I played tennis the other day (for the first time in years) with a guy I met through internet dating. At the end we somehow got onto the topic of children - he has 4 from a previous relationship. He was saying that having children is the best thing he's done in his life, or something along those lines. I probably should have just smiled and been happy for him, but I didn't. I said - "Don't you think that's a bit of an insensitive thing to say to a childless woman?" Yes full on I know, why can't I just be nice like normal people. I then went on to say that when people say that it feels like my life is meaningless or at least desperately lacking because I haven't had children. I know that's not what he meant and it's probably all my issue, but I do feel that people should show a bit of appropriate thought in what they say. Anyway he took it alright. We then had a pretty full on conversation with me talking about our pronatalist society and the lack of recognition, acceptance or space for childless women in our society. His solution was that I should have a child, because he knows a 42 year old who had a child. He didn't understand why that made me quite angry - I said "Yes we all do, but I can assure you that for every one of those women I know at least 10 who have struggled without succes".
I also talked about how I'd heard of having a child as being likened to a 'get out of jail free' card. He could see the analogy and didn't disagree - however he then went on to say that he should stop talking as he was feeling quite smug - because he'd gotten out of jail free - largely due to having the title 'father', even though he currently doesn't see his children. I'm not having a go at this guy at all, I was actually quite impressed with how he handled me talking so directly and at times emotionally. But at the end I was feeling kind of shit about my situation and he was feeling smug about his.
Anyway tonight as I lay in bed trying to get to sleep, I was doing my usual trick of replaying the conversation. In my bed without the feeling of needing to perform I was better able to think about the reality. Really what does he have to be proud of - he got his wife pregnant 4 times - not much to be proud of there (especially as by his own admission there wasn't much love in the relationship) and then he financially supported a family and helped raise his children - of course that is something to be proud of - if he's done a good (or even reasonable) job of it, but then it's not something most people don't do. So then I thought well actually I can be proud of the fact that I'm living a different life from the norm and from what I desperately wanted and I'm surviving. Of course I'd like to be doing it with more grace and poise - but to be surviving and to be able to talk about it like I did today - what it can be like for a single childless woman in our society - that is something to be proud of. I'm not trying to sound smug and I'm not trying to take away from what this man or any parents have done - but I am trying to acknowledge that there is something I too can feel proud of. Obviously surviving is not the only thing in my life I want to feel proud of - but for now it's something pretty big.