Childbirth is not an abstraction. Why do I even need to point this out?

This refers to an interview I gave earlier – one that, I hope, won’t be published, because it was all kinds of whack. Let’s just say that it was for a Scandinavian publication that bills itself as women-oriented. The person who interviewed me is welcome to respond in the commenting section, but something tells me they won’t. 

A lady called me and said she wanted to talk to me about childbirth and motherhood, because she saw an article I wrote about it earlier. It seemed cool in principle, of course, but the entire thing will have gone down a whole lot better if the lady in question maintained a tangible link to reality.

First of all, “why did you want to have a child?” is kind of a weird question to ask – because there’s no single explanation, really, and because wanting to have a child is like… wanting to have a child. It’s very hard to compare this desire to any other desire. I suppose some people may disagree, but as I was answering a personal question, directed at me and me alone, there was only one straight answer I could give: “we wanted it because we wanted it.” I included my husband in the response, because having Lev was a joint decision.

Now perhaps this may not be the most elaborate answer, but even so – that’s not a reason to get mad at me. Because that’s what this lady did. She got mad. Now, I work as a journalist, I realize that every once in a while, you’ll call someone up, expect to hear one thing, and get another. It happens all the time – and there is no reason to get mad. Even if you’re writing a piece with a very specific bent – you can’t get mad at your source for not giving you something that you want. If sources just went around giving people what they wanted all of the time, the entire journalistic profession would be meaningless. The whole point of journalism, good journalism, that is, is exploration. That’s what I believe.

So I was surprised to hear the anger in her voice, but didn’t quite hang up, because I was curious as to where it was all going. She then asked me questions about my professional life and my creative work (I work as a journalist in the English-language media, and write plays in Russian, for the sake of context) – which seemed reasonable. But what happened next is that she tried to get me to agree with the following statement: “Giving birth to a child is just like writing a play.”

Um, what? Hell no it ain’t!

“But these are both creative acts,” she said. Well, of course, sure, in one way, they are. But producing a play isn’t going to land me in mortal danger should I be SOL when it comes to finding a good hospital. I don’t scream and writhe in agony as I sit there typing, trying to make a festival deadline – though that would be hilarious to do in the middle of a crowded coffee shop, I suppose (well, roughly for 30 seconds or so anyway. Before they kick me out). Writing a play doesn’t involve putting the lives of two people – mother and baby – on the line. I mean, Jesus Christ. I realize that making a surface comparison is perfectly alright, but this lady was really pressuring me to admit that there really is no substantial difference.

But fine, whatever, I disagreed, time to move on, I guess. Then she asks me, in a really pissed off kind of voice (by that point, I really stopped hoping that there was some sort of miscommunication going on), if I believe that childbirth and “generally becoming a mother” (her phrase) is “somehow a unique experience.”

Um. Well. How do I put this gently? Yes?!

So then she went on about how “offensive” this is to someone who will never give birth to a child. Which is… I’m sorry, but no.

I firmly believe that the definition of motherhood should be broad. There are a lot of people who become mothers without the physical act of giving birth to anyone. That’s just fact.

But the physical side of it – conceiving, carrying, giving birth, breast-feeding (assuming you do that) – well, that’s pretty damn unique, and there’s nothing “offensive” about saying that. These physiological processes are not abstractions. I understand that sometimes people want them to be – for the sake of an ideological paradigm, usually – but that want doesn’t change anything.

When I think about the year 2011, I think to myself, “We had a baby, my husband shot his first movie, I wrote my first big play.” So obviously, I do think of these things as life-changing experiences, and I put them in a row. I think that’s normal, I think a lot of people do that. What I’m not going to do is say that these experiences are one in the same.

“I suppose you think that no woman’s life is complete without a baby,” my interviewer then said. Um, no? I think that these matters are very individual. I’ve seen people genuinely suffer when told, for example, that they will be unable to bear a child. I know some women who have a lot of mixed feelings about their past abortions – for example, it’s not unusual to hear that a woman may have kept her pregnancy, had she been better off financially (and I wish to God that we didn’t live in a crazy, polarized world, where such women become political footballs, completely stripped of their dignity and used as pawns in a ridiculous debate about outlawing choice). I know a couple of older women who will say that they regret that they never met “the one” – and by “the one” they will mean a partner they would have wanted to raise a child with. But that knowledge doesn’t clash with the fact that some of my friends are happily childfree, plenty of older people I know are happily childfree (so that old chestnut about childfree folks “living to regret it” really does not apply) and that, in general, some people have no interest in going through with this huge physiological process OR with adoption or whatever, and that’s fine. That’s normal.

I really hate the fact that nobody is allowed to experience complex emotions about parenthood in general. For example – I love my son and consider him to be the best thing to have ever happened to me. Does this mean that I never have doubts about motherhood? Hell no. I’m not a robot. I didn’t just download the “happy mommy” program to my hard drive and press install. I’m a person. I have doubts and fears. Some of my friends who have made the decision to not have kids also have doubts and fears. That’s normal. It’s what people go through. No amount of ideology is going to change this fact.

My interviewer didn’t agree. Not that she’d let me explain any of this, of course. Instead, she raised her goddamn voice at me, and started lecturing me about the statistics on domestic violence in Russia. It took me a while to understand that she was implying that my husband must have beaten or intimidated me into becoming a parent. I hung up soon after, but I’d like to make the obvious point here: nobody gets to talk that way too me. In the immortal words of Danny Glover, I’m too old for this shit.  That’s the other “unique” thing about being a parent, I suppose – it ages you in seen and unseen ways and makes you less willing to put up with other people’s crap.

8 thoughts on “Childbirth is not an abstraction. Why do I even need to point this out?

  1. sweet baby jesus christ on a crutch. Okay, I understand the context that inspired your post from the other day a bit better now. And…sweet baby jesus christ on a crutch. Slov net.

  2. Joy…LOL, my sentiments exactly.

    This reminds me of something George Orwell said: “We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

    Perhaps you gave the interviewer some food for thought. I hope so!

  3. You wrote:
    “…nobody gets to talk that way to me. In the immortal words of Danny Glover, I’m too old for this shit. That’s the other “unique” thing about being a parent, I suppose – it ages you in seen and unseen ways and makes you less willing to put up with other people’s crap.”

    Someday you might even become a grandparent, and almost 70, like me. And by that time the line “I’m too old for this s*&t” is really powerful, while a lot of other people’s crap has been buried with them. Lieben und arbeiten blessedly remains.

  4. There is a particular strain of feminism, and I am by no means saying that it is the majority opinion of feminists but it does seem to be very Loud, which has very, uh, set ways of thinking about things and which gets quite angry whenever anybody suggests that the abstractions they hold might not exactly map to actual people.

    It normally manifests itself in weirdly contradictory anti-male outbursts, but pretty much any woman can find herself in the sort of position you found yourself in too if they dare to believe that life is complex and people aren’t simply describable in terms of a single axis of oppression.

    It’s often pretty hard when you find yourself in conversation with them because you think you’re talking sensibly about an issue that interests you, then all of a sudden you realise you (and any other men or women who happen to be around) are having to defend yourselves from accusations of complicity in rape or something, and it’s now *really weird*.

  5. Yeah, I think pretty much every political movement has this group of people who are so invested in a particular theory (such as the “giving birth is exactly like writing a play” theory) that if they come into contact with anything that contradicts said theory, they freak right the fuck out.

  6. Lol (at myself). No wonder you tsk-tsked me about Joy when I commented on your “What hath mommyhood wrought” post. I’ve never had a problem with Joy, btw. When I said “touchy-touchy”, I wasn’t referring to anybody in particular. I was commenting on the divisive rhetoric within feminist discourse, the recurring arguments all over blogland that leave women angry and bickering, when there’s no need for that. You made a reference to that bickering yourself, Natalia, in your post. The commenters on the mommyhood post were actually quite civil compared to some of the squabbles I’ve seen. I was also pleasantly surprised with Tabby’s courteous and sincere statements on the matter. I applaud child-free people, and those who choose to adopt.

    Was the timing on my Xenavid shitty or what? No, motherhood is NOT like writing a play. I still like the Fighting Monsters and Bad Guys metaphor, bc if we must mix metaphors, I see protecting my kids as something a little closer to active combat 😉 My kids were both *serendipitous accidents*. My gvt.’s been making shit soup of my life for the last 20 years, trying to force me to relinquish my role as caregiver to first my daughter, then both of my kids, then just my son, when my daughter turned 16 and became non-human in their eyes. I’ve blah-blahed all over the net, and all over your blog about how my battles with these people screwed me out of my degree and left me homeless for 2 years, drowning in debts I’ll never be able to pay. I now live with my son in secret, while my sister pretends to raise him, so they won’t harass us anymore. Thousands of poor single-parent families in my area weren’t so lucky when our Child Protection laws were amended to the totalitarian baby-stealing machines they are now. I get a little annoyed when I hear so-called ‘deprived’ women whining about how their lives are meaningless because they can’t give birth to their own kids. It’s bad enough when a pool of potential adoptees exists legitimately, bc they’ve been orphaned or abandoned. It’s truly appalling when such a large pool of neglected foster kids exists bc the state has forced their parents to give them up for no good reason. But I saw no point in going on about it, since none of you are in my area, and I can’t think of a less productive preoccupation than playing Oppression Olympics. The point is to do something useful with our grief. So because I’m well aware of all the ways a discussion like this can degenerate into squabbling, Epic Fantasy seemed like a good argument diffuser.

    I never would have gone all Jungian if I’d known you had so recently been arguing with such a sheltered Ivory Tower type about the difference between Reality and pretty euphemisms. I guess that’s the danger of allowing women to learn about life by studying with sheltered male academics. I hope Miss Interviewer will have the opportunity to report on more news items that will give her some insight as to why our humanity compels us to cloak vicious truths about life, death and pain in cozy metaphors in the first place. Yes, I’m hoping she will “live in interesting times”.

    When she went on about offending people who would never give birth to a child, did she give any indication as to whether that was a personal hangup, or was she just doing that saccharine radfem faux-PC thing, trying to holler about somebody else’s victimhood to cover up for the fact that she’s suffered little if any victimization of her own? (That’s a big pet peeve of mine, btw. Somebody who can’t personally score any points in the Oppression Olympics trying to protect some other privileged lady with one grudge in her otherwise charmed existence by putting words in some other woman’s mouth. Bah. I despise that kind of bitchy backbiting. It injures real people for the sake of protecting pet theories and funding grabs.)

    Whether Miss Interviewer is lamenting her own *childlessness*, or somebody else’s, there are plenty of orphaned and abandoned children in the world. So-called *childless* women can still work to improve state mechanisms for delivering care to these kids, whether they elect to adopt or not. I’m sure that even a *Scandinavian Utopia* still has a need for compassionate foster parents and other childcare providers. Being offended about parenthood is a pointless waste of time, when so many kids are in desperate need of care.

  7. I really don’t get the manufactured outrage of the nulliparous movement. (This is now apparently the PC term, though I can’t think why, because it sounds like some sort of skin condition.) People who never get tattoos will never know what it’s like to be tattooed. People who never have sex will never know what it’s like to have sex. People who never go to war will never know what it’s like to go to war. Etc etc. Unique experiences are unique. This would seem to be belaboring the obvious, but apparently it ain’t.

  8. I think that when you’re told, over and over again that you’re “ZOMG missing out on the most unique experience EVAR” – you’re bound to get a little pissy. But that doesn’t make said experience any less unique. Our culture just turns parenthood into a Catch-22. If you’re not a parent – clearly, you’re a selfish asshole. If you are a parent – you’re also a selfish asshole, because you’re doing parenthood wrong.

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