Tuesday, October 4, 2022

‘It’s None Of Your Bloody Business’ – We Need to Stop Asking Women if They Want Children

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No matter what your situation is, if you’re a woman over 25 I guarantee you’ve been asked the same question:

“So, when do you think you want kids?”

Single, engaged, married, divorced, it doesn’t matter: if ye hath a uterus, you’re fair game for the at best curiosity, or, at worst, judgement, of others as to what you choose to do with it.

Suddenly, your reproductive organs become public property, from those initial probing questions to the stage where other women come up to you in the supermarket and prod your baby bump without asking or caring.

For some women, that often thrown around question evokes an easy response – “Soon!”. For others, it’s a flat out “Never”. And for others, it causes a sharp, piercing pain, because they’re bloody well trying but it’s just not happening. Or, perhaps most cruelly of all, it did happen – and then all of a sudden, it wasn’t happening anymore.

On national radio this morning, ZM morning show presenter Megan Papas found herself in floods of tears as she tried to read out a pre-written statement that detailed her and husband Andrew’s tough fertility journey.

It was supposed to be a happy announcement, and it was – Megan is now 17 weeks pregnant – but the radio personality says even she was shocked with how emotional she became as she recalled her almost two-year struggle to conceive.

“[My husband and I] haven’t really spoken about it all much, so when I started reading aloud all of the emotion caught up with me and it just came out,” Megan tells Capsule.

“When people used to ask me, I’d always look to Andrew and he’d give me a look back that just said, ‘breathe’. How I felt being asked really depended on my mood – sometimes I’d want to punch the person who asked me, other times I’d just want to cry. There was one time when we were asked on the same day my period came, and I remember thinking, ‘Come on, give me at least a day’.”

No matter who you are, if you’re a woman, you’re fair game. Mariah Carey waded into the discussion just today as she recalled a particularly awful appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres show in 2008. With rumours flying that the singer was pregnant, Ellen tried her best to solicit a confession live on air – and when Mariah refused to comment, Ellen wheeled out a bottle of Champagne, thrust a glass into Mariah’s hand and told her to drink it if she wasn’t pregnant.

This week, Mariah revealed that she was pregnant, but that she’d suffered a miscarriage prior. She miscarried again not long after appearing on the show.

“I was extremely uncomfortable with that moment is all I can say,” Mariah told Vulture this week. “And I really have had a hard time grappling with the aftermath. I wasn’t ready to tell anyone because I had had a miscarriage.”

For Megan, who is expecting her baby in February 2021, her journey has ended happily – albeit with a huge shock when she saw the two little lines that confirmed her surprise pregnancy.

“We were just about to start IVF, and my period was a day late. We’d completely written off having a baby naturally, so I thought I’d just do a test and the disappointment over with. I don’t know how many times I checked the box to see what the little lines meant! I thought I’d cry, but I ended up just pacing around the house and swearing a lot. Then I raced down to The Warehouse and bought these cute little booties that said ‘My Dad is my hero’ to give to Andrew, and he was just blown away.”

She’s also been amazed at the deluge of kind messages she’s received since her on-air announcement – “I feel a bit silly, I was so anxious about doing it. I’ve kind of been in the public eye for a bit now with this job, and I’ve learnt that there are always arseholes! There are always people who, for some reason, will just say something negative. So I was preparing myself for all of that, but people have been so amazing.”  

For me personally – and despite my enduring singleness – there isn’t a trip home to my parents that doesn’t feature a mention of how great a grandkid would be. I’m lucky that I don’t have strong feelings about kids either way; I have more of a “if it happens, great, if it doesn’t, ok’ vibe to the whole thing. But as I approach 30 (Jesus) I’m very much getting to that ‘you’re-running-out-of-time-find-a-penis-and-get-it-done’ area of people’s thinking.

It’s at the very minor end of the spectrum when it comes to people’s nosiness over your personal business, but all of it speaks to this idea that if you don’t have a kid you’re somehow failing as a woman, a sentiment Megan shares.

After a year of trying, and four rounds of a drug called Clomiphene, she says it was hard to not start pointing the finger at herself.

“At this point, it’s so hard to not start blaming your body,” she shared on the radio this morning. “I felt like I couldn’t do what I was supposed to do as a woman, I was pretty despondent to say the least, and my husband was feeling more and more helpless.”

The actual definition of ‘female’ in the Oxford dictionary literally reads, “of or denoting the sex that can bear the offspring”, which seems ridiculously and offensively narrowminded and outdated. It implies that if you can’t bear offspring, you’re somehow not female. Um, excuse me?

It was a point The Guardian writer Katy Lindermann wrote to in a 2018 article titled I’m a Feminist. So Why Does Infertility Make Me Feel Like a Failure?

“As a 21st-century feminist, of course I don’t believe a woman’s worth is determined by her ability to reproduce. Having a child isn’t the defining aspect of female identity – womanhood means so much more than motherhood. Yet I feel like a failure as a woman because I can’t have children,” she said.

“Getting my period is a monthly reminder of my reproductive potential… [but] I’ve decided that I’ve had enough of feeling guilty that I’m a crap feminist for buying into entrenched social norms… I’m an infertile feminist, and I’m resolving to stop feeling conflicted over the grief I feel about that.”

But in 2020, with the concepts of femininity, feminism and womanhood fluid and reactive, we need to change this – all of this.

People choosing not to have kids is on the rise – the number of couples without kids has risen from 35% in 1991 to just over 40% in 2013 in New Zealand. In the same year, 16% of women aged between 40-44 were child free, up from 12% in 1996.

And according to Fertility Associates, infertility affects one in four Kiwis.  

And actually aside from the statistics having a baby is just a deeply personal decision with so many other factors at play – finances, family, career. Why is it ok to ask about baby plans when you’d never ask how much money is in a person’s bank account?

Changing the narrative starts with little things. Like, using the term ‘childfree’ to describe a woman doesn’t have kids, rather than the very pointed ‘childless’.

By recognising a woman’s right to choose – and yes, that includes contraception, abortion and family planning.

And, most of all, it starts with putting a very swift kibosh on the question, ‘so, when are you going to have a baby?’

Because it’s none of your bloody business.

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