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:


Susan's picture
Submitted by Susan on

Until I turned 28, I was firmly in the Mina camp of no way, never,ever,ever. For me, pro-choice has meant the ability to reserve my right to change my mind. I'm usually pretty good about not assuming someone will change their minds, just because they're [young, whatever], occasionally, despite best efforts, I acknowledge that at one point in my life I was there too (NEVER!), but had changed my mind as circumstances and perspectives changed... Which is, of course, perceived as yet another attack though it's not my intent, though I would have perceived it as such as well.

I'm torn -- I think it's also important to acknowledge that it's ok to change your mind, just as it's ok to know (until things change or don't change) that one of the possibilities available is that one can change their minds from what you may have thought or assumed would be the case. As it turns out, it seems my brother and his wife are opting for the child free life, and while it strikes me because that's not what I would have predicted based on our personalities, temperaments, importance of particular types of relationships, it's ok to go the other direction as well.

Generally, the decision to not/have children is one I leave to the discretion of the person I'm speaking with -- if they bring it up, I will take their lead in the discussion, otherwise, it's one of those religion/politics things... There are plenty of other holy wars to accidentally stumble into...

"Do not forget. Remember and warn." -- Plaque fixed to the hollow shell of Sarajevo's National Library

mamanopajamas's picture

Bee, I love you & Mina -- seriously, life is difficult for women,

"The difficulties we faced were punishing, extraordinary, and completely unnecessary." ~ all too sadly true for many mothers, single, young, otherwise in this crazy, sad world.

But "children" of ours, like Mina, who were raised to know themselves & feel free to express themselves & stand up for themselves & THEIR ideas are a hope.

 "Do not speak--unless it improves on silence." ~ buddhist saying (wow - my email on file was so old - it was from the old hipmama email!)

turtle's picture
Submitted by turtle on

I never understand when people say things like, "oh you are young, you'll change your mind." (or "You'll understand when you have children.") I just don't see that it's anyone's business whether you want to have children or not or whether you may or may not change your mind. Even my beloved step-sister telling me to stop using birth control cos she was desperate for me to have kids was over the line, in my opinion.

And yes, something that a lot of people forget is that pro-choice means supporting women in ALL their reproductive choices, EVEN WHEN YOU DISAGREE WITH THEM. For example, poor black or brown women-- too many children? Not anyone's business!!! As a Latina I get all het up about reproductive justice issues, don't get me started.....

Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough. -- Emily Dickinson

You want to do what you think is right and what matters to you, and if other people don't like it, as my father would have said, they can go fuck themselves. -- Amy Bloom

turtle's picture
Submitted by turtle on

PS That cake looks *scrumptious*

Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough. -- Emily Dickinson

You want to do what you think is right and what matters to you, and if other people don't like it, as my father would have said, they can go fuck themselves. -- Amy Bloom

Bee's picture
Submitted by Bee on

My very first instinct was to say "you are too young to worry about such things!" But then I remembered I had a 3 year old at her age: her! So I kept my mouth shut.

The scariest part of this is the fact that people who have power over young women in a professional sense indulge in these conversations. Even if meant as casual chatter, the question is not innocent. It is evidence of active discrimination at work.

Bee's picture
Submitted by Bee on

Yes, exactly.

And it is sometimes really difficult to deal with the reality of being pro-choice. For instance, when I was pregnant with my son I started to bleed and drove myself past three adequate hospitals and straight out of town to check into a Catholic facility. I was on hospital bedrest for five weeks, and he was still born prematurely by (horrifying) emergency surgery. Why did I make the decision to go to that hospital? Because I knew the Catholics would go to great lengths to preserve the pregnancy, of course. But also my fertility. They would not, and did not, suggest sterilisation. Nobody lectured me about being too young or too sick to have kids. The doctor had to ask the bishop for permission to offer birth control - for my health, strictly. Not for social reasons!

I have many problems with religious provision of health care, and the way that birth control has become such a tormented political topic. But golly, I love that Catholic hospital, and those doctors, for taking care of me and refraining from criticising my choice to have a family.

Life is complicated, families more so. I really am pro-choice even if the choice isn't one I would make for myself.