Excuse me while I rant…
A while ago, in the midst of what would become several months of experimenting with fertility treatment, our two cats decided to devour the decaying, fly-ridden carcass of a frog they’d found outside. It made them ill – a “coming out of both ends” kind of ill which lasted for several days and saw each of them lose nearly 20% of their bodyweight. In the 3 weeks it took to nurse them back to health, my husband and I spooned more cat faeces into vetinary sample pots than we spoke words to each other. We found foul-smelling surprises in practically every corner of the house and witnessed both cats, quite literally, fire pellets of poo out their arse and across the length of an entire room. On one occasion, I returned home from work to be greeted by a rotten stench and my husband on all fours, sniffing like a Bloodhound trying to locate the source. It later transpired to be permeating from a towel hung on top of a heated rack in the bathroom and I, along with the two feline culprits, watched in horror as he discovered the grim, melted mess sandwiched between the folds.
Without wanting to dwell too much on the bowel movements of my cats (both of whom are now fine by the way); it’s in the moments like these – the 3am carpet-bleaching sessions, the bathtime cleanups that end in bloodied forearms and the disrupted hours of sleep next to a fidgety, damp tail – that I feel we’ve earnt our “Fur Mum / Dad” status. It’s a role fuelled by pure love and I resent having it belittled by those who (a) don’t own a pet; and (b) have been fortunate enough to not only choose but also accomplish procreation.
I’m specifically hinting at an article recently published by the Guardian in which a journalist offers her archaic and ignorant take on anyone who hasn’t spawned a child. It centres around the author’s misplaced sense of superiority since becoming a mother herself and is interspersed only by condescending comments aimed at both pet owners and childfree millennials who she describes as “cash-strapped, travel-obsessed, career-driven, commitment-phobes”.
As someone who has tried desperately to conceive for approaching 3 years, this article – unsurprisingly – hit an already raw nerve. Was it the bit where she singles out a woman at a party for whom she can’t pinpoint a respective offspring, labels her as “odd” and then alienates her from a conversation with the other mummies? Or maybe it’s the bit where she disregards the relationship between pet and owner which, for some of us, might be the closest nod to parenting we’ll ever experience? Or perhaps, it’s the bit where she reels off a list of reasons why, according to her, having a functioning, hospitable womb somehow makes her more special than the rest of us?
But the layers of ignorance run deeper than just a lack of awareness around infertility – this journalist completely ignores the possibility that not everyone wants children. Aside from the fact that to have or to not have a child is, at best, an innately personal choice; the article rears an ugly, outdated notion that childbearing is the most defining aspect of womanhood and highlights the isolating discrimination that child-free women are so regularly on the receiving end of. She is correct in stating that, according to UK Government data, more women are getting pregnant in their 30’s than in their 20’s and it is also true that the number of child-free women in their 40’s has risen by nearly 50% since the mid 1990’s but to assume that those stats are down to – quote – “a generation scared of lifelong commitment” is hideously misinformed.
Let’s consider, for a moment, the possible circumstances of the woman at the party who this journalist identifies as “childless”…
Perhaps she has been trying to conceive for years and has experienced failed IVF treatment or miscarriage or the loss of a child even; perhaps she is just coming to terms with the reality of an unexpected future without children and showing her face amongst an army of new mothers and tiny tots took every single shred of strength she could muster. She probably anticipated an obnoxious character questioning her reproductive status and equipped herself with a few retorts about being a “Fur Mama” to stifle some of the predictably painful conversation.
Maybe this is a woman dealing with some form of grief, depression or another unfathomable complication that life can throw. Any thoughts she might’ve had about starting a family have fallen to the very bottom of a delicate pile of priorities and an old-fangled, pretentious sneer at her lack of a baby has just shed light on the undeniable privilege of those whose biggest problem in life seem to be a couple of sore nipples.
She may not be in the right relationship, or home, or financial situation to think about raising a child. Perhaps there’s a medical reason preventing her from doing so or a genetic disease that needs to be weighed up in all its complexities. It could be that she has considered at great length issues like climate change and overpopulation and has come to the earnest conclusion that she doesn’t want to bring another life into a world so full of uncertainty.
Or, here’s a novel idea, maybe this is a woman who has ambitions that stray away from a narrative that society wants us to believe is “normal” and has no desire to render her purpose on Earth solely as the vessel of life for another. The thought of travelling the world and enjoying a fulfilling career excites her more than the prospect of motherhood and having to constantly justify her own choices to someone narrow-minded enough not to see beyond the “womb” derivative of the word “woman” is both tedious and offensive.
Some people want children. Some people don’t. Some people have the good fortune of being able to reproduce. Others spend large chunks of their life trying to achieve it. Having the choice is a privilege and one that shouldn’t be absent-mindedly waved around without any degree of humility. I wouldn’t dare compare pet ownership to parenthood and this journalist, in doing exactly that, has shown herself to be daftly unaware of her own fortuity as well as the special bond between pets and their owners.
To me, like many others, my pets are my babies. They’re the closest thing to parenthood I’ve ever known and whilst I dream of one day embracing all the relentless sleeplessness and anxiety-ridden challenges that a tiny human has to offer; my fur babies are an endless source of love and happiness as we muddle through the long road to get there. Yes, I probably veer slightly further towards crazy-cat-lady with each year that passes, but my home and my heart would feel empty without them.
So, Josie the journalist – if I ever have the misfortune of attending an event where you single me out as the only woman there without a child and make assumptions about my life – you can bet your smug, fertile ass that I too will be shoving pictures of my gorgeous little fur babies in your face. And perhaps also some holiday snaps for good measure.
Annoyingly, for reference and context purposes, I need to share the link to the article that’s got me so wound up… it’s here.