I do not claim to speak for all childless women, but I suspect I speak for all childless women over 33 when I say that there are three conversations we do not like to have: "When will you have children?", "Any minute now you will have children!" and "All MY Children."
1. When Will You Have Children?
Happily, no-one has been so insensitive since my wedding to ask when we will have children. That question belongs to my Single days, most memorably the night I celebrated having been accepted into a doctoral program. I had been offered a five-year fellowship, a biggish stipend, the works.
"How long will this take?" asked my sister, mother of one.
"Five years, maybe six," I said.
My sister's eyes bugged.
"But when will you have babies?" she demanded.
Suddenly all the fizzle went out of the celebration. I didn't even have a boyfriend, let alone a husband. Babies were the furthest issue from my mind. And this was not because I was a hard-nosed ambitious career woman vampire blah blah, but because I have a touching belief that one should attempt marriage before attempting conception.
Not everyone shares this belief, of course, and I remember talking with a single mother about my childlessness. She loved her children very much and felt sad that I didn't have any.
"Would you consider just...you know...going out to a bar and...?"
No, I said, I wouldn't. I explained that that would be unethical behaviour. And I was, after all, completing a Master of Divinity degree.
2. Any Minute Now You Will Have Children!
There's a parish priest out there in Canada who might have woken up in a sweat from time to time because he was allowing a Catholic with an annulment to marry a man she had met only seven months previous to the wedding. And I'm sorry if he did, but we thought we would simply DIE if we didn't marry ASAP, and besides I was 38 and realized that this was our only and last chance to have children.
Two years later, no children. We share this in common with at least two other women I know who married after 35. (Don't you dare mention naprotechnology in the combox; I know. I'm scheduled for a blood test, etc.)
Our friends generally avoid this topic. However, there is one friend, a happy-go-lucky rambunctious 20-something Continental who is apparently clueless about the ravages of age and rushes in where Angles fear to tread.
"Married two years," he shouted. "Where's the baby? Come on! Time to get cracking!"
More recently, his thoughts on the topic were that I should go out dancing because when the babies come I won't be able to anymore. Soon I will have four children, and how will I like that, hah?
The sunny side of hearing such remarks is that my advanced age must not be apparent, and slathering myself with sunblock and wearing hats and sleeves on the beach has been worth all the trouble.
3. All MY Children
Motherhood is the greatest profession on earth. You know it. I know it. So it is very sad for us who do not get chosen by God to be the mothers, especially if we tried to do His will and did not just go out to a bar, etc.
While waiting to become wives and mothers, or mothers, we get on with our lives and finish degrees, get jobs, travel if we manage to save enough, write books, carve out careers, and all those other things. But many of us are reminded that we have inexplicably lost out when we get emails of acquaintances' ultrasound scans.
Now I have no problem with women framing their ultrasound scans, especially if they hang them at work, forcing the public to acknowledge that a fetus, no matter how funny-looking, is a baby. I, however, know that a fetus is a baby, and so I don't need to see the ultrasounds and I don't want to see the ultrasounds. I'd hate to see my own ultrasound; thank heaven they didn't have them in 1970/1.
Mums get a bad rap, and I am very pro-mother, and I'm the eldest of five and the proud auntie of three, so I am going to tread carefully here. Not all mothers are like this--my sister-in-law certainly is not--but some mums talk, write and think about nothing except their children. Some send mass emails to their former colleagues to update us all on the humour and genius of their children and nothing else. They include server-crashing photo files. Now I automatically delete the emails of those mums.
Super-Mummy is impossible to talk to because whenever you say anything, she brings the conversation back to her children.
S-M.: What have you been up to?
You: Well, I went to Paris to give a paper. It was fantas---
S-M.: Oh, you're so lucky. What with two children under two and another on the way, I don't even get time to read, let alone write papers! What was it about?
You: It was on Muriel Spark's interpretation of La Tour's painting of Job, and--
S-M.: I haven't been able to get to an art gallery in years! Oh well, I guess that's the price tag of having two children. I mean, three children. Sorry, Bumpie! I always call them Bumpie before they are born.
If you are Single and under 25, this is just boring and rude. If you are married and over 35, this is tantamount to incitement to violence.
Personally, I don't have time to listen to women with children moan about their lost opportunities. I won't allow my own mother to do it, so I'm certainly not going to stand for it from anyone else. I've lost plenty of opportunities; obviously babies had nothing to do with it. And my sister-in-law has two children under three, a medical practise, umpteen papers in umpteen journals, and time to go skiing. My sister, who has a six year old son, wanders about Latin America with him teaching English. They make their opportunities.
Meanwhile, I myself love babies, and I am fascinated by my nephews and my niece. I am also good friends with The Youngest Parishioner, as I see him almost every week and am generally interested in all the young men of the parish anyway. I have tea with his mother, and we talk mostly about Catholic blogs, Catholic liturgy and the wickedness of academe. She is finishing her doctoral dissertation.
I am as interested in stranger babies as much as I am interested in stranger adults, which is not very much. I desire their good, of course, and have a vested interest in them becoming good, creative, helpful members of society. But, in general, they don't interest me all that much.
So there you go. I have spoken for the Childless Women of the world. We may not have children, but we certainly have feelings. Tread softly, for you tread on our dreams.