the perceived threat, and the perception that more women are choosing not to have children threatens the beliefs and biases of many. In short, the prejudice is a barometer of the increasingly mainstream conversation about a woman’s reproductive freedom. Childfree women are increasingly visible, respected and vocal, so it is inevitable that their detractors will grow louder, angrier. But underlying these images of intolerance is a message of hope, a message of tolerance and perhaps even growing acceptance.

Do you share my optimism? What is your reaction to Miriam Schaer’s images?

Why No Sleep for Moms?

Stillnox

Image via Wikipedia

Moms don’t sleep, and on top of that they worry about not sleeping. Disturbed from restful nights by crying babes, and stressed by busy days they are turning to prescription meds to fight anxiety and insomnia.

“A 2007 study by the National Sleep Foundation found that nearly three in 10 U.S. women said they used a sleep aid a few nights a week. Experts said that stress and anxiety had made mothers dependent on sleep aids like Lunesta, melatonin, Ambien and even Xanax.” (ABC News)

No word on a study about dads. Maybe they slept through it.

The NYTimes reports:

“One of the cruel jokes of motherhood is that the sleeplessness of pregnancy, followed by the sleeplessness generated by an infant (a period in which a staggering — truly — 84 percent of women experience insomnia), is not followed by a makeup period of rest. It is merely the setup for what can become a permanent modus operandi.”

Is it another reason to not have kids? Or just part of the busy world we live in where we are over-scheduled, stressed out, and plugged in?

Hey WNKers do you have trouble sleeping? Do you reach for a “mother’s little helper” to get to sleep?

 

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Why I Said ‘Yes’ to Kids

Today’s guest post is from Ana June, a mother, wife, writer, photographer and jewelry artist living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Tattoo (photo credit Christopher Riedel)

Tattoo (photo credit Christopher Riedel)

In the spring of 2008, I sat down late one night to write the first installment for a newspaper column I called Planet Mom. While my youngest son slept on the couch next to me, I stared out at the night sky and tried to conjure my muse. By midnight, I had it–a relatively clear, concise, and honest introduction to the life I live as a mother to four. (Full installment is here.) In it, I wrote the following:

“This act of mothering is life in the raw. There are moments that threaten to unhinge me, followed closely by those that offer a glimpse of enlightenment.”

Nearly 3 years later, the truth in this statement still holds. Being a mother, especially to a brood the size of mine, is absolutely dichotomous. It’s unhinging and enlightening, sometimes all at once!

Choosing to become a mother was, for me, a no-brainer. I always knew I would have children…. Furthermore, I always knew I wanted to have children. This desire must have been hardwired or something–I can’t explain it much better than that. Having children gave me so very much–the opportunity to lose myself and find myself… the thrill of finding and dancing on the very edge of my every possibility. Being a mother has made me more human, more frazzled, more fully alive, more tired, more fully in love, and more humble than anything else I have ever done.

That said, motherhood doesn’t define me entirely, and it shouldn’t. I am also a photographer, a writer, a graphic designer, and a jeweler, though not necessarily in that order at any given time. I own my own business, set my own hours, and have been turning a profit for several years now. Today, Wednesday, I am a writer and a jewelry maker. I am both writing this and babysitting my jewelry kiln as it sinters tin and copper into bronze (making two sets of custom wine charms!). Next to me, dull gray pendants that will soon metamorphose into fine silver await their turn in the fire. I am an alchemist.

I am also a traveler. I returned from a whirlwind trip to New York several days ago, where I was photographing a friend’s wedding. I was blissfully childfree for this journey, and it was awesome. It was awesome as well to come home and see my family again. A few years ago, I had the amazing opportunity to travel with my husband, kidfree, to Baja to shoot the Baja 1000 with and for a group of firefighters who ride for The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (the prelude to that story is here. I apparently never posted the actual story). In a nutshell, that adventure was awe-inspiring, remarkable, incredible…. fill in the blanks. But again, it was also awesome to come home and see my family again.

Family is the absolute ultimate for me, and of course that is defined in large part by my children. Because of this, I simply don’t see parenting as duty-driven more than I see it as motivated by a deep and abiding love. It is not a job, it is my heart.

I can’t and won’t sell it to anyone, however. It is not something to do unless you feel that undeniable drive within you to create a child. It is never something to take lightly. It should never be a should. It was absolutely never a should in my own life–in fact, quite the opposite, since I was very young when I got pregnant with my son. I chose to have my children when I did–Soren, who is now 17, was born three weeks after I turned 22. I birthed him at home, with a midwife, and when I looked into his little face for the very first time I saw God. This agnostic borderline-atheist truly and absolutely saw God. You see, God isn’t some big judgmental guy lurking about the heavens waiting to smite sinners or whatnot. No… God was the design of my son’s newborn face. God was his first cry.

And I can’t expect anybody else, not even my son’s father, to understand that moment like I did. That was my moment as a mother, and I was fortunate to have three more like it in the years that followed.

It was for moments like this that I became a mother. My decision to do so had very little to do with economics or leisure or opportunity for myself. It had everything to do with feeling and expressing a love that eludes definition. It wasn’t happy happy happy, but it wasn’t sad sad sad either. It ultimately isn’t any one thing. As I recently wrote in another post on my blog (full post here):

“…motherhood is the end-all-be-all of a woman’s existence…except when it isn’t. Motherhood will thresh your very soul and lift you to heights of joy you never thought possible… except when it doesn’t. Motherhood will sweep you up to the pinnacle of beauty…. except when it’s anything but beautiful. When you have shit on your hands because the baby decided to do gymnastics after you removed the stinky diaper and the phone is ringing and the dog is barking and the older kid is whining about cookies or some such… and the diaper pail is full and the room smells like digested green beans and you haven’t showered in two days and your breasts start leaking and then the baby pees all over the changing table and all the while you suspect, in a grim sort of way, that your mortgage check will bounce this month….

Nope, that’s not beautiful at all. Motherhood isn’t always anything except raw, demanding life. Base and beautiful humanity.”

And though it is a commitment, that sometimes makes you feel like you should be committed, it can be–should be?–one gleaming facet in a multifaceted life.

It should follow the sentiment I have tattooed on my upper left arm:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
(Alfred Lord Tennyson)

No matter what we choose in this life–parenthood or not–there will forever be more to explore, more to learn, more to love. Or at least, there should be. And that is the only should that I, personally, understand.

Postscript: For anybody who is still unsure about having a child, ask yourself this: if you attempted to place your coffee mug in the cup holder of your car, one frenetic morning, and found that the space was already occupied by a large piece of dusty, hairy, dessicated bacon left therein by one of your children (one of your teens, in fact!), how would you feel? Your answer to this may help clarify your child-bearing decision…. at least a little bit. 🙂

You can follow Ana June on her blog, Non Compos Mentis Mama, or visit her professional site, Ana June Creative.

Breeders vs. Non-Breeders

Promo shot for Last Splash

Image via Wikipedia

Some people hate the term “breeder.”  Mostly it’s breeders that complain. To me a breeder is someone who chooses to have children and a non-breeder someone who does not. I’m a non-breeder and think it’s a funny title. You are welcome to call me a non-breeder even to my face. Also The Breeders happens to be the name of one of my favorite bands, so named because the term “breeders” is gay slang for heterosexuals. Interesting, right?


Urban Dictionary
has a slightly modified version of the term breeder:

1: slang term used by some childfree people for one who has a child and/or has many after that, refuses to discipline the child/ren, thinks the sun rises and sets for their child/ren, look down upon people who do not have children, and are in general very selfish and greedy when it comes to their whims and those of their child/ren, especially if they can use their parenthood status or their children as an excuse to get their way.

Okay. Ouch. That is not so nice. When did “breeders” become derogatory term against parents?  An alternative definition is  a person who breeds livestock or other animals or plants professionally. (That could be taken a couple of ways perhaps.) Apparently defining the word breeder is not that simple and a touchy subject for many including Renee from the blog www.womanist-musings.com:

“The main slur that has been directed at me from the LGBT community is the term breeder.  I understand that this a reaction to the fact that straight people constantly shame same sex couples for their inability to reproduce.  Though many straight couples spend a lifetime together and chose never to become parents, the biological impossibility of two women, or two men producing a child has been constructed as a negative.”

And on www.christianforums.com

“Are you aware that we parents are sometimes referred to as “breeders” by childfree people? It just made me sad, as I am one of those people who doesn’t judge couples for not wanting a child. That’s their decision, but why should we as parents be termed “breeders” because we decide to have children? The term is primarily use in reference to someone breeding animals! Really… I do find it offensive, and very hurtful.”

So why do we need labels like breeder, non-breeder, childfree, non-parent? Do names and labels hurt or discriminate? What do you think breeders and non-breeders? Are you loud and proud?

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Even Movie Stars are Challenged by Parenting and Non-Parenting Roles

Celebrities make it look so easy, with their $17,000 diamond studded pacifiers and twelve nannies,  but is parenting easier for the rich and famous?

Here are a few quotes from superstars on the challenging role of parenting and the joys of being childfree. See they are just like us!

Julia Roberts is playing mom to Ryan Reynolds in a new film Fireflies in the Garden but even this supermom finds parenthood demanding:

“I think it’s challenging for everybody in different ways. My challenges as a wife and a mother are very different from the ones portrayed in the movie, but I think for everybody it’s a hard challenge.”

Tori Spelling just gave birth to her third baby:

“I’m always questioning, “Am I doing the right thing? Am I okay at this?”

Kendra Wilkinson, the former Playmate and party girl,  is famous for her comments on how parenting changed her sex life.

“The sleep. I used to go to bed around 3 a.m. and wake up at 3 p.m. Now I get up at 3 a.m. and stay up until 3 a.m.”

Mad Men star Christina Hendricks‘ on screen character is currently expecting. Recently, she was asked was asked if she is ready to take on the role of motherhood for real:

“We enjoy other people’s kids very much,” Christina told Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush on the red carpet at the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday, when asked if she and her husband, “Body of Proof” actor Geoffrey Arend, are planning on having children. “We’re having fun right now.”

“We’re having a lot of fun,” Geoffrey added.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 22:  (L-R) Televisi...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The media are obsessed with pregnant celebrities and are on constant baby bump watch. Does it help an actresses career to get publicity from pregnancy? Does it hurt a career to say no to kids? Actresses Kate Walsh and Cameron Diaz have both spoken up about not being moms and have received a lot of press for choosing their childfree paths. The queen of all stage moms Kris Jenner revealed to US Weekly in August  that she puts pressure on her famous Kardashian daughters to have kids. It makes you wonder, pregnancy or no pregnancy, if it is all just for the ratings.

Too Old to Have Kids?

I’m obsessed with the television show Teen Mom and the five sixteen year olds that MTV has followed over several seasons. Watching the show is an excellent example of not only why we should have abundant, low-cost and available birth control everywhere, but also why sixteen is too young to have kids. So how OLD is too OLD to have kids?

Like many people, I was stunned to see a recent cover of New York magazine with a naked, albeit Photoshopped, grandma-looking pregnant woman. In their article “Parents of a Certain Age” NYMag asked the question, “Is there anything wrong with being 53 and pregnant?” Most readers agreed: YES! Including one reader who was so repulsed he threw the entire magazine in the garbage without reading a single word.

“The age of first motherhood is rising all over the West. In Italy, Germany, and Great Britain, it’s 30. In the U.S., it’s gone up to 25 from 21 since 1970, and in New York State, it’s even higher, at 27. But among the extremely middle-aged, births aren’t just inching up. They are booming. In 2008, the most recent year for which detailed data are available, about 8,000 babies were born to women 45 or older, more than double the number in 1997, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Five hundred and forty-one of these were born to women age 50 or older—a 375 percent increase. In adoption, the story is the same. Nearly a quarter of adopted children in the U.S. have parents more than 45 years older than they are.”

It seems logical that as the average age of the world population continues to rise the age of first time parents will also rise:

“Among the countries currently classified by the United Nations as more developed (with a total population of 1.2 billion in 2005), the overall median age rose from 29.0 in 1950 to 37.3 in 2000, and is forecast to rise to 45.5 by 2050.” (Wikipedia)

So why is there a trend of older parents? Couples are getting married later, and it’s taking longer for wannabe parents to feel financially stable to provide for children. Also, we live in a world where it is possible to have children at a later age through advances in science and medicine. But just because we can reverse menopause and make moms and dads out of senior citizens does it mean that we should?

As a woman on the cusp of forty, I am relieved that I have almost aged out of my fertile years. People ask when I am having kids less and less. My joints are starting to creak and my short-term memory stinks. I am aging, and as my body changes I can understand why it would be difficult to have a baby later in life. I respect that it is a parent’s choice to have kids or not, but I do feel uncomfortable about the risks associated with older parents on both parents and their children.

From the article:

“After 40, a pregnant woman is likelier to become afflicted with preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and hypertension—the worst outcomes of which can result in the death of the fetus and occasionally the mother as well. It is also after 40 that the risk of having a child with autism increases—by 30 percent for mothers and 50 percent for fathers, says Lisa Croen, a senior scientist at Kaiser Permanente. Advanced paternal age is likewise associated with miscarriage, childhood cancer, autoimmune disease, and schizophrenia and other neuropsychiatric disorders.”

My grandfather once told me that the most embarrassing day of his life was his high school graduation. His forty something year-old mother sat in the audience with her white hair piled high in a bun and a bun in her oven, she was eight months pregnant. So maybe I have good genes and maybe I have science on my side. For me, still, maybe does not equal baby.

WNKies: Can you be too old to have kids?

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Open Letter to a Green Mama

A landfill in Poland

Image via Wikipedia

Dear Green Mama,

I just bought diapers. They are for your new baby. As a childfree woman this is an exceptional and eye-opening day for me. Thank you for taking the time to research the environmental impact of having a child and choosing to use cloth diapers instead of disposables. And thank you for educating me on the new technology of the old standard cloth diapers. Gone are safety pins and saggy rubber pants. Cloth diapers are now made of wool, bamboo, unbleached hemp, and cotton with snug waterproof covers in every color in the Crayola box. You also told me about the burden of disposable diapers on our landfills:

“An average child will go through several thousand diapers in his/her life. Since disposable diapers are discarded after a single use, usage of disposable diapers increases the burden on landfill sites, and increased environmental awareness has led to a growth in campaigns for parents to use reusable alternatives such as cloth or hybrid diapers. An estimated 27.4 billion disposable diapers are used each year in the US, resulting in a possible 3.4 million tons of used diapers adding to landfills each year.” (Source Wikipedia)

There has been much debate over landfill for disposable diapers vs. water usage for cloth diapers. Which is better for the environment? Bleached industrial cotton is terrible for the environment and so is using a washing machine and detergent. However, if you use a full load (pardon the pun) and green laundry products they are better both baby and the world.

Fact: The use of cloth diapers goes up in hard economic times. Parents will spend between $2,000 and $3,000 before potty training on each child vs. $300 for cloth, and the cloth diapers can be recycled and reused for additional children. (Or how about skipping that next child to save some money and the environment?)

But are the cloth diapers better for baby? Many experts believe that potty training is easier for kids with cloth diapers because they can actually feel when they are wet. The fabrics are also free of chemicals and are relatively easy to use.

Back to Green Mama. Thank you also for having a “green shower” free of wrapping paper, decorative paper bags, and plastic bows. Instead, presents will come in reusable baskets and “wrapping” will include cloth diapers with reusable bows. Just during the holidays alone wrapping paper makes up four million tons of waste. I love the idea of eliminating wrapping paper and using cloth instead of disposable. This is one idea that we can all make part of our routine. Just a suggestion, you may not want to wrap your gifts for the childfree in cloth diapers.

Dear WNKers, What do you buy your friend’s babies for gifts?

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When the Kids Ask, “Why No Kids?”

“When are you having babies?”

I’ve heard this question a million times from friends and family, but just the other day I heard it from a kid. As my friend’s six-year-old daughter sat on my lap and played with my hair, she inquired about my reproductive plans. I ignored the question. Then she suggested maybe I should get a new hairstyle. Phew. That was close. I really didn’t want to go there.

“Yes, when?” asked her twin four-year-old brothers as they wrestled on the floor. D’oh!

“Never!” I answered a bit too quickly.

“But why not?” they all pleaded. And I fell for it. I pulled out my high horse and saddled up.

“Because it’s my choice, not everyone has to have kids.”

They blinked back at me. Did I say too much?

“I don’t have to have kids.” I continued to explain.

The boys chimed in, “If you’re married you are supposed to have kids.”

Uh-oh. I tried to stop myself from saying too much, but it was impossible…

“That’s not true. You don’t have to have kids if you’re married.”

I didn’t say you could or maybe even should be married to have kids. And I definitely didn’t say, “Go ask your mom and dad!”

The twins started covering my arms with Halloween tattoos and the little girl tied my hair in a knot on top of my head.

“You’d look better with short hair,” she said.

“Are you having kids?” I asked her. I just couldn’t resist.

“I don’t know yet,” she said. That’s my girl! I thought as I let myself get a makeover by the three kids.

Minutes later my husband walked into the room. He took one look at us and shook his head.

He whispered in my ear, “Great birth control.”

“The kids?” I asked, expecting him to save me.

“No,” he replied. “Your hair!”

Hey WNKers: What would you say if a child asked you, “Why no kids?”

Share your “Why no kids?” stories in the comment section below.

Excuses, Excuses…

It’s fall and my husband and I are swamped and trying to catch up with stuff we let pile up this summer. We don’t have kids so every nice day this summer we decided to go out on the lake instead of working inside. (For more on this read my Endless Summer Vacation post.) We figured it would rain and we could make haste, but it didn’t rain until Irene made a visit. And it hasn’t stopped since. So now we are busy hiding inside and working hard and we even decided to paint the entire interior of our house. It’s been a great excuse when we have to get out of obligations and allows us to leave events and other functions early. “Nope sorry, can’t stay, gotta paint.” It reminds me of some of my friends with kids and how they use them as an excuse to leave early and beg out of boring commitments. I admit, sometimes it makes me green with envy. A recent article in Jezebel “The Almighty Baby Excuse” tackles this very subject:

“Did you know that one of the least publicized advantages of having a baby is that it is, in fact, the greatest excuse ever invented to get out of doing stuff, with no loss of honor? When you were childless, you pretty much had to get spinal meningitis to talk your way out of a bridal tea or a work-sponsored tree-planting ceremony. Now, you have a living breathing RSVP with “decline” checked off, and contrary to what employers everywhere suspect, approximately 97% of the time, you’re not even bullshitting.”

The article struck a nerve with childfree reader MissCrystal. Her comment:

“As a childfree woman who is the only childless woman at my job, I’m offended and disgusted by the amount of work these ladies can get out because of kids/grandkids…as a childfree woman I supposedly have no other priorities or things I want to do other than work. The whole thing angers me and pointing out the hypocrisies of how childfree people are treated versus their counterparts has become my woman crusade.”

So this is a hot button issue for some people. Let me suggest that kids are an excellent excuse to get out of doing things, but still not a super valid reason to actually have them. (They really do get sick all the time!) Also the painting excuse works really well without adding a baby or a needy pet to the household. So far it’s been three weeks of “painting” and counting, although now we’re probably busted.

By the way, the excuse of diarrhea pretty much works every time too. A friend of mine used it twice this summer to cancel on me. What’s your favorite excuse?

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Bad Parenting? Sue Your Parents!

Should mothers be sued for bad parenting?

We can all summon up moments when our parents went too far, or at least we were 100% certain at the time that they’d gone to far, in their parenting routines. Ah, the injustice!

As it turns out, two Illinois kids kept their resentment alive long enough to sue Kimberly Garrity for being a bad mother.

Garrity’s children, Steven Miner II, 23, and Kathryn Miner, 20, originally filed their suit against her two years ago, asking for more than $50,000 for emotional distress suffered during childhood due to Garrity’s alleged parental offenses, infractions such as sending her son a birthday card sans check, not dispatching care packages to him in college and insisting on a midnight curfew for her daughter during her high school’s homecoming. (TIME Healthland)

An Illinois appeals court dismissed the lawsuit, but Ms. Garrity who raised her children in a $1.5 million home outside Chicago is left to ponder her decision to conceive and raise two ungrateful.

Court records from Garrity said she was devastated at being publicly accused of “being an inadequate mother.” … In court papers, Garrity said she still loves her children, but she warned the public nature of the lawsuit would hurt them going forward. (CNN.com)

I guess the lesson to be learned here is not to spoil your fabulously rich kids rotten, because they’ll just grow up and sue for not spoiling them rotten enough. Kids these days. (Above the Law)

But reflection and regret are only half of Garrity’s reward. She also has the pleasure of paying for her legal representation.

“It would be laughable that these children of privilege would sue their mother for emotional distress, if the consequences were not so deadly serious for (Garrity),” Garrity’s attorney, Shelley Smith, wrote in court documents. “There is no insurance for this claim, so (Garrity) must pay her legal fees, while (the children) have their father for free.” (Today People)

Gawker weighed in with a curious twist:

What the judges seem to have overlooked is how their ruling now opens the floodgates to parents who wish to say no to their children, which will be more corrosive to our society in the long-run. (Gawker.com)

Not sure I follow this concern. Aren’t parents supposed say no? Sometime? Maybe even often? Or was I terribly mistreated? I can feel the emotional distress bubbling up across the years… Lawyer!

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