Poetry and personal blog – Spilling my guts to strangers

Women and Children

Someone very dear to me recently had her second miscarriage after both times having gone through much time, expense, and physical hardship to conceive; and of course the emotional fallout is devastating. So many women feel or have felt the need to see a pregnancy through to its miraculous conclusion, myself included. Many of us feel that carrying and giving birth to a baby is what defines us as women. Is this feeling purely societal or is it soaked into our DNA?

Surely society defines women by our fertility: We’re premenopausal, perimenopausal, or postmenopausal. But it’s not just a societal fact. Our bodies function around having or not having children, with hormones fluctuating in readiness in case there’s an opportunity for us to get pregnant, keeping the womb fresh when there are missed opportunities, and shutting down the shop when we get too old to deal with the 3 o’clock feedings. The woman industry will never go out of business selling us pills, pads, and plugs aimed at managing our baby-making organs.

Is that why some of us feel inadequate when our bodies don’t behave as written in a text book? I had to have C-sections (not by choice) to have both of my children, and even without the pitying looks from the older women in the family who had their babies the proper way,  I felt (feel) as if I somehow did not have the full experience of childbirth–no labor pains, no pushing. It’s no matter that I was ripped open with a scalpel and then gutted. Epic fail nonetheless.

Having the childbirth experience: It’s the reason why some women who don’t want children—or shouldn’t have children–have them anyway. However, they soon find out what adoptive mothers know and birth mothers discover within hours days of  bringing the first baby home, that childbirth is the least part of motherhood, if it factors in at all. In my community and family, it is not uncommon for women who may or may not have biological children of their own to raise another woman’s child on an informal basis, whether it be a grandchild, neice/ nephew, or neighbor.

So what about “mothering”–that is to say, the act of nurturing: is that learned or is it part of a woman’s makeup? Is it taught through example by our “mothers,” can we watch how mothers not our own behave and learn by observing, can we read books about it, pick up pointers from television? Since all of our reproductive organs are inside of us, is the nurturing organ in there, too?

And men, can they be nurturers? Needless to say (but I can’t resist saying it anyway) that from a technical standpoint, a man’s physical contribution to childbirth is over and done with before conception: Does this make a difference? It’s true that many men are more fully engaged in child-rearing nowadays than they were years ago and I know men whose lives revolve around their families as a unit, an entity.

But in a heterosexual 2-parent household, are men totally children centered, rearranging their lives to stay on top of meals, clothing, baths, milestones, socialization, schedules, school, friends, scrapes, tears, emotional development, and on and on? Do they assume any part of the sacrifices this may entail? Or is taking care of the infinite details our ultimate role as women, who perform this relatively thankless job with love and ferocity and who would do it all over again without question if given the choice to go back in time?

Am I revealing a generation gap in my thinking? Are things different in households with “untraditional” family structures?

I am not simply trying to say, “All is well, you can be a mother without going through childbirth,” nor am I downplaying the experience of pregnancy  (although I personally think society mythologizes it; it’s hard ).  My heart goes out to my dear friend and all who are going through this situation. This post was meant to express empathy for the complexities of womanhood as it relates to having children, because in so many ways, any women can identify with the pain of miscarriage. Do you agree, disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

© Sweepy Jean and Sweepy Jean Explores the (Webby) World, 2010.

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Comments on: "Women and Children" (13)

  1. This is a very interesting topic to me Sweepy! Before I turned 30 I lost my uterus, and cervix to a hysterectomy. Oddly enough, it did not bother me from the standpoint that I would never had children and this meant I never would. Before the surgeon could remove my tainted organ he had to have me write and sign a paper that said “I, Lisa, never want children.” It was easy for me to write, because I did not. Something inside me was “broken” in that regard. It always had been. I never had the drive to get pregnant or have the child birth experience. Why? Well, it isn’t that I’m not a nurturing person. I love to nurture people. I love to take care of people I love, and make them feel cared for, protected, and safe in my arms. That just doesn’t translate to children. I never thought I would be a good mother. I knew the sacrifice of self, and life it would take to rear a child and I wasn’t interested in doing that. If I wanted to stay up all night watching TV and sleep the next day…I wanted that freedom. (not that I do that, but you get the idea)I knew I was too selfish. I also was self aware enough to know that not only was I too selfish, I couldn’t relate to a baby at all. I’ve not been around many babys, but when i was I could see the difference between other women and me. They coo and talk to the baby, and I for whatever reason just didn’t feel that urge. Now, oddly enough give me a fur baby, and I’m butter in its paws. That used to amuse my husband to no end. He said if you could welp kittens, we’d have a housefull of kids.

    Where it did affect me is the concept of what a woman is. While I never wanted to use my girl parts, having them gone left me needing to re-understand the physical definition of a woman. I felt for a while, less than, because inside I was sewn up like some kind of sock or sex doll. I likened it to a man having his balls cut off. IT did make me more compassionate with my husband, since his cancer was intertwined with his sexual nature, and he had to redefine his masculinity. Which made me think about being a man or woman really does have less to do with the sum of our parts, than the path of our heart-our life calling. We are all men sometimes, we are all women sometimes, and what we do, rather than what parts we have define that.

    I don’t need pads, pills,plugs, or anything to be a woman. I don’t have hormonal emotional roller costers, and the sex without my “junk” is amazing because it is worry free, but still deeply connective to my partner. If a man defines me by my lack, rather than my abundance he doesn’t need to stop by. If a woman feels pity for my lack, rather than my abundance, then they can live by their own definition and let me live by mine. Cesarean birthing is just as ancient and valid as having your vag ripped apart naturally-Julius Cesar, and yours truly were born that way-and it produces a child just as readily, and painfully as pushing. So that is my take on it all Sweepy. Love you!

  2. VERY interesting post, and wonderful comments from Widow_Lady302; I love this: “If a man defines me by my lack, rather than my abundance he doesn’t need to stop by. If a woman feels pity for my lack, rather than my abundance, then they can live by their own definition and let me live by mine.” I had a hysterectomy at age 46 and regret that I let myself be torn open by these surgeons and gutted like a fish, rather than opt for the three less invasive but more complicated procedures of collapsing my ovarian cysts, ablation of the blood vessels leading to my fibroids, and whatever sort of D & C one needs to address and get rid of severe endometriosis. To wake up in the recovery room with hot flashes was startling and miserable. My doctor (a male filling in for a woman who was on maternity leave) said “I’ll bet you’ll find after awhile it’s so freeing not to have to worry about having your period. You won’t miss it.” You know what? He’s wrong. I do. Nasty as it was, it was part of my body, “keeping my womb fresh,” and it is just chilling to think of all that was taken so painfully away from me.

    I have two biological children in Heaven, I always say. One was a termination I fought tooth and nail against, trying very hard to hide my pregnancy until I was too far along, and almost succeeding. (I had missed ONE birth control pill). I was starting to show when my parents, my mother especially, railroaded me into getting an abortion. I was only 19 and the father was a rat, and it wouldn’t have been the best time to have a child, but I felt immediate protection and care for — nurturing, if you will — the developing child inside me. I find it still incredible that my mother, who was an extremely motherly, nurturing woman, could be so quick to help me kill her grandchild. That baby had a name. The trauma and guilt kept me from any intimate relationships for ten years. Fertile me, I had a miscarriage then and to be honest, I was greatly relieved as I had absolutely no desire then to have this man’s baby. (When he found out the fetus died, he asked me “Whose fault was that?”) But those were my only chances to have a child. It never happened again; I was far too gun-shy, having had what were supposed to be joyful experiences turn into nightmares.

    I do feel very badly for women who want to have children and can not. That being said, I don’t understand the whole religious fervor, almost, some women attach to having a baby. The “mommy and me” groups, the waiting lists for the right nursery school, the big discussions on organic baby food, Teletubbies or Baby Einstein.

    I have two nephews and shared a great deal in raising them; for five years, until he moved, I also mothered my friend’s toddler daughter (he was a single dad). I found out that while I knew I was kind and nurturing, I also would have made a great mother. But it didn’t turn out that way, nor — quite possibly because of my earlier experiences — did I ever find the “right” husband or significant other. So I am a 54-year-old Cat Lady. Nurturing but alone, waiting for that great-niece or great-nephew to come along. Ready to claim him or her as another of my own.

  3. Wow and Wow. Lisa and Laurie, thank you both for sharing your experiences so openly here. It’s truly awesome. For every woman there is a unique story yet we still have to deal with the consequences of preconceived notions.

    @Lisa, the only thing “broken” about not wanting children is the social convention that says a “woman” would never make that decision for herself. I feel your nurturing and generous nature from our online interaction and your blog posts and whereas some people have children for selfish reasons, I think your reasons for not wanting children are unselfish. I’m going to have to agree with you that body parts don’t make a person who they are; you make that argument abundantly clear. We must define ourselves, but what is that thing that is identifiably “woman?” ❤

    @Laurie: Society puts soooo much pressure on women to raise the perfect child that some women become obsessed and go overboard with the enrichment. Also, I think culturally menstruation is seen as a dirty and inferior state of being so of course, why wouldn’t anyone want to be rid of it, I hate to say it, particularly from a man’s point of view. What with the pain of severe endometriosis, the counsel from your doctors—who knows—but I hope you don’t beat yourself up too much for making the decision. Your mom, what pressure was she experiencing at the time? Your heart and soul are intact and you are here for yourself and those who need you now and in the future. Things are always much clearer in hindsight but in the moment, there are always reasons why. I think. {{Hugs}}

  4. As my Mom says, the person who cleans up your vomit is your real parent.

  5. Nurturing is embedded in our DNA. I was afraid of pregnancy: phobic. I was all alone. So I made a hard but necessary decision. Now, thirty-five years later, I wonder who that was. I’ve nurtured many tiny things and now it’s time to nurture me. Too tired to do a very good job, and sometimes as in post I took down flying off handle, but need to do it. Self-love and self-protection has not come easily to me. Great essay. Appreciate and can relate to the sharing of the comments. If you’ve never had a child at least in my experience, you don’t feel legitimate as a woman. Something that must be lived with. xx j

    • Self-love and self-protection are hard for me too, maybe for a lot of us. But we must keep trying, it’s our most reliable hope. Thank you for sharing, Jenne’.

  6. I’ve seen this idea at work from many angles, of course always from the outside. Of course it’s tough to see those who really want children struggle to have them as it most certainly must feel like a challenge to the very idea of being a woman. That being said, I think our idea of “a woman” is in need of some redefinition. Having a child is something that a textbook “woman” can do. If a woman can, desires the experience and is ready for the responsibility, then wonderful. But I don’t know why it’s so frowned upon when a woman doesn’t want to. (This attitude, of course makes things more difficult for a woman who can’t)

    We have many children in the world who really have no idea what it is to be nurtured. This, as you touched upon, is one of the main qualities we associate with mothering. To me, a woman who doesn’t want to nurture her child, is not a “mother” simply because she gave birth. It’s a terrible thing to see a child, thought of as similiar to a pet (which receives less attention when the novelty wears off) but this does happen.

    Being a woman, and being a mother are not the same thing. The idea of bringing life into the world through your body is an amazing concept on many levels, but when all is said and done, that’s just the biology, something your body can (perhaps) do. A woman should also be respected for choosing not to give birth if she doesn’t want to raise a child. To say a woman is less of a woman because she can’t give birth is ridiculous and almost equal to calling her an incubator. Giving birth is a possibility for some women, not their reason for being. Many exceptional “mothers” exist that nurture others despite never having children physically. And of course, there is no shortage of those in need of nurturing.

    And I do think that men can nurture as well, although it does require stepping outside our accepted definition of “father” If we got rid of the idea that a woman needs to be a mother (rather than chooses to) it would probably be easier to accept the situations when a woman can’t give birth. Personally I see the greatest tragedy being that we accept it when a woman’s body is capable of birth, but she isn’t mentally or emotionally sound enough for the nurturing. We still consider her a mother (just a bad one maybe) THere’s a physical component sure, but I don’t think of that as the most important part.

  7. I, too, had several miscarriages. Eventually we adopted two children out of foster care. I did have one biological child, too, from a previous marriage. I can say with certainty that my heart knows no difference between my biological and non-biological children. There are many ways for our children to make their way to us. I don’t downplay the desire to have our own but I do think I had all those miscarriages because my 2nd and 3rd child were meant to come to me differently. My best to you and your friend. Found you on shewrites.com, btw. Beth

  8. @Brent: Thanks as always for your thoughtful comments.
    @Beth: I’m glad you found me; thanks for sharing/stopping by.

  9. LIttle Minx said:

    You know, sweepy, you are absolutely dropping some science in here.

    I agree with you on all fronts. It can sometimes make my head spin when I think about how the American family structure has changed and has always been different depending on your culture. Now there are stay at home fathers and single fathers in some places and completely absent fathers in other places. There are still stay at home moms, but depending on who you talk to, that can be perceived as a good thing or bad thing.

    The one thing that stays constant is societal pressure regarding gender roles. It seems that women are all the time made to feel guilty about something. going to work, well shame on you what about the kids? single? shame on you why don’t you settle down. Stay at home mom, shame on you, where are your feminist values? got a c section? shame on you, you didn’t suffer childbirth. It’s enough to make you wanna find the nearest man and slap him in the name of patriarchy!!! lol just kidding.

    I guess it’s just up to each individual to decide for themselves what’s right for them and have the courage to live honestly.

    But easier said than done, isn’t it?

  10. […] of One (In this post, I was supposed to be talking to myself, ie, my own audience) In Real Time Women and Children My name […]

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