I was once reprimanded for using the term “childfree” instead of “childless” to refer to my situation in life. Apparently, among certain conservative Catholics, there was way too much emphasis on the positive aspects of life without the responsibility of parenting in the former term. Instead, I was expected to suffer in silence, focusing on my poor, miserable lot in life by using the latter term. (Do note the sarcasm.)
I mockingly apologized for wanting to find the silver lining in circumstances that, well, to be honest, really suck, but I still don’t know which term, if either, is really the neutral definition of my role in life.
I recently came across a study of childfree-by-choice folks, where I observed this peculiar question being addressed: “How does a woman define herself outside of motherhood?” Indeed, how?
It’s funny that for the 24 years before I got married, I was quite happy with my self-identity, though it had nothing to do with motherhood. Even during the three years after getting married, before we decided to start trying to start a family, I was content having added the role of “Alex’s wife” to my repertoire but nothing having to do with parenthood.
Yet now that I’ve gotten it into my head that I want to be a mom, now that I’ve analyzed pregnancy and parenting magazines as part of my dissertation research, now that I have a list of baby names ready to go, now that I’ve managed to plan such aspects of my future family life as wanting to homeschool and the best ways to raise my kids to be trilingual, now that I’ve fostered a little girl for nearly a year, now that I’ve bought and subsequently sold or donated tons of baby gear, now that I’m facing the very real possibility that after all of that, I may never be a mother anyway, NOW I can’t seem to remember who I was before I started thinking of becoming a mom.
Two intriguing decisions surfaced for me recently that are helping me embrace the future, come what may. First, after some research and discussion, I realized that if my only chance of having a child was to use a sperm donor, I would rather not have a child at all; I would rather it be just Alex and me than to risk regret and social stigma. I say this with no judgment and all honesty; I would not pursue a child at all costs. This would be where I draw the line. It feels great to know that this is a decision I am consciously making, choosing a life without children over one possible alternative. This shows me that there is something more important to me than motherhood, and that’s a great place for a childless woman to be!
Second, realizing that even if my dream of parenting does come true, children grow up and move out, and I will inevitably be right where I am now, wondering about my place in life. So I made up my mind that I have to make another dream come true, a dream that has remained unspoken for a long time, without any concrete plans in place to make it happen, yet something I have long felt would be fulfilling for me: writing a book. Now, this is not an either/or scenario, but the awareness of a dream other than having children, a dream that I have a lot more control over, is encouraging and empowering.
Meanwhile, I remain…. on a bad day – childless, on a good day – childfree. Every day, for now, complete as a family of two.