choices, pastry, and Paris

Bee's picture
Sun, 07/10/2011 - 04:20 -- Bee

The other day I was wandering around Paris with my daughter in search of the perfect patisserie.

We were talking about completely random topics when she suddenly erupted in rage over a passing implication that she might one day have a baby of her own.

"I will never have children! I don't know why everyone keeps telling me I will!"

I was shocked; I had not meant to upset her - I was just commenting on how far we have come from the bereft town we were both born in. I did not mean to conjure images of grandchildren, I only meant to acknowledge our shared history as a teenage mom and hyperactive genius baby who somehow, against all odds, escaped the fate predicted for us.

"What do you mean? Do people seriously hassle you about having kids? Who?"

She nodded and explained - apparently this is a common conversation in her life, and the question does not just come from her boyfriend. Her friends, academic peers, professors, extended family, people who hit on her at parties, even strangers all ask. And, when she says that she has no plans to start a family, they dismiss her opinion. They tell her that she will change her mind.

When I was her age I had this exact conversation, with an equally vast array of people, but in reverse. The world at large wanted to tell me, at age twenty-one, that I had no business having children. Even (or especially) when my three year old daughter was standing next to me.

Friends, colleagues, strangers on the street - everyone felt that they had the right to express an opinion. I remember the feelings of rage and anguish each of these conversations caused, and how I craved privacy. I did not want to defend my choice, justify my existence, plead for acknowledgment. I did not want to be the exemplary mother, or the scummy statistic. I did not want attention of any kind. I just wanted to love my child.

But the reality for women all across the world, in all countries and societies, is that our bodies are not strictly our own. The culture at large takes an interest in our reproductive capacities, setting up rules and laws targeted directly at our wombs.

Female sexual autonomy is frightening on a fundamental level because it is directly connected to procreation. This is true even in the most radical and progressive environments. I started Girl-Mom in part because even here at there were too many well-meaning people second-guessing the choices of young women as they defined their own families.

If my daughter chooses not to have children that is her choice, not her partner's. It isn't any of my business and it is certainly not something her employer or acquaintances have any right to comment on.

Pro-choice does not just mean supporting access to contraception and the right to legal abortion. It also means fighting for the right to have children. Even if you are young, or old, or poor, or sick, or queer, or somehow different. Pro-choice means pro-choice.

When my daughter was born I was a teenager living in poverty -- with cancer. The difficulties we faced were punishing, extraordinary, and completely unnecessary. I was a good mother and the proof is her: this audacious girl who says she does not want to have babies of her own. That is her right, and I support her with all my heart.

I've been a parent more than half a lifetime, and knowing my children has been a brilliant adventure. Particularly when they take me to Paris to eat cake:


elienos's picture
Submitted by elienos on

I love these ideas about what being pro-choice means. I have been thinking a lot about how, when all children are choices made in relative freedom, the world will so improve. Societal pressure often curbs choice for women. There is this insidious idea in our culture (and most others) that a women becomes more authentic (a fully developed woman) once she has children. A women who doesn't have children by choice is often considered selfish or something along those lines. The normalization of the nuclear family (and our capitalistic ideas about property) have largely excluded non-biological parents from the experience of "mothering" thus women are coerced into either "having" children or "lacking" them. To Have or To Lack. At 28, I remember the pressure I felt from others to have kids. When I went to Guatemala the looks were incredulous when I told folks my age and that I didn't have kids. I was asked several times if there was something wrong with me.

When I decided to be R's Mother, I felt very empowered. I was not under the impression that I would be lacking if I didn't have kids. I was excited to welcome and get to know this special child who was growing in my belly.

I have also had the pleasure of knowing several people who have chosen not to have children, but have had the privilege to mother children - children of friends, families and lovers. I really admire these friends. I see them constantly struggle with people who assume that their desire to be there for children, to mother, somehow stems from not being fulfilled by biologically producing them.

Since I now have a child and understand what it entails, I am fully convinced that I could mother another child that wasn't "mine". (I was one of those people who was afraid to even hold a baby before I had one, I think I had held two babies in my wholelife).