The intention is an innocuous attempt at engaging in small talk, but it opens a pandora's box of emotions. I tend to answer, "I have two beautiful cats." I think it throws people a bit, as I don't think many expect 'cats' to follow the adjective 'beautiful' (although, they are gorgeous). I've thought a bit about how my answer is perceived when it's one of my patients asking the question. If it's one of my pregnant teenaged patients, I wonder if it makes them feel more scared; OMG, this birth process must be really bad if even she won't do it! When I was in my late twenties and early thirties, the nods and gentle laughs that I received seem to convey, ahh, she's probably just too focused on her career right now... Now that I'm inching closer to forty, I'm starting to perceive a different thought process from the looks that I receive; maybe she's infertile...or just selfish...
Included among the many difficult aspects of infertility, is the fact that the alternative of living child free, is not widely accepted. Couples without children are sometimes viewed as being deviants. Heartless souls who are immune to the sweet nature and innocent whims of angelic tots. Self-centered bastards who would rather indulge in sports cars and exotic holidays. Child free families are often forced to defend their decision to the nosy naysayers who insist "someday, you'll change your mind" and criticise "your life just won't be fulfilled without having kids!" One of my friends in the empty womb club confessed that at times she lied about having infertility issues, in an attempt to stop the inquisition. That only led to the usual advice we all know too well... "Did you try [fill in the blank]? What about adoption? So-and-So tried for years to get pregnant, then they adopted a baby and now she's pregnant with twins!"
Additionally, from parking spaces to tax breaks, there are a variety of benefits granted to parents. I'm not saying they are not warranted or justified, I'm just asking that we [as a larger society] not pretend that they don't exist. There are times when child free couples are treated as second class citizens. It can be quite apparent in the work place. An RPL blogger recently wrote how her office had a staff meeting to discuss how to fairly allocate time off around the holidays. One of her co-workers commented in a bitter tone that "those of us with kids would like to be able to spend time with them." Thus, proclaiming that any parents in the office should receive priority status with their requests. There are times when it feels like child free employees are expected to pick up the extra slack and there seems to be two separate standards for parents and non-parents.
I'm also not claiming that as a child free individual that you can't use this to your advantage. Impress your boss by putting in the extra hours and maybe the nod for a promotion will go your way. While I was in my early twenties, I worked in an office and was the only employee without children. I signed up to work the early shift, as inevitably, someone would need to leave early to tend to a child and I would finish her shift. Cha-ching! it was overtime pay for me. One Friday I made plans to meet up with a friend after I finished my hours. My supervisor approached me to ask if I would cover for Brenda who got a call from the school nurse that her daughter had a fever. Hmmm, this supervisor didn't seem to notice that Brenda's kids seem to get sick almost every Friday. Monday too. When I explained that I had plans after work, she countered that Brenda had to leave as she has a sick child, but my plans were non-obligatory, and I could call my friend and arrange to meet at a later time. It was one thing when I was the eager beaver willing to pick up extra work, but I resented that it had become seemingly expected of me.
A few months later, I had to leave work early as I had left my laptop in the biology lab where I was taking evening classes. It was the day before Thanksgiving, the campus would be closing early and I needed to finish my application essays over the weekend. There was a skeleton crew working that day (including Brenda, who didn't have any available PTO) and I figured they could cover for me for a change. When I returned on Monday, I was written up for "abandoning my shift". The practice manager and my supervisor didn't accept the urgency of reclaiming a laptop. All the times I covered for others didn't earn me any credit either. As I needed the job, I just sat quietly and took my licks and I resisted asking 'would I have a mark on my file if it had been a sick child and not an inanimate object?' A few months later, I received an acceptance letter. Abandoning my shift paid off for me in the long run. Yet, fifteen years later I am still pissed about the fact that I have a demerit on my permanent record.
Perhaps this is why infertiles bond so deeply and the IF community is so strong. We're being rejected by the Mommies' club, but we're not water carriers with the child free crowd. We don't always resent some of the privileges that come with parenting, as it's what we're hoping for for ourselves. Yet, it just feels like another level of unfairness to also endure the burdens bestowed on the child free. The expectations that you can work late when needed. The implications that you prefer your lavish lifestyle over the pitter-patter of tiny feet. Relegation to the bottom of the pecking order for time off around the holidays. A fellow blogger who miscarried at the same time when her co-worker announced her pregnancy, described how she was later required to carry heavy stuff for her colleague as if she were an infertile mule.
"So, do you have any kids...?" I don't quite have an answer that explains, no I'm not afraid of child birth, but I am terrified about getting stretch marks and ruining my figure. Although, I'm probably not hot enough to be this vain, I work really hard to maintain what I have! Yes, I was too focused on my career for many years and probably missed any window for a natural conception, but ironically, if I hadn't been so driven, we may not be able to afford fertility treatments. Yes, I am infertile, but being selfish has at times become a coping mechanism. It may not be my choice to be child free, but it is my prerogative to embrace it. Isn't this all expressed with "Yes, I have two beautiful cats..."