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.