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Please Stop Shaming People By Saying They Won't Understand Because They Don't Have Children

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Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

“You wouldn’t understand this because you don’t have children”

The hairs on my body immediately stand on end the way a cat’s tail poofs up the moment they’re startled. My brain has time-traveled 23 years into the past; I can hear my mother asking me when I’m going to make her grandbabies, the expectation of generations of women in my family wrapped up in her demand. I feel the intense weight of duty crushing me, understanding that my only job in life, at least as far as my mother is concerned, is to marry well and procreate.

• What is PTSD?

In my gut, there’s turmoil brewing as I wrestle with the truth that I don’t necessarily want children. I mean… I’ve spent most of my life as a parentified child, being the “mom” to my own mother. Frankly, motherhood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I didn’t sign up for it and I resent having had the job foisted upon me without my consent. My body seems to be responding to this violation by producing endometrial tissue which threatens to take over my uterus, crowding out any potential fetus from ever moving in.

And yet… I feel shame. My mind has been programmed to believe that my identity and worth are predicated upon my doing exactly what my mother (and society) wants, needs, and expects. I am enmeshed with my mother and enmeshed with what the world has dictated to me is my role in life. To not comply with either of these dictums would mean ultimate failure, destruction of self… not my true self, but the one I’ve contorted myself into becoming to placate my masters.

I wrestle with silencing my own voice and allowing my own thoughts, opinions, and feelings to be squelched, stamped out, erased. This push and pull between my “good girl” self and who I actually am rumbles in my soul like a rogue wave tearing through, destroying everything in its wake.

Suddenly I’m snapped back to the present, politely acknowledging that indeed, I may not understand XYZ because I don’t have children. The person who says this to me doesn’t realize the implications of their statement, which was flippant and not malicious, but no less painful to hear. In those brief moments, all of the therapy that I’ve done to shed the version of myself that evolved as a product of the toxic environment in which I was raised seemed to be erased. 

The insinuation of those words without being implicitly stated is that my lack of procreation renders me invalid, inferior, incapable of empathy, irrelevant. My choosing of myself, and my body rejecting the possibility of a child because of endometriosis, is shameful. I am not fully realized as a woman or a human. And that fucking hurts. 

I understand grief because I have experienced loss.

I understand unconditional love because I have felt it. 

I understand pain because I have been hurt.

I understand anger because I’ve witnessed injustices.

And I understand children because I have been one and have cared for many who may not have been mine but are nevertheless precious to me.

My full range of humanity is completely intact in spite of having never carried a fetus in my womb. I am no less capable of having thoughts, feelings, and opinions about children than someone who has had them. And I’m no less invested in the well-being of the children of those I both know and don’t. My heart isn’t made of stone, nor is my mind altered by default of my childlessness.

The truth is that nobody’s worth is predicated upon either their productivity or reproductivity. I’ve worked too hard to heal from trauma to allow the words of others to tear down my value as a human beyond what I do for others or what I create.

To those who may have inadvertently said something like this to myself or other childless individuals, I’m not angry at you, nor do I even believe you meant harm by it. But… you never know the circumstances leading to someone choosing or not choosing to have children or the pain that decision may have caused. Please be mindful about making assumptions based upon the parental status of someone without considering how those assumptions could be harmful and hurtful. And please remember that our advocacy for, investment in and dedication to the well-being of the children of others comes from a place of great compassion, empathy, and love.

Photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash

Originally published: January 20, 2022
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