There are huge chasms between the experiences of childless Millennials and mothers, and nowhere are these gaps more apparent than on the Internet. Websites for pregnant women draw thousands to discuss conception, pregnancy, and motherhood, while excluding women who don’t want children. There is a new culture war waging between these two communities, but they have more in common than they think. It’s time they came together and stopped with all the bullshit.
For me, the idea of raising children is a highly-romanticized dream, in which I picture Rebozos, homebirths, breastfeeding, tiny sweaters, family outings to the park, bedtime stories, and adventurous meals. I take a proactive approach to making sure my future children will have all of these things. This strategy includes earning my degree, financial independence, and a home of my own—whether by rent, lease, or mortgage—before I give birth. By working very hard against pregnancy, I can give my future family something that resembles the life I’ve imagined for them.
A short disclaimer is in order here. I know many, many mothers and fathers whose paths and opinions differ from mine. In saying that I prioritize my education and career above procreating, I am in no way dismissing or demeaning those who do the opposite. I respect your decisions, and expect that you will reciprocate.
The visions I have of my future family differ very little from those of a woman who is pregnant or trying to conceive (TTC). We are both on Pinterest, sharing and archiving cute craft projects, cool science experiments, and simplifying lifehacks. I love the name “Abe,” her favorite is “Reese,” and we’re both trying to find middle names to fit. Long before the tests are run, we relentlessly interview older relatives regarding family disease histories.
The most important similarity between women who don’t want children and those who do is that the women who make up both groups have all taken charge of their fertility. Websites for pregnant women routinely feature crash courses on menstrual cycles to help women identify their fertile periods. Many women had no idea, before they decided to have children, that their cervices change position, or release different types of mucus, throughout their cycles. After a chemical pregnancy left me very frightened and confused, I started to track my cycle and keep meticulous records on a handy iOS app. I now know that I have heavy spotting for the last two days of my cycle, a tidbit of information that helps me avoid turning a nice, new pair of underwear into “period panties.”
Much of what I learned about how my reproductive system functions on a day-to-day basis came from websites for pregnant women. These websites, however, were always trying to cheer me up, as in, “Congratulations! Your period is late! Aren’t you happy?” Well, no, actually, I thought. I’m not. I’d just like to be able to ask a question about the meaning pinkish-brown cervical mucus without being bombarded by smiley faces.
Although websites for pregnant women are some of the most-accessible places to find information on the menstrual cycle, they are incredibly alienating to women who don’t want children. The women on these websites were trying to conceive. They were devastated by negative pregnancy tests, and were widely congratulated for their first BFPs: Big Fat Positives, in TTC lingo. I was the exact opposite, and my discernible lack of community support made me feel so alone.
Search as I might, I never found a thread on any of these websites that spoke of not wanting more children. Women came into these spaces as they tried to conceive, and left after toddlerhood was over. Those who stuck around to guide newbies were mothers hoping to add to their families. Once they have their desired numbers of children, the members of these websites for pregnant women move on.
But women who don’t want children are left to their own devices. We have no community. And, because of the aforementioned culture war, we are not welcome among communities of women who are trying to conceive.
For this part of my life, I have an ongoing mission: do not have children. This quest is no different for me than a pregnancy journey is for a woman who wants children. Where I research the best methods of preventing pregnancy, she looks up the best positions to aid in conception. When I wait for my next shot, she waits for hers; the only difference between us is that mine is Depo-Provera, and hers is Pergonal. While she tracks her cycle to know when to have sex, I track mine to know when to use a condom. We are using the same strategies to meet different goals, so why are our lines of communication so few and far-between?
Being a mother is an ongoing status. Death, separation, and level of involvement cannot change it, because, after a woman adopts or gives birth, she is never not a mother again.
Women who don’t want children must actively maintain their childless status. We can, despite our best efforts, become mothers. Some of us can’t afford contraception. Some of us can’t afford an abortion. Some of us are raped. It takes something as traumatic as this to make websites for pregnant women welcome us into the fold.
What we want to do with our bodies may be different than what women who are trying to conceive want to do with theirs, but it is no less valid a desire. Women who don’t want children need supportive communities, too, and there is no logical reason why they should be denied residence on websites for pregnant women.
Think about it. Those who are happy without children may be better equipped to counsel women who are trying to conceive and unable to do so than those who already have lively families of their own. Women who have children could help those who are dealing with unwanted pregnancies and are unable to afford an abortion, while women who have had previous abortions would be able to answer the questions of those facing their firsts.
It could be the most supportive community on the Internet, filled with women empowering each other to navigate their family planning without judgment. So why isn’t it happening now?
What’s your take on this culture war? Let me know in the comments!