Stop asking people why they aren't having kids

I swear if I see another think piece about why women aren't having children...

A few days before Father’s Day the doorman at my physical therapy facility asked what I was doing for my husband that Sunday. After a moment of confused blinking and wondering what about me screams husband and kids (neither of which I possess), I muttered “nothing.”

“Aren’t you married?”, he pressed further. I replied in the affirmative, which although false, feels somewhat true seeing as my partner and I have been together for seven years. But really I said yes because I wrongly thought divulging that false information might end the conversation sooner.

His face contorted into a look of horror, “and you don’t have children?”.

“Not for lack of trying,” I muttered to myself trying to push the door open and escape. “No,” I said louder, so he could hear me.

“Ok, well just enjoy the weekend with your husband. I guess,” he replied meekly.

I left shaking with rage. Mad that I didn’t stand up for myself or say it wasn’t his business. Furious that someone who I, at best, typically spend 20 seconds making small talk about the weather with felt he was entitled to intimate details about my life. But mostly just incensed by the implication that I was a shitty wife for not bearing my husband children. And I’m not even a wife! And then I crashed my bike, which I only include to illustrate that I was actually shaking with rage. (I’m fine.)

If you don’t have kids, my guess is you have a similar story. I’m not entirely sure why people think personal intimate decisions around childbearing count as small talk but here we are. Since news dropped that the birthrate yet again decreased in 2020, think pieces have popped up left and right trying to explain why. And while many bring up good, even great, points they’re all flawed.

I get into this more in my book but if you feel like you’re being judged based on standards set by your grandparents’ and/or parents’ generation, you’d be correct. And while these standards set the finish (high) school, get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids, trajectory, they rely on the burden of childcare falling solely on the female partner. Which means when we ask today why women aren’t having kids we continue to make very gendered assumptions about what families look like in 2021, feeding the standards set in the mid-1900s.

Women should be the sole decision-makers when it comes to what they do with their bodies, 100%. And women do still carry the brunt, and then some, of childcare. But I think we can do better than only ask women why they aren’t having kids. And I think if we opened the conversation up to people, the systems that stymie childbearing may actually benefit from it.

Side note: This newsletter is coming on the first Thursday of the month instead of the last. Thirty days has September, April, JUNE, and November. Whoops.

Links I Like

I haven’t watched it yet but the new season of Master of None has what is supposed to be a great episode about doing IVF as a single woman. The episode was written based on this woman’s experience.

Of all of the think pieces about the birthrate decline that came out last month, this one from a journalist about to go on maternity leave about how the U.S. sets mothers up to fail captures how a lot of women feel.

Some good news to end Pride month on, France finally approves IVF for lesbian couples and single women. Heterosexual couples can do IVF for free through France’s public health care, and now lesbians and single women can too. Only 11 out of 27 countries in the EU allow single women and lesbian couples access to IVF. The bill also ends anonymity in sperm donation. Shortcomings: still a ban on surrogacy and letting trans people preserve sperm before seeking out gender-affirming care.

Keeping It Light

I have a new foster kitten. The shelter named her Fiona Flamingo but we’re calling her Fifi. We’ve had her since she was a week old, and let me tell you, young orphaned kittens require a lot of care. Every three hours she needs to be bottle-fed and expressed (manually stimulated so she pees and poops). She also meows constantly when she wants something, sort of like a baby.

A few weeks ago I interviewed someone who doesn’t think she wants kids and she said part of that decision-making happened after she and her partner got a dog. The agreement when they got their puppy was that they would split care 50-50. It was important to her that she, the woman in the relationship, wasn’t expected to shoulder the burden of care. After weeks, and some sleepless nights of caring for a puppy her partner turned to her and said the experience made him realize he might not want kids.

Kittens and puppies aren’t human babies. But the experience of having a young, practically helpless creature’s life depend on you can show you how you and your partner work together as parents without bringing new life into the world. (Babysitting doesn’t cut it, in my opinion.) Don’t get a puppy or a kitten if you don’t want one, obviously. But if you have the time and the interest, fostering cats and dogs is a great option.