Mind your own business. And let my daughter—and every female out there—mind her own business.
In 1992, I was a divorced single mom, betrothed to a sweet man who did not have a biological child of his own. He knew I was worn down after a divorce, which left me with few resources (financial and physical), balancing a stressful job, two kids, and household affairs on my own. Thus, we made a private pact not to procreate. We didn’t feel the need to make our decision public, and this led to musings—both the whispered kind as well as the amplified kind. So, I now give you this…
Dear Family Members/Friends,
It has been 23 years since I said, “I do,” for the second time, to a man who stepped into instant-fatherhood with my two sons, a man whom I adore more each day, a man whom I trust with my heart and soul.
The trials of being a stepfamily have been many. My husband and I almost didn’t make it to our second anniversary because we argued incessantly about parenting practices. I was a single mom for three years, and I was used to calling the shots. I bristled at having to answer to anyone other than my sons’ biological father about their upbringing (their father was still in the picture, and lived close-by). Many heated discussions ensued about my then-6 and 8-year-old sons. My second husband was raised by strict parents, and mine were fairly laissez-faire. I felt that each time he second-guessed my decisions, he questioned my ability to be a good parent. This went both ways; when I questioned him about how he handled my sons, he felt frustrated.
While all this wrangling flared behind closed doors, puzzled eyes peered into our lives. I remember vividly the day that an inquiring eye turned into arrogant interrogation. I was in a room full of my husband’s extended family members, and out burst the question, “When are you guys ever going to have a kid?” The eyes of the interrogator were on me, and the tone of voice behind the question reflected indictment.
My answer: “I have two, thank you, and how about you? When are you having another one?”
I seethed. I stewed. I mentally convulsed from the injustice of the question; and I wondered why I was the one being queried. Why not ask my husband?
At the time, it was hard to explain my indignant feelings. It took years to articulate that I felt pegged as “less than” a good wife for my husband…less than “a real woman” who would give him progeny to carry on his family name. I felt put on the spot and embarrassed for having to answer for very private and personal feelings. I was angry for being expected to explain myself.
I am not alone. For my book, The Female Assumption, I interviewed 200 women. Leala* was married to a man who insisted upon cloaking his infertility in secrecy because it stemmed from a childhood illness, and he didn’t want his parents to feel guilty. Leala became the target of derogatory comments from her husband’s family who assumed that she had chosen her career over children. In their eyes, she didn’t measure up. Time took its toll. Leala grew tired of feeling “less than” in the eyes of her in-laws. She and her husband divorced.
Other women, some who are mothers, told me about this type of grilling during college and early career formation. Jane* responded, “No matter how successful I was in my career, all people seemed to ask about was when I would get married and have kids…always hinting at my biological clock.” Jane has two teenage daughters, and she does not like to think of them being hounded.
So, dear family member (and every other person who judged my husband and me for our lack of a procreation plan), where were you when I cried every six months (like clockwork) for the first four years of our marriage because I yearned to know where the energy would come from to raise a third child? Where were you when, on our fifth wedding anniversary, a child was born to our union; a child who has brought joy to our lives…and who wouldn’t fall asleep at night for anyone except me—much to my husband’s frustration—after he would rock her on a nightly basis for what seemed like an eternity? Where were you when my husband was activated after 9‑11, and I was—once again—rendered a single mom? Something I swore I would never again have the energy to endure. She was 4 years old; and she went back to sleeplessness (as did I).
Where were you when our daughter was trapped inside a hospital, watching her grandmother lose her battle with cancer? Over the span of a week, our daughter (then 11) watched the adults around her crumble; those she considered her anchors in life. And where were you when our daughter experienced a plethora of other losses that were out of her control?
Can I ask that you come and hold her hand now that she is an adult who is in need of connections that have been wrestled from her grasp? Can I ask you to soothe her feelings when she clutches to the lifeboat that bobs up and down in the choppy water that surrounds her? Her dad and I are doing our best…and where are you?
We all know the statistics of marriage. My husband and I have navigated more than our share of landmines. How my husband and I managed to do this over two decades is personal and private. How we came to have a child together is one that was hard-reached—and private.
Does anyone get that procreation is a bedroom topic?
I don’t owe anyone explanations. What I do owe is a lifetime of love to my three children. They didn’t ask to be born. And they deserve every effort on my part to be a good parent to them (as any well-seasoned parent knows, this effort will last for my lifetime).
As a mother for almost 31 years, one thing I know for sure is that assumptions about what one’s child will hold dear can be precarious. Assuming that your child will embrace your religious or political views may not pan out. Assuming that your child will steer clear of addictions may not pan out. Assuming that your child will speak to you with respect may not pan out.
Assumptions are based on our beliefs and emotions. It’s what we do with our assumptions that matters. If our assumptions are voiced in ways that leave someone feeling “less than,” then we are committing an injustice. We live in a diverse, complicated world. Respect for each person’s journey seems so simple…and yet, sometimes we forget, don’t we? We forget that people don’t think like us.
About 20% of today’s females end their fertility years without giving birth, and the reasons are multi-faceted. I beg you to refrain from assuming to know why a women does or does not want (or if she’s able) to have children.
In closing, dear family member/friend, if you ever ponder the question of whether or when my daughter will get down to the business of procreation, you can count on being dropped like a bowling ball balanced on a feather. Mind your own business. And let my daughter—and every female out there—mind her own business. Staying in one’s own business—both mentally and physically—is one of the greatest acts of love and respect.
Thanks for reading this long overdue letter.
*Names have been changed.
Melanie Holmes is the author of the newly released book, The Female Assumption: A Mother’s Story, Freeing Women from the View that Motherhood is a Mandate. Follow her on Facebook.