Friday, February 23, 2007

Melancholy? Really?

According to the people who populate the discussion forum I frequent, I should be sad, disappointed, melancholy, regretful (add your favorite adjective here) that my menstrual cycle has finally decided to jump into the random, disjointed pattern that signals menopause.

Probably not imminent, but at least it heralds the light at the end of the tunnel. I mean, really. I've never wanted kids, never intended to use any of the female plumbing, yet I've had thirty years of monthly annoyance. I've had a few hot-flashes (wow!), and some of the other symptoms of peri-menopause, and honestly, I've been waiting for things to stop. My family has a history of early menopause, and I can only hope.

When I expressed pleasure that my cycle (which has been clock-work consistent down to the hour for thirty years) had started to succumb to chaos theory (five weeks, four week, six weeks, three. Lasting ten days, five days, two days, four), no less than five people expressed sympathy at my "end of fecundity". I should be saddened and less, apparently, that I have finally started to cross the threshold of barrenness and somehow my "womanliness" is diminished by the fact that I will soon no longer be able to bear children.

I have to admit surprise at this attitude. It's been a long time since people have equated a woman's worth with her ability to produce children. That women are defined by motherhood. I had hoped that the idea that you can't posisbly be a "complete woman" if you don't have children, and that being fertile was somehow a status determinator was long past. Bearing and raising children can be the most important thing a woman can do (and the raising of children shouold be on the list of the the most imporant thing a man can do, but that part seems to be a bit more flexible), but it's not the ONLY thing she can do. It seems archaic and patronizing to assume that women will be lessened by their inability to have children, as if their sole purpose is to do so.

More women are choosing to be childfree now than ever before, and those women who do have children are having fewer (at least in the US). Is this a bad thing? I don't know. So many women in the past had children because "it's what you do -- you get married, you have kids". My own mother did. Perhaps if the social pressure to follow the "norm" and start having kids as soon as you married had been less, she might have done differnet things with her life. I don't think she regrets having kids, but there didnt' seem to be any other choice for her.

For me, the decision (if I every actually had a decision) was very easy -- no kids. I like kids well enough, but I have simply never had any urge to have my own kids. I'll borrow everyone else's and be a cool auntie, but having my own never really crossed my mind as a possibility. I can facetiously say that it's because my Mom did daycare at home for years and I had a very realistic view of life with a toddler, but it's more than that. Most girls show some interest in babies and having children and I never did. My mom thinks I need therapy, that i's unnatural to not want children, and I see her attitude in the response of my "invisible friends" online.

Can't have kids? How sad. Don't want kids? You're wierd or unnatural or disturbed and -- and here's the REALLY annoying part -- you don't know what you want.

I can't tell you how many people have told me, "oh, you'll change your mind" or "it's different when they're yours" or "you can't possible mean that" when I told them I didn't want kids. When I married the Adorable Husband, we discussed this very seriously -- and I still heard that it would be unfair to him to not have kids; or, at some level, that he thought I might change my mind, too. He never really wanted kids except as an abstract, but social pressure (and family pressure) is intense.

Do I regret not having kids? Nope. I've had opportunities that my childed friends don't have, and I have wonderful nieces and a sweet nephew. Like I said, my mother thinks I'm disturbed and need therapy to discover my natural role as a mother, but my life certainly isn't lacking anything. Many people have suggested that I've "missed" something by not having kids. I can't decide if that's because they are so happy being parents, or if they envy me for not having the constraints on my life they do. There is sometimes a desperation in the criticism of the "childree life" that smacks of jealousy. I get an undercurrent of that from some people, "oh, you can do that because you don't have kids.", "I wish I could go to Ireland for a month!" In some way, that's true. We travel for weeks at a time, and I took a quarter off last year -- something that would be much harder if we had a traditional family. Difference choices -- and the Adorable Husband and I made the choice not to have kids, it's been a different path. Better? That's a judgement I can't make.

Dear Abby (or Ann Landers, I can never remember) once asked if parents would "do it again" and a suprising number admitted that they wouldn't have kids, or would have delayed having children, if they had the change to go back in time. I'm not surprised -- having kids is at once the most rewarding and most frustrating things people can do, I think.

Well. Here's hoping that the two-days-every-three -weeks is the new schedule and that this doesn't drag on for years. Although I have determined that rushing out to the store for an emegency stash of tampons does indeed effectively stop your period. Heh.


Laura said...

Boy could I say a lot here! Both your comments on kids and about menopause are similarly discussed by sociologists. After writing "Girls in Power," my colleagues said I should write one on menopause later in my career. I still think that is a good idea.

The Tiger said...

Of course you missed something! You missed having kids! Missing things is a result of making choices. As you say, the implication is that you have "missed out" on something transcendentally crucial to the human experience. It's true, breeding is a central function of life as we know it. So is killing our rivals for food.

So maybe next time you could respond with "Yeah, but you haven't really lived until you've killed someone with your bare hands! I mean... you have done that, right? It's a basic human function!"

Or were you not trying to think of more ways to make people mad?