The Daily News

LFCA Latest Issue: Friday, September 25, 2009.

Latest Post on BlogHer: Parenting after Infertility.

My Status: Fed Josh's almonds to the squirrels. They needed them very badly.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Childless or Child-Free--A Twist of Revealing Words (Children Mentioned)

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.


Karaoke Diva said...

I once took a great Civil Treatment course where the instructor pointed out that while most of us are not sexist, racist, or any other -ist, we are all biased towards people we shared common traits with. Birds of a feather flock together and people with similarities in beliefs, race, sex, age, insterests, life struggles etc will also flock together.

That being said, my being a mother has not helped me develop any friendships. Instead the struggle with IF, that brought my son into my life, did. I find I have little to talk about with "easy breeder" mothers who are both fascinated and a little horrified by ART. I'd much rather spend time with other IF women: mothers, not-yet-mothers and don't-ever-want-to-be-mothers.

As for child-free vs. childless, child-free to me means you've made a conscious decision not to have any children, with or without the factor of IF. My only issue with those that proudly shout about being child-free (usually the ones who have no IF issues, they just don't have the desire to be a parent) is that many times they seem to be hateful towards those who choose to have children (Breeders). The child-free websites I've surfed have tons of posts bashing pregnant women, mothers, fathers, kids, pregnancy-reserved parking spots, Babies R Us and anything related to having kids. Why all the hate if they are so very confident and comfortable with being child-free?

GLouise said...

Great topic, Mel.

I can relate to the comment from the older childfree woman you mentioned. I feel like I have lost several friendships as a result of friends moving on to have babies. There just isn't as much for us to talk about anymore, and though we are still "friendly," they are very limited in "childfree" activities such as late night dinners.

On the other hand, I have developed a few strong relationships as a result of my infertility that would not have been possible otherwise.

Still, it hurts when my "old" friends all get together a few times a month for playgroup, and I have no reason to be there.

Karen said...

I have been dealing with infertility for over four years. I believe I am very close to closing the door on the belief that I will ever have children biologically and very uncertain about whether adoption is the right path for my husband and me or if I should accept being childless (childfree to me seems imply i was a choice I willingly made).

The latest of many trials and stresses that came along with IF is the fact that while I was the first to try to have children, most of my closest friends have "passed" me on the journey and either have babies or are about to give birth any day now. My best friend has a 6 month old and its been challenging to our friendship. When we get together, I do feel as close to her as ever, but there's this whole huge part of her life that she's sharing and relying on other women for. Its very hard for me. For those that I wasn't as close with, it is only increasing the distance I have with them -- in part b/c I don't see them as often and in part b/c they turn to other women to share that part of their lives that's most important to them. B/c the subject matter of parenthood is so sensitive to me, I am relieved and grateful that they are measured in how much they bring up to me, but still knowing that they aren't sharing that part of themsleves with me naturally brings separation in how close I can really be to them.

All in all, I feel like everyone of my friends is going off to college and I'm staying behind in my home town. We may remain friends, but we wont be close as we once were. Its hard, very hard, esp for someone how used to put a lot of stock in her friendships.

Anonymous said...

My first thought was: I wonder if your older woman friend "missed out on the strong bond of friendship with other women" because she never took part in an online community for infertiles?

Infertility is/was so little spoken of, particularly so in the past... that perhaps she just never came across another infertile.

That said, I agree with you that there is definitely some sort of line between people who choose to live child-free and those who have children. Kir and Mony have blogged about this - like you're not fully "grown up" until you have kids. Or people think you're being selfish.

I'm not sure exactly what it is, but the author captured it pretty well - that we seem to be a nation obsessed with motherhood... and that anyone who "chooses" not to have children are somehow screwy.

And I agree 1000% with karaoke diva - there definitely seems to be an undercurrent of anger with women who have chosen to live child-free. Perhaps it's because we seem to be so focused on motherhood... perhaps it's because they feel resentful to have to justify the reasons for choosing a child-free life. Either way, though - it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Anonymous said...

I'd like a crack at answering the question in your original post. I do *not* believe that motherhood is the key to friendships. I think it is just another facet of our complex lives that we use to bond with people. I, for example, feel an immense bond with people who have lived outside of the US. I think it's the same kind of bond that say, cancer survivors feel about each other. It's some kind of special activity or happening that you can both strongly relate to. I think the deal with motherhood is that half of the population is female, so there's more of a chance of meeting and bonding with someone who *is* a mother.

As for me, I am childfree. This means that I have deliberately chosen not to have children because I simply do not desire that aspect of life. I think that our society places a huge emphasis on procreating and for those of us who choose *not* to procreate, we have our noses rubbed in it on a daily basis. Look at all the ads that use children, preferences given to pregnant/nursing mothers, etc. In my own life, I don't have my childfree flag waving for all to see. I only discuss it with people when they feel the need to pry into the status of my uterus (I'm married and almost 30 so it's what I'm supposed to do, right?!). In fact, I was constantly harassed this Thanksgiving by my hubby's family (it got pretty nasty on her part), because an ignorant aunt kept getting in my face saying "But don't you want one of your own?" Grr.

For the most part, women assume they are supposed to have babies and they do, and they don’t have any qualms about it. For some of us, however, it gets a little tiring having to defend ourselves every time we meet someone new who asks “do you have children?” and then keeps prying when I try to deflect with a simple “no”.

This is probably why Karaoke Diva senses “that many times they seem to be hateful towards those who choose to have children”. I personally, have no problem with people who have children. What I *do* resent, is the pushing, prodding, too many personal questions and the complete disregard for my own choice. There *are* CF people who are more… militant than some. I think, though that that attitude is something that is let loose on CF boards around like minded people. It’s a place to relax, where we don’t have to worry about offending any mothers. It’s not likely that a mother of 6 is going to be surfing the childfree boards!

So, there you go. Those are my opinions. :) Hope I didn't scare anybody!

C said...

I don't think that motherhood is the glue that holds female friendships together. Just looking at my own life, I have close friends who are mothers and close friends who aren't. In my mid-20s, it's just not a huge issue yet because it's not necessarily "expected" yet.

In some ways, I'm sure it's easier for moms to be close friends with other moms. Just like we gravitate towards people we work with, go to church with, share hobbies with, two women who are both mothers share common experiences. At a basic level, aren't shared interests how we begin to bond with most of our friends?

Lisa R said...

Great post, Mel. It's had me thinking all day.
The conclusion I've come to is that friendships are born out of common experiences. Personally, I've had different "best friends" throughout different stages of my life: I had my high school best friends, my college best friends, my law school best friends, my work best friends...the list goes on. Now I have my "infertility best friends" and my "went-through-infertility-now-have-twins" best friends. I was just talking to someone today (who is going through IF) and mentioned how before we went through IF, I had no "real-life" (vs. internet) friends who had gone through IF. Now it seems like ALL of my "real-life" (AND internet) friends have gone through IF. It's because I forged these friendships throughout our journey, both through organizations like Resolve and online communities (I should mention that some of the friends I feel closest too are those I met on line and have never met in person, or met in person only after knowing through the internet for an extended period of time).
This is a long way of saying that motherhood is not the key to friendships- shared experiences are. I think we just tend to gravitate towards people who are can relate to what's going on in our lives at that moment. That's why my "best friends" seem to change throughout the different phases of my life, as experiences mold and change me. I think if your friend reached out to other women who chose to live child-free, she'd find some very strong and lasting relationships similar to those she thinks she missed out on by choosing not to have children. Again, it's not motherhood that forms the bonds, but shared experiences. Motherhood is just one of those experiences. (PS- I totally agree with you and also don't feel any sort of strong kinship with uber-breeder mothers...)

Carlynn said...

It's an interesting question, why we make friends with some people and not others. I think about it a lot. I feel that my infertility has strained some frienships to breaking points. I am more comfortable at the moment around women without children. I have this dream of being 40, of having made my decisions and having it all behind me and being a happier, more tolerant person. It's a nice dream. I'm sure reality will be quite different, as it always is.

My aunt has no children, though choice and circumstances and I've noticed that her closest friends do not have kids either. I think it is unfortunately a big factor in friendships.