For years I have wrestled with a personal struggle that my closest friends and family were all too aware of but didn’t know quite how to help. They all watched as I put my body and mind through the wringer in an effort make my dreams a reality. I tried everything; different positions, consultations with specialists in the field of medicine, meditation, exercise, yet nothing happened. People often told me to relax, that I was trying too hard, that I was too uptight, that nothing would happen if I didn’t just chill, but these words fell on deaf ears. How can they possibly give me advice, they have no idea what I was going through. Time marched on and people around me were making their big announcements and it didn’t seem fair, why were they so lucky? What were they doing that I wasn’t? With my self-confidence shredded I thought about giving up, maybe it was not in the cards for me, maybe I wasn’t good enough, or deserving enough. It took nearly two years of hard work, sacrifice, struggle, heartache, and sometimes tears but here I am, about to tell the world (or a small cross-section of it) my big news.
On Friday morning I received word that I was promoted at work. Without going into too many details this is a personal victory of monumental proportions, one that many agree is long overdue making. Moving mountains might be easier than getting a promotion in my organization and I had actually considered leaving the company for a year to come back in at a higher position; a very successful method that many colleagues use to get ahead. But alas the bittersweet moment came and I am trying to savor sweet happiness rather then wallow in the bitterness that it took so long. Ironically I received my big announcement about 30 minutes after hearing the family news that my cousin was in the hospital about to give birth. My family eagerly awaited the arrival of the newest family addition and I am not naïve to think that anyone would find my news that exciting given the circumstances. So I told a couple of coworkers, a friend, my mother, and my husband. My mother’s excitement actually surprised me given the impending arrival would make her a Great Grand Aunt. I didn’t want to push my luck by telling my sisters who for all intensive purposes were about to become Aunts to a cousin who is like a sister; someone would have their thunder stolen, and that person would be me.
Through the years I have spoken with other childfree women who struggle with how to share their own “big news.” Pregnant women broadcast their news from the hilltops, expecting all around to be happy and joyous. People expect women to have children and many childfree woman are pressured into changing their minds and making the announcement that all their friends and family really want to hear; any other update is secondary. Unfortunately other life successes are discounted because people place such emphasis on women as child bearers. The role of mother is an important one (one I argue that far too many people do not take seriously enough), but women who choose other roles and other paths in life should not be dismissed as less important. Although it is a satirical newspaper, The Onion recently published a line that many childfree women can relate to and communicates volumes on this topic; "But what do I know. I'm just the lead researcher for an entire team of Northwestern grad students who look to me for the answer because I'm their boss. All my achievements are irrelevant because I never had any kids, right, Mom? Right?"
From another angle it did not dawn on me until recently how friends and family might struggle with the right way of announcing their pregnancy news to me or any other openly childfree person. The epiphany came when my friend Becca shared her news with the following caveat; “We know it’s not for everyone but we're excited about this next stage in our lives and wanted to share the news.” Admittedly I’m not as excited as their other friends and my focus is on the health and well-being of the woman I already know and love and not that of the child she is carrying. I might not fully understand why anyone would want children, but when the announcement comes from a couple who are stable, loving, healthy, happy, financially sound, and competent then I can share in their happiness.
Those who meet my “criteria” for sharing in pregnancy happiness are often the same couples who accept and embrace me for who I am and would receive my non-pregnancy news with equal excitement. They are people who accept that babies aren’t for everyone and understand there are other paths in life that deserve celebration and recognition. Some women conceive babies, others conceive ideas. Some women birth human babies, others “birth” businesses, books, art, gardens, blogs, stamps in their passport, marathons, community service, and promotions. These are the “babies” of the childfree that also take years to develop, raise, and grow. It is important to recognize and celebrate these successes whether a woman is a parent or not.