CW: Pregnancy and associated issues
My womb hasn’t done much in its (relatively) young life. It has shed its walls at random times and with great abandon, causing me to either consume sickening amounts of Dairy Milk or to collapse on the Tube, depending on how violent it’s feeling. Apart from this, it’s done basically nothing. However, the older I get the more and more often I’m feverishly asked about the future plans of my womb, as if it’s Jennifer Lawrence and an exciting new film project is on the horizon.
My womb is not Jennifer Lawrence.
People who ask me about my pregnancy plans divide roughly into three categories: those who are asking because I’m about the “right age” to have babies and it gives them something to talk about; those who are nosy and want to make judgements about my life after they’ve finished grilling me; those who are related to me and obsessed with bringing new life into the family so that they can cuddle it and buy it things.
All three of these types of people are driving me mad. So I thought I’d write this article to demonstrate why I am so, so sick of being asked:
When are you going to have babies?
Asking me when I’m going to have babies is like asking me which solicitor I’m going to use to draw up my will; it’s so far into my future and so far off my list of priorities that it bores the actual arse off me dedicating any real thought to it. The difference is that nobody cares which solicitor I’ll use. Which is how it should be. Because that’s very personal and doesn’t affect you at all. Do you see what I’m getting at?
“I might have babies in five years, or ten years, or fifteen years, or never.” This is the most accurate answer I can give people who ask, but it often draws outrage. Don’t I know that fertility starts to decline for women from about the age of 30, dropping down more steeply from the age of 35? Don’t I know that I could be looking at an increased risk of complications such as high blood pressue, miscarriage, Downs syndrome, pre-eclampsia and stillbirth? Why, yes I do! I’m fully aware that once I’m over 25 risks start occurring, and that over 35 they write something appalling like ‘geriatric pregnancy’ on your hospital records. I know! Everyone doesn’t need to remind me every 5 minutes with unbridled glee in their voices, because I’m a fully-functioning woman which means, in addition to a fast-decaying womb, I also have a brain and have understood those facts when repeated to me frequently for the past ten years. I’m also aware (because of the aforementioned lady brain) that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has specified that the optimal age for childbearing is 20 to 35, which gives me at least 9 more years to think about it, and that almost 1 in 5 children are delivered to women over 35. I’m also aware of other options if I decide I’m ready for children at an older age: adoption, egg freezing, IVF and surrogacy. We should be grateful for these scientific advances and the freedom they can grant women (who can afford them – natch) in 2015. Let me make the most of this, dammit!
I’m not ready to have a child, and too many people have children when they’re not ready. This leads to huge problems such as child poverty, abuse and a lifetime of psychological problems. I don’t make anywhere near enough money to raise a child, I don’t own a house and I don’t want to commit to a country, let alone a city, to live in. I want to travel, I want to explore my career options and I want to sleep for eight hours a night. I also didn’t even know, until I researched it for this article, that the uterus and the womb are the same thing. See? Not ready. This doesn’t mean that I judge others for having their own children young – you get down with your bad selves. Enjoy the kid; kids are cute! I will happily come and babysit, if you provide unlimited rosé and season three of Orphan Black. You want to put a baby in your body? Great! I want to put wine in mine.
I went for dinner with two of my younger sisters, aged sixteen and seventeen, and some others, and I noticed the difference in how people asked us about our lives. My younger sisters were asked what countries they would like to travel to, what jobs they would like to do, what they’d like to study in their lifetimes. I was asked when I would like to get married (I don’t – another huge kerfuffle that everyone constantly asks about, tossing my answer aside with a smug, “We’ll see”) and when I was going to have children. I can’t help think, at the ripe old age of twenty-six, I have other things to offer the world. I only graduated from my Masters degree three years ago – is it already too late for me? Do I need to produce a new tiny human already, so that they can have a go at what I’ve apparently already failed at? I find it so offensive that the most interesting thing about me seems to be my ability to bear a child. I have other projects on the go which I’m infinitely more interested in. Please ask me about those.
Another part of the dreaded childbirth inquisition is that I fear child birth, and people will often tell me to ‘man up’ (urgh, urgh urgh) and ‘get over it’. It sometimes bothers me that people who love me spend a lot of time trying to pressure me into doing something which will cause me huge amounts of pain and could genuinely kill me. My fear is not unfounded – according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 800 women die every day from pregnancy or childbirth related causes. This is “about one woman every two minutes and for every woman who dies, 20 or 30 encounter complications with serious or long-lasting consequences”. If you survive childbirth, things you can enjoy include infection, infertility, haemorrhage, pre-eclampsia, blood clots, fissures, postnatal depression and scarring. This is discounting the pain that is associated even with the healthiest of births. When I had the contraceptive coil fitted (which lasts five years – funnily enough, when you point this out to people as proof that a baby isn’t on your agenda, they often say, “Yeah, but you can get them removed.” How creepy is that?), they had to dilate me ever so slightly. I’m not ashamed to say that the discomfort was so great that I immediately became on the edge of a panic attack, and after I got up and tried to walk home, I immediately went into shock. The doctor was lovely but be warned – birth pain is goddamn real. That was just dilation! Of like an inch!
If it wasn’t bad enough that I would have to go through the pain of childbirth alone, I also have to go through the pain of questioning alone. My partner is not asked when we’ll have a baby half as frequently as me, even though it’s safe to assume he would be somewhat involved. I’m aware that this is due to the sexist assumption that any children would be my domain and that, in addition to simply gagging for them, I must also be happy to stay at home with them, but it’s untrue. He’s far more interested in talking about children, so I ask that people please direct their questions to him. I will simply roll my eyes and say something like, “I’ve already had twelve children – I sold them all to Apple” because you are being very dull, but he will probably mumble awkwardly and wander away, which is probably preferable. The gendered-ness of the pregnancy question is evident in the media, where women who haven’t had children are constantly asked about it while men are left alone. Here are some childless men:
Edgar Allen Poe
I have never read an interview where someone has asked any of these whether they would like children (admittedly, some of these men are dead). Compare this to, say, Jennifer Aniston. Yeah. It’s like we’re only half-humans until we have a kid. Why do we have to be two lives? Why do men get to be one? And why is it so much easier to find lists online of childless female celebrities than male (this one’s rhetorical)?
It feels very Rosemary’s Baby when people are constantly asking you when you’re going to get pregnant, even after you’ve made yourself clear it’s not something you currently want. If they want a baby so much, why don’t they have one? If they’re getting on a bit, they could use one of the methods discussed earlier: adoption, IVF, surrogacy. Alternatively, they could get a pet. Every time someone asks me about having children, and judges when I say I currently have no plans for them, it makes me feel like someone who doesn’t even exist yet is worth more than me. When people say it’s selfish, I think they’re straight up crackheads. How can it be selfish to put yourself before someone who doesn’t exist? How can it be selfish to not contribute to over population in order to just see how cute a mini-version of yourself would be?
A final point, and one which I think is most important, is that pregnancy is a deeply personal issue. People don’t know the ins and outs of mine and my partner’s relationship or our bodies. Maybe one or both of us are infertile. Maybe children are a sore subject for us. Perhaps don’t loudly demand to know the details of our situation, and instead trust that nobody ever had a baby because they’d been hounded into it by a prying uncle. I also don’t ask about other people’s reproductive plans: When are you going to have a vasectomy? Are you taking any hormones for your menopause? Have you gotten your first period yet? That’s because this would be rude.
The next time you’re about to ask when somebody’s going to get pregnant, please re-consider. If I had to recite the above answers every single time the question came up I’d go mad, but I’m nearing the end of my tether. I’m sure other women are too. If you think you’ll struggle with that, consider printing this article out and keeping it by your bathroom mirror until you remember to respect a person’s personal decisions. Do it for all of us.