I received an email from RESOLVE in September giving links to a study that is examining "general social attitudes among individuals who consider themselves childless and individuals who consider themselves childfree after infertility" for a doctoral dissertation. At first glance, I took the two words this way: childless meant that you were still searching for a child but were currently unsuccessful in that pursuit and child-free meant that you had consciously decided to exit infertility by not pursuing a child.
But this article* in the Washington Post today opened a new idea: child-free can also mean that it was a choice prior to any factor (infertility, family building when single, et al) and childless can mean that it is a loss of parenthood due to an extenuating factor.
Your thoughts on what these two words mean to you (as well as the article in general...)
Recently, I was speaking with an older woman who had never had children once she was diagnosed with infertility. She admitted that one of the side effects of living child-free after infertility was that she missed out on the strong female friendships that come hand-in-hand with motherhood.
And it was an interesting thought because I don't necessarily feel close friendships with women due to motherhood (and I also thought, fan-fucking-tastic, yet another thing that I'm doing wrong in regards to things seemingly connected to my uterus). Beyond the fact that I had strong female friendships long before I even started tryign to conceive, my best friend is not yet a mother (nor is she currently trying). And I don't feel very connected to the other random women on the playground who all seem to chat easily with one another while they push their kids on the swings. Perhaps it's just because I have twins that my concentration is solely focused on the two children who are trying to run in opposite directions and I don't have time to strike up a conversation about Huggies vs. Pampers. But I don't think that's quite the case either.
I do have many friends who are mothers just due to the simple fact that many women in their thirties are mothers. I often feel closest with those who have been through infertility and pursued a path similar to mine that resulted in a child whether it was through straightforward treatments, third-party reproduction, or adoption. I also feel close with mothers of twins, but, again, it is usually women who have twins due to fertility drugs more than women who have naturally-occurring multiples. BUT I also have many friends who don't have children at all. Either because they're still pursuing treatments or because they haven't started trying.
At the end of the day, I think there is definitely a line drawn in the sand--and I say sand because I think it is something that is shifting and impermanent; something that sometimes seems to be washed away and then reappears again--between those with children and those who do not. And perhaps it becomes even stronger later in life when those who are going to have children have had children and it is clear who will not be directly parenting a child in this life time. But truly, is motherhood the key to strong female friendships? Or reaping the support of the community by consciously living child-free? What happens to the women who don't align themselves with any community and choose instead to simply live life without looking back on the roads not taken? Is this woman correct--are the bonds of female friendship loosened to slack until they fall away completely?
Her story gave me a lot to think about. About how we go about forming friendships: whether we look for people similar to ourselves, whether it's just random circumstance, whether it's other factors: socio-economic similarities, education similarities, marital similarities. And what are my strongest friendships--and why.
* Warning about the article--the author is child-free after the stillbirth of her daughter. I wanted those who have lost a child to know this before being confronted with the information inside the article.