If a woman doesn’t hatch a sprog by the time she reaches 35 her ovaries begin to vibrate. What, didn’t you know? They start purring like a pair of pagers belonging to doctors working on call on the very same night binge drinking has been made compulsory and every car dealership throughout the land is offering free, unsupervised test-drives of their most expensive, fastest cars to all their customers. They begin slowly, getting faster and faster, rivalling your most powerful vibrator until, one day, they flash red and self-destruct, exploding like a tin of beans in a microwave taking with them any chance of you ever getting in the family way.
Whether this is founded in fact or the anecdotal depends on who you talk to. The press says yes. Of course. And did you not realise that once you embark on your third decade on this mortal coil all sexual contact is plagued by an incessant hissing reminiscent of a lit taper, as your womb begins to spin round and round like a Catherine wheel, spitting out ripe, yet unfertilised eggs? It’s a tabloid fact. Your friends say, no way! Your womb could cough out fresh-faced babes with the best of ‘em should you wish to lie back and think of England (or Scotland or Ireland or Wales or anywhere else in the world of your choosing). Science disagrees, and says you are too old, too young, too fat, too thin and too career-orientated to be a suitable vessel to bring man’s seed to fruition. And what do you say? Well, a good percentage of women, like me, probably go down the route of just not caring. While the media and family members try to centralise fertility as the most important facet of your being, there are a number of us who resent the idea that our existence and achievements will only be validated by getting up the duff.
There’s nothing wrong with yearning for a baby and, of course, each birth is a celebration of the wonders of the female body because, let’s face it, if something the size of a bowling ball can be squeezed out from “down there” it should be commended (I know I would want, nay expect, the biggest shiniest tackiest medal in the world ever, ever, ever, and be down right pissed off it I didn’t get it). But deciding not to have a baby should be considered an equally acceptable choice, without every woman who revels in her child-free life being greeted with the same pitiful and knowing smiles (“too single to get pregnant,” “too fat/thin to be a mother,” “what’s wrong with her? She must be infertile,” “her boyfriend’s/husband’s pants are too tight and too polyester,” “that’s why she works so much, but a career’s the only thing she’s got,” “it’s not like she’s got a good job to keep her occupied, she must be devastated,” etc…you get the picture…), because the default reaction is to always assume that if you don’t have a child, or aspirations of becoming a mother in the not too distant future, this is a consequence of physical/personality “defects,” rather than a conscious decision.
While from a personal perspective I am amenable to the idea that my opinions may change as I get older, at present I cannot envisage a time when I will want children. Babies are cute. I like holding them and feeding them from bottles. I like cuddling them, and watching them smile as I trace a finger around their tubby little faces, but I don’t want one. I like them because they are a novelty and I don’t have to change their nappies. I can give them back within minutes (or more commonly seconds – I have woken up horrified and sweaty at the thought of accidentally dropping a friend’s baby, so much so I only try to be around them in well-cushioned areas) should their faces start to crumple all smooth and soft and wrinkleless like folded dough, signalling that they are about to cry, scream and/or throw-up. I am not maternal at all, and so it would not make sense for me to start knitting booties and actively sniffing out a prospective sperm donor, because it’s not what I want. I like the uncertainty of my life. I like that I can do what I want, when I want, and that my money is my own to spend how I see fit. I’m inclined to say I’m selfish, but I’m not. How can I be? I’m not in a relationship with a partner who wants a baby/a mortgage/a pair of guinea pigs called Bubble & Squeak we can share on weekends. I have no responsibilities. I’m a single, child-free woman, just doing my thing, keeping it real, chilling, spending, and loving it, but what if I met and became besotted in love with someone who didn’t share my family planning ideals? Someone with whom I wanted to spend all my time with, maybe even the rest of my life with, until the subject of ze future reared its unpredictably ugly head and I found that despite the strength of my feelings I was unable to be receptive to my partner’s demands to have a baby? Would that make me selfish? And should the “do you want babies? I don’t want babies…” conversation then be a prerequisite before any relationship can develop beyond the first couple of did-it-hurt-when-you-fell-from-heaven chat-up lines? Because despite media pressures and family pressures, what about the men who want to get you pregnant? They are out there. Those you meet, commit to, tell you are not maternal, only to find they are expecting you to have their baby, romantically labouring all along under the assumption that, despite your explicit proclamation that you DO NOT WANT BABIES, they could convince you otherwise?
Having not been in a long-term relationship (and perhaps not being of an age where this would be a great issue) I’ve not had personal experience of this kind of emotional pressure, but this does happen. But how common is this phenomenon of the overly “broody” male? And is it a phenomenon as such, or something that’s always been hidden behind the male use of gross sexual innuendo and generic penchant for photo-shopped daguerreotypes of big naked breasts? Do men try to force women to have children behind closed doors? By which I mean, are there women out there who are embroiled in some form of emotional turmoil, wondering if they will have to sacrifice their partner, or their personal lifestyle choices to maintain their relationships? Is the idea that men like to have sex with as many women as possible, irrespective of the consequences, and more likely to scarper as soon as they hear the word “late” (whether or not you happen to be stood at a bus stop at the time) just a fallacy? Do a lot of men, in fact, just want to settle down, and nest with their chosen lady? Are they, too, acutely aware of their need to procreate by a certain age, their genitals tingling at the thought as if their ball sacks are filled to bursting with sherbet and fizzy lemonade? And why is it then, that if a woman chooses not to concede to the demands of her partner, she’s vilified, considered cold and faulty, and the reason why the relationship has broken down? Probably because this suggests an inversion of social stereotypes. Only women want to get pregnant, men don’t. Only men like to sleep around, women don’t. Only women cry and beg their partner’s to give them a baby, men don’t. Not true, not true. Not. True.
Just a short amount of searching on a London ad website (on which, I was told, it’s possible to get anything from a hair cut to a dinner date and a second-hand copy of the Goonies) yielded this, this and this, showcasing three men who are willing to offer their “help” to women to get them pregnant, with one ad in particular tinged with pitiful desperation. How sweet! And who said romance was dead, eh? But do these men deserve sympathy? Or are they just victims of their own vanity, assuming that they are so virile that any woman would want to gestate their spawn? Are they just plain offensive? I’m inclined to say the latter, but think each case needs to be assessed individually. While some undoubtedly just think any woman should feel privileged to have them ejaculate inside her, others may genuinely want a child, obviously convinced that getting a woman pregnant is the epitome of male biological achievement, which in itself is very sad. But can men such as these ever be given credibility, when they are expecting a woman to basically relinquish control of her body just so that they can point their erect cocks at her swollen body and smile with pride as they say “I did that.” Err, no thanks. But I wonder how widespread this is, which is why I wanted to write this piece, motivated in part by a recent advice piece in a women’s glossy magazine:
I’m 28 and my boyfriend is 32. We’ve been together for six years, we love each other and talk about our future – but he wants kids and I don’t. He thinks I’ll change my mind but I don’t want to pin his hopes on it. The thought of having a baby terrifies me – I’m too selfish and would make a terrible mum. I don’t want him to miss out on a family but I can’t bear the thought of splitting up.
So, the advice? Don’t doubt yourself, do what you feel most comfortable with. Nope. Perhaps you need to sit your partner down and discuss with him why he devalues your opinions by assuming you are so fickle that you will soon concede to his wishes. Nope. While you don’t want your partner to “miss out on a family” consider whether you want to experience pregnancy and childbirth and probably be the sole carer for a sticky-tape baby, born for no reason other than to bolster your relationship. Nope. Rather, the agony aunt tells this woman that she should seek counselling to determine why she feels this way, before the old favourite of pseudo-psychologists/psychotherapists is wheeled out: “Was the relationship with your mother rocky?” A warning is also offered: “if you decide to continue with your childless relationship, there could be a price to pay in the future.” Shit. That sounds ominous. Even the use of the word “childless” implies that her life is not as fulfilling as it could be and that she is in some ways depriving herself of a great pleasure, as opposed to “child-free”, which would suggest possibility and opportunity, and an existence liberated from the shackles of the womb. Having read that I’m left feeling like I should have a baby myself right here, right now, even though no one has begged me to be his baby’s mama! Why the guilt trip? Why the suggestion that the woman who asked for advice will be, in effect, letting her partner down? Hasn’t he simultaneously let her down by putting her in a position where she has to choose and failing to accept her standpoint? Why the suggestion of counselling? Why the overt suggestion that yes, she is in the wrong? What with all this emphasis on fertility a girl can’t help but think this is part of some evil government ploy to distract us women from thinking about all the injustices we face daily, and instead force us to develop an unnecessary preoccupation with our ovaries and menstrual cycles just so we can more-or-less be herded-up and forced into huge sheds like battery chickens, where the wolf-whistle of any passing mail is likely to make us drop a string of young uns without even blinking.
I don’t want children. A number of my female friends share my disinterest, but I don’t think we need to seek counselling. Why would we? Oh, because if you don’t want babies, apparently there is something wrong with you. And if you don’t want babies when your man is sensitive enough and considerate enough to selflessly offer-up his services to impregnate you, then sorry, my love, you are apparently past helping. Don’t worry if he’s replacing your birth control pills with tic-tacs, or has jabbed so many holes in your supply of condoms that you could use them as colliders, he just wants to be a father. This is a prevailing belief that probably has it’s genesis in gender archetypes as well as the identification of a psychological condition called Tokophobia, in 2000, which is simply defined as a fear of childbirth. Having read two articles here and here about Tokophobia, I can appreciate that this can be very distressing for diagnosed sufferers. Some women are scared of pregnancy or even the possibility of getting pregnant. Others cannot abide the idea of giving birth, so much so that the very idea provokes a panic attack. So what? Some women feel that they were born with the intention of giving birth, and yet they are not considered to be “malfunctioning” in any way, just because this is what we are supposed to do. Why, then, has the female psyche been pathologised in this way? Why does science always assess every woman against the desperate-for-children template? Why are women who feel strongly that they could not cope with pregnancy forced to take a label that basically implies that they are somehow anomalous for their sex, and as such are victims of a “psychological condition” for which they have to seek help and are forced to feel a shame so deep that they cannot speak about this openly? Why is there a continuous need for society and academia to categorise women in this sort of way – either as normal, wanting children, or abnormal, not wanting children? Why is it that the contents of our lower abdomens seem to be such a source of controversy? And is it not possible that the greatest problem women who are diagnosed with Tokophobia have is the lack of acceptance of their choices by wider soceity. Some of us want children. Some of us don’t. There’s rarely more to it than that. It’s about choice. Can it not just be as simple as that? And are the men who want to get us pregnant ever going to be worthy of credibility? Probably not. Have you ever been forced to try and get pregnant by a male partner? Or at least been subject to unnecessary pressure concerning the need to procreate? What do you think?
Photo by Toro Tseleng on Unsplash. It shows the middle of a pregnant person. The are wearing black and are against a red background.