A few months ago I found myself standing in a most dreaded Walgreens line. The sort of line that begs the opening of a second and third register but this never occured. I was one of ten impatient customers awkwardly shifting our weight and turning our eyes respectfully to avoid staring at the assembly line of miscellaneous product labels that betray the dignity of their prospective buyers. The man who needs to loosen his stool, the woman who needs overnight menstrual pads, and the lucky girl who thankfully, only needs a new nail polish color and a dead sea shampoo for her split ends. I was pretending to look at my phone when a middle aged woman tapped my shoulder. “Excuse me, can me and my daughter cut in front of you? My grandbaby is sick and we are in a hurry to get him back home.” I nodded reluctantly and let the two women file in the line in front of me, bringing the ten customers to a crowded 12. Despite my wishes that she wouldn’t, this woman continued speaking to me as if we were paired at a dinner table on a delightful cruise and the urge to share stories was a polite obligation. She spoke mainly of her new grandson who was at the time swaddled in her daughter’s arms. I learned many things including that the infant’s mother was no more than 17 years old, the baby’s father was no where to be found, this was the first grandson in the family, and he had suffered from food and skin allergies since birth. She spoke to me with a concern and a fondness for her grandson that I think she hoped I would share. I smiled as I listened and our line slowly dwindled to three. I realized as she spoke that this woman loved her grandson quite possibly more than she loved herself and that by letting her cut in line, I may have saved her three minutes and this baby was three minutes closer to being comfortable and safe at home. She bid me a farewell and I told the young teenage mother of that little boy, “Congratulations, I wish you the best, and I hope your son feels better.”
Then suddenly, I realized something. When I spoke those words, I meant them. I really meant them.
This may not sound like a significant feat to most readers or even a brag worthy statement to proclaim on a blog post, however, for a childless by circumstance woman of 38 years of age, this is indicative of something much greater. Something that some childless and women never achieve across an entire lifetime. It’s a sign of acceptance, peace, and the ability to move forward. As a “Not Mom” (a phrase coined by the beloved Karen Malone Wright) I have always reserved a special resentment toward young teen moms who didn’t ask for their children, or perhaps didn’t even want them. Children should not be the bi products of unwise behavior or even the bi product of failing to make a decision. Children deserve to be wanted. I often inwardly criticized and fumed that couples living in poverty would have children only for job and home security. I was drowning in a sea of inadequacy, that an irresponsible teenager could achieve so easily that which I could never do naturally, without large amounts of money, without renting another woman’s uterus, or without the cutting edge science which has an alarmingly high failure rate.
Over the last 8 years I have had the great fortune of befriending some uniquely wonderful women. I am a member of several communities of childless by circumstance women just like myself, and although they have offered a friendship that not even my spouse can provide, these are not the women I am addressing in this post. This is a letter for my “mom” friends. The women who either currently spend or have spent 90% of their days tirelessly caring for their offspring. The women, whom on most days, I feel I share little in common. The women whom, although they were not even aware of the lies I believed daily, helped me overcome those lies unbeknownst to them. Below is a plea to all mom’s to help debunk the following beliefs for your childless by circumstance friends.
I have come to expect encouragement from my fellow “not mom” friends. It means tremendously more when it comes from a mother.
Because I don’t have children I must strive to accomplish remarkable things as I have a remarkable void to fill. Women are meant to create and leave a legacy right?
Truth Mom friends helped me see:
I have nothing to “make up for”. I may by default create something remarkable and leave a different legacy of sorts, however my identity does not rest on my obligation to do so. I am a woman and this is my identity. The roles I play within that do not dictate my worth. I have had insightful friends point out when I am over worked, over tired, and feeling less than remarkable. Women are remarkable.
My hard days are not validated and I really have nothing to complain about. In fact, I can sleep in as long as I want on the weekends!
Yes! I can! I am grateful that I can sleep in on the occasional Saturday, no doubt. But those who have chosen to call me out on this fortune did not realize that on some of those quiet Saturday mornings rather than hear children’s feet pattering down the hallway and little elfin voices asking for cereal, I have the sound of our fan blowing a continuous artificial wind at my face and the frightful realization that in that moment absolutely no one in the world needs me, relies on me for life, or perhaps not one person in the world is even thinking of me in that moment . To the carefree, adventurous 20-year-old, this reminder of the fact that they can sleep in may be appropriate, however, to a childless by circumstance woman nearing 40, upon whom life experience and societal expectations have started taking their toll, this remark is painful. I very much appreciate the friends who simply get this and make me feel that my hard days are indeed validated.
If you cannot have biological children, then you have 2 options: 1. try to have them through other means even at the risk of your health, time, and money. 2. Live a life of sorrow similar to that of the “old woman who lived in a shoe.”
There is a third option! To life a fulfilling life that has meaning without children! This is actually an option. The first person who gave me permission to say and believe this was a mother of three. To date, it is one of the kindest things anyone has ever said to me. This option 3 is sadly buried deep within the foliage of a pronatalist society and I’m so grateful someone was there at the right time to show me.
Womanhood is complete through motherhood. Until then, one cannot truly know pure selflessness and sacrifice.
I have chosen a career in which I must work with children for which the majority of the world have labeled “difficult” and some have even claimed are “not fit for society”! Another post for another day. I have poured time and energy into these children, advocated for them, reached their level to understand them, and even love them. I imagine it is automatic to love your own flesh and blood; a switch that flicks on the day the child is born, but to love a stranger’s child….that takes a unique selflessness that is NOT automatic. Furthermore, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong are two of my favorite historical women, both of whom never had children. When Lottie’s (Charlotte Diggs Moon) body was taken from the ship on which she sailed in 1912, it weighed a mere 50 pounds. She gave the food she had to families in China during a famine and passed away on the sail to the US before she could received medical attention. Annie Armstrong on the other hand left a legacy in the Christian community and is famous for teaching and pouring into the Black population, the poor, and the needy in Baltimore before passing in 1938. These women were selfless, they were complete, but more importantly, they were crucial members of womanhood without motherhood. I believe selflessness is learned through a divine one…the more we know Him, the less self we have.
I have something to be ashamed about.
I should carry no shame. This hard to do when I hear comments such as, “Oh you don’t have kids yet? I used to be selfish too.” These comments are easy to shake in the moment, but I didn’t realize I was beginning to believe them! I am eternally thankful to the friends who have shielded me from these comments and who have shown no pity toward me in any way. Little do you know how freeing this is!
Compassion never comes back void and as a community of women, I strongly believe we need an extra dose of compassion and less criticism of both ourselves and each other. Moms out there….what are your thoughts on this issue? Are there areas in your life you feel you could receive an extra dose of compassion from your women friends?
“Everyone has inside them a piece of good news. The good news is you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is.” -Anne Frank