Childless by biology

I’ve mentioned this revelation on my blog and referenced it on another feminist site, but I’ve never talked about it in detail until now.  Last week, I learned that the illness I’ve struggled with for months has rendered me sterile.  Perhaps I always was this way, especially if recent testing reveals that I am, in fact, intersex.  Even so, this has been surprisingly difficult to come to terms with, I must admit.  I think it’s the finality of it.  I’d never really had much desire to contribute to the creation of another human life, but I did always assume that maybe later in life I might change my mind.  Having one child, singular, much later into my thirties was an idea I’d contemplated, but it seemed so remote and far away that I’d never really hashed it out in my mind.  Now I have no choices and no options.

Regarding the choice of whether or not to have children, it’s difficult to draw a parallel between the experiences of men and women.  If it were a matter of simple biology, that would be one thing.  As we all know, women can have children and men can’t.  But for women, as we’ve discussed on this site before, there’s often a huge, extremely unsubtle societal pressure to procreate.  It’s inescapable.  One finds it within the opinions of other women and within magazines devoted specifically to pregnancy and child-rearing.  And the industry devoted to that very thing.  A woman’s life seems to be divided in two between who she was before she had kids and who she is now that she has embraced motherhood.   And for those women like my partner, who wants to stay childless forever, they take understandably great offense to this massive assumption that what is true for some must certainly be true for all.

With men, there is an expectation to have kids, but it’s not a burning compulsion.  Men are the same men they always were regardless of whether they sire children or not.  No cottage industry involving fatherhood and guilt complexes exists the way it does for women.  I think if men were allowed to be more emotionally connected to their children that attitudes like these would be different.  If I mention that I’m sterile to the average man, his answer might be that I lucked out somehow, or he might express a quick condolence, then swiftly change the subject.  If a woman mentions that she can’t have children, then the matter is treated as a complete tragedy, with all the gravitas and pathos of a funeral procession.  What makes this subject that much more complicated is the emotional, biological impulse element that is extremely present for some women and completely bereft in others.

A friend of mine was once single and childless, like me, and I must admit we could relate to each other much easier in those days.  Now her whole life is her children, and she can talk (and blog) about nothing else.  In some ways, I’m not complaining too much.  Having children provided her a sense of grounding, greater stability, and a purpose that she had lacked prior.  Struggling previously with depression and self-doubt, she found an escape from it by meeting the love of her life and then having kids with him.  I try to keep my criticisms minimal, aware of the circumstances as I am, but I still reflect that she was much more interesting and less monolithic before embraced this attitude so common to Mommy Bloggers the world over.

I don’t know if there are Daddy Bloggers, but if there are, their numbers must be tiny.  I know any number of doting fathers who talk about their kids a good bit, but discussion of their children isn’t a predominant focus.  It is weaved into the conversation, but it does not remain there.  Men do not define themselves first and foremost as Fathers, at least not in the same way that is so true with Mothers.  Fathers may provide a litany of all that had to be done today for their bundle of joy, but that’s the extent of it.  Mothers with young children appear to instantly identify with each other and band together around a common purpose.  I’ve never been able to discern whether this is some sort of biological instinct or psychological identity.  If anyone could explain it to me, I’d sincerely appreciate the gesture.

Much about the act of rearing children seems to exist in the grey area between societal conditioning and innate biology.  The two may be twisted around each other so tightly that separating them out might be beyond our own current capacity.  I just know that right now I’m feeling decidedly strange, satisfied in some ways that I won’t be selfishly tempted to contribute DNA towards the production of a child with a large likelihood of having at least one major chronic illness.  But then, some optimistic part of me appears stating that maybe a greater medical understanding might have allowed me to eliminate that chance altogether and produce a child without a disability.  Of course, this is all in the past tense now.  It’s not even hypothetical anymore.  It’s impossible.  Not going to happen.  Ever.  It’s going to take a while for this to sink in, I can already tell.

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  1. Posted April 21, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    I think you are massively overgeneralizing the attitudes of mothers and fathers and people’s responses to infertility. Many men are absolutely devastated upon finding out they are sterile. And, any primary caretaker of small children, regardless of gender and actual bio relationship to the child spends a lot of time thinking about and interacting with the child (and hence wants to discuss it).

    On another massive overgeneralization note, the pressure to have children for women is intensely related to other areas of privilege. Race, disability, sexuality, social class, etc. can make this take a complete 180. The same people who assume you should be having babies when they assume you are a hetero cis able bodied upper class white person will turn around and tell you how evil you would be to have them if they find out you are actually a bisexual, genderqueer, disabled, low income, significantly part Cherokee person (I notably had one doctor who was obsessed with the issue of fertility until finding out I was on medicaid, when he proceeded to never speak of it again). The experiences of poor mothers and black mothers do not conform well with your image of the social pressures to have children.

    PS Some men can birth babies. Horray pre-ops and non-ops! Especially considering that it used to be standard operating procedure for psycologist to suggest trans men (particularly gay trans men) have babies to cure them and make them want to be women, plenty of trans guys have birthed children.

    • Posted April 22, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

      This is true. What I may not have properly actualized is that I was speaking primarily to the status quo. Your perspective is understood and had I actively contemplated it while writing, I certainly would have incorporated it into the finished piece, had it fit.

      I did think about caretakers of children and their attitudes towards child-rearing, but I felt like that almost warranted its own post. And as for when instances where men are devastated when they find they are sterile, I again was speaking to the dominant stereotype in play. In reality, men are far more sensitive than our society insists that they are.

      The same thing goes for instances where childbirth is encouraged or not encouraged.

      Would you please consider writing a piece of your own as a contrast to mine? I think it would be an effective counter-weight. You do have some strong opinions of your own, and they need to be expressed.

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