Why is it that when it comes to women and their reproductivity, all sensitivity seems to get thrown out of the window. People want answers and the ability to ‘mind one’s own business’ is completely forgotten or seen as not necessary to apply in this situation.
Hands up, how many of you have been probed at some point in your life about what your reproductive intentions are? How many of the following questions sound all too familiar:
“When will we hear the patter of tiny feet?”
“Don’t you want children?”
“Are you going to have any more children?”
“Why didn’t you have any more children?”
Or who’s heard shockingly brazen statements uttered such as “You better hurry up, you’re not getting any younger you know”.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, quite a few of you. Even though she’s worth millions and is gorgeous, I can’t help, but feel sorry for Jennifer Aniston and the constant interrogation she has had to endure surrounding when/if she is going to get pregnant. She is now 47 years old and she still has to put up with speculation regarding whether she has finally got knocked up or not.
Aniston told People magazine in 2014 “I just find it to be energy that is unnecessary and not really fair for those who may or may not [have children]. Who knows what the reason is, why people aren’t having kids. There’s a lot of reasons that could be, and maybe it’s something that no one wants to discuss”.
Yet so many people don’t seem to get this.
I’m going to talk about my own personal experiences of this now, just to offer a background and an explanation as to why probing women about their procreative intentions might not be a good idea.
My family is a single child family. Once at a toddler group, a stranger who I had just met asked if I “just had the one child?”. When I informed her that I did indeed just have the one child, the response was met with giggles. She then immediately asked if I intended to have any more at some point. Having been asked this question on numerous occasions before where I have felt the need to justify or explain my response, I decided just to simply reply with “Nah”. Again, my response was met with even more mirth and further probing as to whether one child was enough for me and a statement that I clearly couldn’t cope with another child. All of this was said with much amusement regarding my situation of having just the one child. I didn’t correct her nor did I laugh along with her, I just changed the subject.
Except, as you may have guessed the truth wasn’t that one was enough for me and that I couldn’t bear to have another child. It was just easier to let her think this than explain myself. It also would have upset me to try to explain. This woman was a stranger and I was in a public building surrounded by many other strangers and associates and didn’t fancy bawling my eyes out for all to see, but mainly (in the most British way possible), I didn’t want this woman to feel awkward. I was more concerned with upsetting her than my own inner turmoil I had to cope with every time my child’s lack of siblings was discussed.
The truth is, my partner and now husband after many years of discussing, crying, sweeping it under the carpet, discussing some more and crying a lot more, came to the heart breaking decision not to have any more children and to stop at one. It was not an easy decision and it was made with a heavy heart. We wanted more than one child. We wanted our child to have a sibling. We wanted to be parents to children, not a child, but having more would not have been a wise decision for us.
Whilst I was pregnant with my quite frankly wonderful daughter (yes I am slightly biased, but what of it?), I suffered unbearable pelvic girdle pain that left me unable to walk and I had to be signed off from work for the majority of my pregnancy. After I gave birth, I seemed to be relatively pain free for the first two weeks, but then the pain came back. For the first year of my child’s life I was constantly in pain and could rarely leave the house, I was in fear every time I took a step that I wouldn’t be able to withstand the pain that it produced or that my leg would give way all together. Slowly, things got slightly better, but I still suffer a lot of pain and have developed arthritis in my ankles and knees and still have days where I am unable to leave the house. Getting my daughter to school and back is a daily battle and I am terrified at 40 years old, of what my life will be like in years to come and how immobile I might potentially be.
On top of this, pregnancy caused me to lose my hearing (a rare, but not altogether uncommon condition called Otosclerosis). I am very deaf in both ears and rely on hearing aids to get by. If I was to have another child, it is guaranteed that I would lose even more hearing. I don’t have much left as it is.
My mobility problems, the pain I’m constantly in and my hearing loss led us to come to the decision that having a second child would be extremely detrimental to my health and would greatly impair my abilities as a Mother. We made the decision not just for me, but for our existing child. My husband works away a lot and as southerners living up north, our families are over 200 miles away. I have to be able to look after my child as there is no one else that we can rely on to help us out. Even if we did move closer to family, the prospect of both my mobility and hearing further deteriorating is quite frankly depressing.
I don’t feel like the person I once was before my pregnancy. My hearing, leaves me struggling to join in with group conversations and I move slowly and as little as possible. I used to dance, sing, go running and for long walks, but these activities have been greatly hindered by my conditions. In fact, they’ve been made near impossible. I can’t enjoy the things I once enjoyed.
So, when people laugh (whilst I understand, quite innocently) at the fact I only have one child, when people probe for reasons behind this decision, they have no idea of the heartbreak going on inside me.
This applies to every woman who only has one child or has no children. Nobody knows what is going on behind closed doors, so why possibly rock the boat? Different women will have different reasons. For many they have just not been able to conceive or they have suffered miscarriages. I cannot imagine the heartache this brings and then for someone to insensitively point out to them that they’re not getting any younger and need to hurry up is beyond inconsiderate and tactless. Some women have chosen not to have children/have more children because of their family situation, for health reasons, childcare issues, career situation or for financial reasons. Some women don’t have children because it’s just not for them or they have one child because they are just happy with that and have no desire to have more. This reason is the one people seem to be able to handle the least. However, as with all the previous reasons it is no one’s business, but the woman’s and her partner’s. There seems to be a desire for society to know what is happening with women’s bodies and whether they’re putting a baby in it or not. It is nothing short of nosey.
I have had some interesting phrases thrown at me. Regularly my family is referred to as “your little family “. Whilst this may seem inoffensive to some, it can come across as belittling and a tad patronising. My family maybe smaller than yours, but is no less of a family.
At the end of yet another awkward conversation I had with someone demanding if I was to have any more children, she actually said the following sentence to me:
“Aaah, well at least you’ve had the experience of being a Mother”
It was as if having one child is just an experience, but having more is the real deal. Trust me, Motherhood feels very real to me when I’m up in the middle of the night soothing my child who is vomiting up blackberries and dying her bed covers and carpet a rather fetching gothic purple colour. It also feels real, when she comes home from school and for the umpteenth time tells me about how someone has upset her at school and I just want to run upstairs and cry for my beautiful child and instead, I have to keep it together and listen and advice and comfort. It also feels real when in a single month I have to pay her ballet fees, pay for a new pair of shoes and buy Birthday presents for the 4th Birthday party she’s been invited to in a month- FFS (this is when I’m very grateful I just have the one child to be fair). I am not merely “experiencing” being a Mother just because I have one child, I am very much living it. Whilst, I understand I won’t be experiencing dealing with squabbling siblings or two children being ill at the same time, I will be dealing with different aspects of Motherhood that you don’t have to deal with. For example, as my child doesn’t have a sibling to play with, I am the only person she has to play with at home. Sometimes being a parent to a single child feels like you have to be part-parent/part-sibling.
It’s comforting to know I’m not alone though. Interestingly, single child families are on the increase. The reasons are plenty as I mentioned above. It does seem to be becoming the norm. The average number of children per family is now 1.7 compared to the 2.4 that traditionally was the number of dependent children per household many years ago. Within my daughter’s class at school 7 of the 30 children are from single child families. This is almost a quarter of the children in her class, but that is considerably lower than the national percentage that is 47%. Almost half of families with dependent children in this country are single child families. As I reel off these statistics I think of friends who insist the number of children they have is the best number of children everyone should have. That’s great for them, but it is not for everyone.
When someone feels the need to probe a woman (or man, though I would argue women have to deal with this question more than men do) as to why they have only had one child or indeed if they are planning to have any, they should instead resist. Nobody knows what turmoil people are going through. Nobody knows the upset your innocent question will cause and to be honest, you really don’t need to know the answer. Your life will go on quite happily without knowing the answer. Whereas your question can upset someone for the rest of the day or becomes just another reminder that will stay with them forever of their difficult situation and that they’re not living up to society’s expectations (tsk). Women don’t want sympathy; they just want a bit of sensitivity.
Despite originally wanting more than one child, I am so happy with my family. I will always feel a bit sad and a little guilty that I didn’t provide my daughter with a sibling to bully –I mean- enjoy and that I didn’t provide my husband with any more children. That aside, we are a happy family. The three of us are a jolly team that make each other laugh and bestow each other with “family cuddles”. It is paramount that I am happy with what I have and I refuse to let myself be eaten up with the loss of the second child that I never had. If I was sad that I only had my daughter, that would be extremely unfair to her and would send out the wrong message to her. The right and truthful message is that I am beyond happy with her and of course I realise that despite everything- I am lucky. I have more than what some people have. In the words of De La Soul circa 1989, three (for us) is indeed the magic number.
 Office of National Statistics “Family Size” publication, published in 2012.