October 8, 2017

What’s Your Baby? My Baby Is…

Miriam Schaer asks "What's your baby?" My baby is... (Photo: Leo Selvaggio)

Miriam Schaer asks “What’s your baby?”
My baby is… (Photo: Leo Selvaggio)

Miriam Schaer and Melissa Potter are asking you to answer a childfree question: What’s your baby?

No, not your cute little bundle of time-released anxiety and tuition payments. Your metaphorical baby. As in, “My baby is my medical career.” And, “My baby is volunteering in my community.” Or, “My baby is a travel ‘bucket list’ a mile long!”

Childfree adults often cite non-childbearing priorities that trumped their reproductive genes. Sometimes our reasons for not breeding are overarching and a bit abstract like freedom, autonomy, etc. But I think that Miriam Schaer (remember “Childfree Women Lack Humanity”?) is on to something.

People often refer to their passion, their vocation or avocation, their life’s work as — their “baby.” What’s Your Baby? … [explores the] broadly embedded cultural hostility toward women (rarely men) without children that appears on the rise even as non-traditional families gain greater acceptance. What’s Your Baby? seeks to re-frame this conversation. (Miriam Schaer)

Schaer’s unflinching look at a woman’s childfree existence offers solace and perhaps even a glimpse of optimism to Melissa Potter. The following much abridged excerpt captures a familiar (if often concealed) feeling of judgment endured by childfree adults.

“We’ve always felt sorry for you and Rene that you couldn’t balance your amazing career with a family.” 18 words that hit me like a ton of bricks…

I realized I’d been sorta hoodwinked. This same family member said many times she was so thrilled with my career, and even said she didn’t think having kids was necessary, particularly with such a life fulfilled like mine…

But to know that even to a Quaker radical feminist who adores me thinks I am at some deficit sucks. I admit it: I care what people think. And this is what people think of my gender, in the age of “have it all.” You are never enough, you are always somehow fucked up for not having a baby…

I invite you to take part in the amazing Miriam Schaer’s artwork, “What’s Your Baby?” This project celebrates YOU, in all your iterations. It is working to bring some 21st Century complexity to the question of life and what we contribute. (via Melissa Potter’s “Gender Assignment” tumblr)

Experience toughens up childfree adults, but it doesn’t mean that the judgment doesn’t sting. And while parents knock us for overreacting, suggesting that we’re responding to criticism and judgment that is overstated or doesn’t even exist at all, I’m confident that Potter’s experience will be familiar to many CF, especially women.

Rather than sawing away on little violins, the “What’s your baby?” project flips the coin. If we childfree have prioritized other life choices over reproducing, let’s own them. Out loud. Let’s celebrate them!

My Baby Is

Think about your own answer to the question, and jot a quick note. “My baby is…” And then submit it to inspire others.

As for my own experience, I can’t narrow my babies down to just one. While I can’t imagine fathering multiple flesh-and-blood progeny, I’ve had the good fortune of gestating and loving and supporting quite a few metaphorical babies. And for the most part, there’s been no greater satisfaction than sending them out into the world when the right time came.

As a college student I edited a pedigreed literary and art magazine called the Georgetown Journal back into thriving existence from mere embers. That was my first “baby”. There were other babies in my early twenties too including teaching, coaching and launching an innovative service learning program. I adopted and parented a lacrosse program in Santa Fe, New Mexico and a swimming program in Paris, France. I adopted and adapted two innovative interdisciplinary humanities curricula and launched an early e-learning platform. In my thirties other “babies” of mine included developing a spectacular luxury vacation property in Paris; co-parenting a fast growing ecommerce portal for marine supplies; launching two now-thriving nonprofits in the Adirondacks’ Champlain Valley; transitioning an AEA theater through growing pains and success in its late twenties; and several eco-friendly historic rehabilitation projects including ongoing Rosslyn Redux. I’m not bragging. I’ve often struggled and sometimes failed at parenting my “babies”. (And to be honest, I’ve left the biggest flops off the list!) But the point is that I have had the good fortune of many “babies”! Life has been extremely full for me and immensely rewarding. I harbor few regrets and bold hopes. Perhaps that’s my most important “baby” of all: a life free to dream up and dive into new challenges and adventures without the risk of losing or damaging a flesh-and-blood baby.

Now I’m on to a new “baby”. As I headed out into the world from college I didn’t know precisely what career path I intended to pursue, but I understood that my ambitions including writing and entrepreneurship. Along the way, many of my “babies” have included this DNA. My newest adventure is no exception. I am a blogger, a storyteller, a writer. Full time. That is my newborn. My “baby” is my story. Thank you for helping make it possible!

 

Top Twelve 2012 Posts

It’s new year’s resolution and year-in-review time, so I’m looking backward in order to look forward.

Despite the unlucky thirteen twaddle, I’m bullish on the incoming year. Much good is pent up and ready to burst out of the starting gate. Trust me.

And, despite rumors to the contrary, 2012 was a pretty jolly romp too. Is it possible that life’s just a twitch better when bathed in childfree limelight? I suspect the answer is yes. Yes!

And yet in the coming year I do firmly resolve to direct my mixed blessings upon several slightly more child-centric themes such as watersports, chocolate and uncle-dom. It’s high time I divulge my #1 reason for childfreedom and examine it methodically vis-à-vis AAA (aquatic adrenaline adventures), dark vs. milk cacao derivatives (It really does matter if you’re black or white!) and the merits of nieces and nephews. Hold onto your contraceptives, WNKers, I detect the first tremors of a maturity avalanche… And gravity always wins!

But before it does, let’s take a revealing glance in the rear view mirror. 2012 was a big year for Why No Kids? Why? Well, we suspect it has very little to do with our journalistic prowess and plenty to do with the childfree zeitgeist which is washing the globe free of preconceived baby bias just in time. The bottom line is the childfree space is buzzing. No. It’s exploding. No longer niche, childfree dialogue is mainstream. It’s — dare I say it? — almost hip.

Top Twelve 2012 on Why No Kids?

Anyway, enough prologue, and on with the top 2012 posts on Why No Kids:

  1. 10 More Reasons to Not Have a Baby
  2. Motherhood: Decision, Not Destiny
  3. Why no kids? Childfree celebrities!
  4. Childfreedom: More Happiness
  5. How much $ can I save by not having babies?
  6. Happy Non-Parents Day!
  7. Why Are You Childfree?
  8. Is Having Kids Selfish?
  9. Childfree Women Lack Humanity
  10. Photo Essay: Childfree Celebrities
  11. Childfree Families
  12. Nulliparity Health Risks

I remain a bit perplexed by the perennially popular childfree celebrity fascination, but I’m thrilled with interest in parenting as choice not default, the relationship between childfreedom and happiness and childfree finances. And the ongoing popularity of Miriam Schaer’s controversial exhibition has inspired us to take another look. What’s the artist up to in 2013? Stay tuned.

What’s on your top twelve childfree list?

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?