On becoming infertile – part 3 (final)

Becoming infertile creates a social minefield all its own. I thought I was used to strained awkwardness, given that I’m both a person with a disability and a person who spends a lot of time talking to philosophers. But I still wasn’t prepared for the interactive weirdness of being an infertile woman in a world obsessed with women’s fertility.

People who know about my infertility often assume that I will be upset at any interaction with ,or mention of, babies. When I visited my family shortly after my operation, my sister (my only sibling) tried – painfully, sweetly – to make as little reference as possible to the fact that she was about to have her first baby. If you want to see something hilarious, watch a petite, 5’2 woman try to be subtly eight months pregnant. It doesn’t really work.

The truth of the matter is that I feel about other people’s babies the same as I have always felt about other people’s babies: I like them very much, so long as I incur no diaper-changing or babysitting responsibilities. I do tend to dislike how child-centric our culture can sometimes be. But while infertility may have sharpened that dislike a little, it was something that I felt long before I became infertile. (This is worth emphasizing, because I’ve found that knowledge of my infertility often colors the way in which people interpret me. And this tinged perception is usually misleading. If I seem a little reluctant to look at a new set of pictures of your baby, it’s not because I can’t look at pictures of babies without risking emotional breakdown. It’s that you’ve already shown me 400 hundred other pictures of your baby, and I – like most everyone else – have my limits when it comes to admiring baby pictures.)

That’s not to say that my infertility doesn’t affect my social interactions. It does, just not in the way you might think. I often feel pressure to conceal my infertility – particularly from parents and even more particularly new parents – in order to avoid their concerned glances and sweet-but-needless attempts not to upset me. It’s hard enough, when you’re permanently childless, to keep friendships intact once babies enter the picture. (Not, I should add, because we childless ogres hate children and anything to do with them, but simply because children, naturally and inevitably, change things.) The added social discomfort that infertility can add to the mix just doesn’t seem worth it. But the pressured silence this creates is alienating. And being in the company of lots of parents and children can often, as a result, feel deeply saddening – not because I can’t see babies without crumbling into a pile of emotional wreckage, but because they reinforce a specific kind of social isolation.

And this brings me to the Scylla and Charybdis of social interaction when you’re infertile (at least as I experience it. Your mileage may vary.) If people know about it, they treat you differently – they creep around your precious infertile-feelings as though walking on eggshells. But if they don’t know about it, there are no eggshells – and they proceed to stomp all over your already-weary heart with gleeful abandon.

When I was growing up, we were always taught that you simply do not, by way of casual conversation, ask people – particularly people you don’t know very well – about their reproductive plans. Nor do you make any assumptions about what those plans might be. If the person you’re talking to brings it up, then fine. But you don’t ask and you don’t assume. My father is a therapist, so I suppose he had particularly vivid first-hand knowledge of how important this is. He would often remind us that you simply don’t know what you’re putting your foot in if you bring up baby-having by way of small talk. You could be talking to someone who desperately wants to get pregnant but can’t. You could be talking to a couple on the brink of divorce because one wants a child and the other does not. You could be talking to a survivor of childhood abuse who is terrified of bringing a child of their own into the world. You just don’t know. Whatever mild benefit you might gain from casually prying into other people’s reproductive plans is surely outweighed by the risks.

I grew up thinking this was a social (and moral) norm. But if it is a norm, there are certainly a lot of people who either don’t know about it or take pleasure in ignoring it. About two weeks after discovering that the operation I needed would lead to permanent infertility, I attended a conference. An interesting – and wonderful – thing about this conference was that you could scarcely move without tripping over either a pregnant woman or a baby. Having babies was thus, quite naturally, the hot conversation topic at this conference. But because of how people handle this topic, the conference remains in my memory as one of the most socially painful experiences of my life. By the end, I was reasonably certain that if one more person said something to the effect of “Wow – all these philosophers having kids! I guess you’re next!” my head would explode.

People had occasionally said these kind of things to me before, of course. But it had never bothered me all that much. It had always annoyed me. But I would generally just use that annoyance as an excuse to catapult onto my soapbox and rant to my partner or friends for a while; and if I’m honest I’m rarely happier than when I’ve got a good rant going. But the onset of infertility turned offhand remarks like these from a mild annoyance into salt on an open wound.

“No,” I wanted to say, “I am not going to be ‘next’. Regardless of my preferences, my body can’t grow babies anymore. Thanks very much for reminding me, and for reinforcing how abnormal this is.” But much as I might’ve wanted to, I never said anything like that. And I don’t really know why. Somehow it always seemed that the same social rules which allowed people to make me uncomfortable forbid me from making them uncomfortable in turn. Maybe it just comes back to this: having babies is something we talk about (regardless, it seems, of how much damage we may casually inflict), but infertility is not something we talk about.

Whatever the reason, I felt the onus was on me to endure people’s insensitivity, rather than to call them out (and in so doing, to transfer the burden of discomfort). And as a result, I spent a lot of my time at that conference – and several subsequent ones like it – hiding in my hotel room, not wanting to go out and talk to people. Not wanting to go out and talk to people, because I worried that if one more person asked me when I was going to have a baby I just couldn’t take it.

I’ve developed a thicker skin about this as I’ve become more accustomed both to other people’s comments and to my own infertility. When people make casual enquiries or assumptions, it still makes me uncomfortable, but it doesn’t evince the sort of raw pain that it used to. There is one kind of comment, though, that never fails to floor me, both for its insensitivity and its absurdity. “(When) are you guys thinking of starting a family?” is something that people have, on many occasions, had the gall to ask my partner and I.

My partner and I are a family. We are a childless family, but that doesn’t make our family any less real or legitimate. The implication that people who don’t have children don’t have families – don’t have parents and siblings, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, partners, friends, pets – is beyond insulting. People have sometimes clarified their comment by saying that they were talking about a “nuclear family” (whatever that means). But just as I have an extended family, I also have a nuclear family. We are simply a family of two, rather than some n greater than two. Likewise, people without children and without romantic partners have nuclear families just as much as I do – those families are simply composed a little differently than my own. Whatever child-bearing abilities infertile women may lack, they do not lack families.

And with that, I draw these little ramblings to a close. Thank you very much for reading.

Part 1

Part 2

29 thoughts on “On becoming infertile – part 3 (final)

  1. Thanks for these posts. I’ve very much enjoyed reading them.

    I’m in a somewhat different position vis-a-vis our infertility as my partner and I do/did want kids (and I’ve always strongly wanted them).

    However, I get the same crap. For me, it is sometimes genuinely difficult dealing with other people having children. (These are usually fairly specific situations, but sometimes I can get a blip from a seeing a random parent-child interaction.) BUT, you know what? That’s my thing to deal with. If it becomes a big deal, I’ll let people around me know and work out what I need to do.

    The worst experience I had with this was a “friend” who claimed to have been walking on eggshells for MONTHS about their own conception attempts around me because they didn’t know how I would take it. I said, “It’s ok for you to talk about this big deal in your life, obviously. I’ve just discussed my infertility treatments, after all. It sucks that it didn’t work out, but that doesn’t mean I’m repulsed by other people’s luck.” They very next thing out of their mouth was “I’m like SUPER FERTILE with my partner.”

    I was, frankly, rather shocked. What was the point of “walking on eggshells”, resenting ME for their “having” to walk on eggshells, if they are just going to be all megabreeder in my face. Why was the focus on their fertility awesomeness (rather than the fact that they had conceived)? Weird. Very very weird. And hurtful, frankly.

    By and large, however, professionally I don’t get any “what about the babeezzzz” from anyone. Enough people in my dept are childless that I guess it doesn’t seem a big deal. I don’t feel that the world I live in is hugely childcentric or even childcentric at all. Maybe even a bit child-adverse (I wouldn’t mind more children around the dept). I only remember one person asking me if we were “next” and it was a family member in a context where it was ok for me. (We’d just started trying.)

    The same “friend” a year later when we were going through our second round of IVF said something along the lines of “I hope it works out because I really want to be able to talk about my kids with you! That’s something people with kids like to do, you know! And you don’t ask me enough about my kids, which is something people with kids like. I presume it’s because it’s too painful for you so I hope your treatment works out so you can start asking me about my kids” in a *really* surly tone. (By the by, I never asked because it never occurred to me and there was never really a specific occasion. If they had brought it up ever, I would have provided half a conversation.)

    Not even “friends” anymore, thank goodness.

    I see a lot of crap going both from parents to childless and the reverse. It’s, per usually, obnoxiously complicated. (The adoption critique wars are a good place to see the dynamic playing out, although that’s where the status of “parent” is being contended strongly. The airplane battles are interesting as well: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/11/28/children-on-flights/ )

  2. I just found these posts – linked to by another philosopher on Facebook. I was so relieved to hear other philosophers talking about their infertility experiences. Thank you for sharing your story and for raising the social issues you face.

    My own story is very different from yours – my partner and I wanted children and we have been undergoing six years of various medical treatments, including six rounds of IVF, which just ended unsuccessfully. Reading your story really put things into perspective for me. I am very lucky to be healthy. All of the very painful medical intervention was purely voluntary. It was something we chose to do.

    On the social side – everything you say rings so true to me. I’ll add one more. After so many years, and after so much physical and mental pain, I find it very irritating when people ask “have you considered adoption?” What is the implication here? That it never crossed our minds? That we didn’t know it was an option? That we are morally suspect for choosing IVF over adoption? Mostly, it just makes me tired. I want to say: if you knew how taxing and exhausting it was to spend my entire thirties being medicalized for infertility, you would not ask me why I haven’t chosen to spend my forties taking on another endless, painful, expensive and possibly fruitless quest.

  3. Oh, Becko, I wish to send you flowers and chocolates for saying that. YES, I have been asked by almost everyone with whom the subject comes up, “Have you considered adoption?” Often, if it is comforting to hear this, the question is asked by someone who has adopted, so the question is motivated, not by their firm belief that I do not think of obvious alternatives, but by a semi-distracted happiness with their own lot. What they often mean is, “Adopting is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” but it pops out in the other form, and comes off like we’re dimwitted. (How did I get to my forties without ever hearing about adoption, ha ha!)

    My gratitude to the OP for this series of entries. I am working on philosophers talking more about infertility, in part by holding a “philosophy and miscarriage project” in May. (Funding is pending, but I’ll have news on it when I know more. The first workshop may have to be kept small to stay within my operating budget, but I’d love to follow up if I get hoped-for grants.)

  4. I read this post with interest, and it’s prompted a lot of soul-searching about how I interact with other women in the profession. (And in the rest of my life.) One thing that I’m struggling with is that the advice as stated is not to ask these questions of someone in “casual conversation”, particularly someone you “don’t know well”–which circumstances does this rule out? I find myself wondering: do I violate this?
    I find that I often meet women through the profession that I like a lot and I want to bond with. I talk openly with them, one-on-one, perhaps at a reception at a conference, perhaps at the bar. I don’t know them well but we’re getting to know each other–or so I hope. Sometimes an honest question is met with openness, and I don’t think it’s an openness I’ve manipulated or forced . . . Sometimes I ask personal questions of someone I’m not yet close to as part of a sincere effort to become close to them. The thing is that this *is* risky. For all I know, I could make someone uncomfortable and make her feel bad. This post is making me rethink whether I’m getting right the calculation of what it’s okay to ask.

    About the adoption question: I’m sure I’ve said to people who’ve revealed their struggles with infertility to me, “Have you considered adoption?” I think this wording is used to express the questions, “what do you think about adoption? have you seriously considered it?–that is, have you pursued it at all? do you think you may pursue it in the future?”
    If someone is telling me about her desire to become a parent and her struggles, it doesn’t seem crazy to ask her this question. I don’t hear it as meaning “here’s something you might not have thought of: you could adopt”
    The responses I’ve gotten have ranged from “I don’t want to adopt; it doesn’t appeal to me” to “I’ve seriously looked into it, [more specific explanation] . . . but it didn’t work out for me.”
    I think when people ask this they are often just taking seriously that the woman / couple they’re talking to wants to be a parent. Just as profbigk understands someone who has adopted is saying this in a friendly way, surely someone who hasn’t adopted–but sees that adoption can be a wonderful option–may be asking in a friendly way.
    Also, someone who asks may not be taking the attitude that *of course* the woman they’re talking to should want to adopt, or should be willing to go through the difficulties of trying to adopt. It may be a sincere question.
    Perhaps what is coming out is that even when someone is open with you about a sensitive topic, such as infertility struggles, it is best to just listen without asking questions. But I do think as a friend listening to someone, it is natural to ask questions. And it’s hard to know which questions one shouldn’t ask.

  5. Reposting a comment here from “anon@anon.com” who accidentally posted on Part 2:

    These remarks even extend to people who have one child. I have one daughter who is approaching 10. She’s a beautiful happy girl. My partner and I wouldn’t mind having another child, but until now it has not worked in the natural way, and as we feel happy as a family, I don’t see why we would resort to fertility treatment (which I do see as a viable option for those people who feel their family is incomplete, of course), I do not see it as an option for us, especially given that we both have demanding jobs, and I heard from friends it’s an emotional roller-coaster ride.
    It is amazing how many times we get prompted by well-meaning friends, family etc. about why we have only one child. People even try to make us feel guilty that our daughter is an only child. The reasons why are complex: on the one hand, we are happy with one child, on the other, there is an unexplained infertility problem. We tend just saying, “Demanding jobs, you know”.

  6. I have a post up at New APPS linking to this series of posts. Many thanks to the author for sharing her experiences in such an honest, poignant manner.


    I like in particular the part of it not being socially ‘proper’ to ask people about their reproductive plans. I don’t think I grew up with this norm, but as I moved into adulthood it became obvious to me that one just shouldn’t ask about such things, for the very reasons explained.

    I happen to be one of those people who will give the answer that ‘everyone’ expects (yes, two children, 7 and 4, yes, very happy, they are lovely, yes). I’m more or less ok with people asking ‘would you like to have more children?’ in a truly inquisitive way, but that’s just because saying ‘no’ is socially acceptable (given that I’ve done my ‘share’ by producing two specimens). But I want to punch them on the face when they say ‘why not a third one?’ NONE OF YOUR F***ING BUSINESS! So even when we fit a certain normative pattern, people’s obsession with female fertility and babies still raises its head.

  7. Thank you for these wonderful and thoughtful posts. I am someone who very much wanted to have children and couldn’t, so my perspective is different from yours, though some of my experiences of other people’s reactions are similar. I too find it offensive when people equate having children to having a family. (I want to say to such people ‘don’t you think your young children have a family?’)

    Experiences I’ve had with philosophy colleagues have included:
    – sitting through a long conversation about how much better at philosophy having children makes you (at a time when my final ivf treatment had just failed)
    – being told that I ought to adopt because it is the ethical thing to do (by someone who had no direct experience of adoption)
    – being told confidently by colleagues with no medical knowledge that I will get pregnant eventually
    – patronising comments that start off ‘when you have children yourself, you’ll understand that . . . ‘
    – one colleague (to whom I’d just revealed my infertility) explained that having children is great because it makes you less ‘up yourself’. (I did point out in reply that failed ivf treatments don’t leave one feeling very ‘up oneself’ either.)

    I appreciate that it is difficult to know what to say to people who are, for one reason or another, involuntarily childless. I’m sure that if I had had children, I would have dealt with this ineptly myself. The trouble with the question ‘have you considered adoption?’ is that infertile people get asked this all the time. The decision whether to try to adopt is complex and depends on all sorts of particularities of a person’s circumstances (the possibilities will differ, depending on what country she lives in, her age and that of any partner she has, her income, her caring responsibilities for other people, her health and that of any partner she has, how she feels about her inability to get pregnant or about any miscarriages or still births she went through etc). Many infertile people think long and hard about adoption (including talking to people who have adopted children or who were themselves adopted). For those who end up deciding not to pursue adoption, it can be hard to be expected constantly to justify the decision to well-meaning people who have spent much less time thinking about the matter.

    I would like just to add, for the benefit of other infertile people who might be reading this, that in my experience the pain of all this does eventually get easier. It has now been about two years since I discovered there was no chance I would never get pregnant (as opposed to there being a very very slight chance). I have found giving up on the hope to be strangely liberating.

  8. Sorry – obviously the second to last line of my post was meant to read ‘no chance I would ever’ not ‘no chance I would never’!

  9. Anoninfertilephil, so many of the experiences you relate are both familiar and upsetting. Personally, I’ve always found the “you’ll understand when you have kids. . .” comments particularly annoying.

    I was once part of a conversation in which a (male) philosopher declared that having kids is what gives meaning to life. Not that having kids is what he feels has given meaning to *his* life, but that having kids is, in general, what gives life meaning. Implicature: my life as an infertile woman is meaningless. He also called childless people “free riders”.

  10. I’ve been enjoying this series immensely – thank you. I agree with the person reposted at 6 that this even happens when you have one child, amazingly. I totally understand that it’s not nearly as socially painful or challenging for me as for those with no kids, but I am pretty flabbergasted at the insulting and invasive comments and questions I’ve gotten about having an only child. Even within academia, people’s ideas about what counts as a normative, non-eyebrow-raising family are jaw-droppingly narrow.

    I am curious how this goes on the other end – do people with more kids than is ‘appropriate’ in our sociodemographic circle (more than 3, perhaps?) also get invasive and insulting questions/comments? I kind of suspect that two and three are the only truly acceptable numbers of kids for conventionally-minded members of the middle class.

  11. i havent read the other responses. but i just have to respond.

    your posts are AMAZING. and not just because of the ‘infertility critique’ in itself, but because of your general critical perspective on the baby-centrism in society.

    the taboo of baby-centrism goes so far, that i use it as an educational tool: if i want to shock my students re gender roles (this is a great tip for experiential learning btw), i tell them about the social pressure women feel to have babies. if they dont get it, i take it a step further and say something like: “let’s be fair, aren’t they just loud, they need diapers all the time, they wake you up at night, the only thing you are allowed to talk about is babies, you have to breastfeed all the time, you basically loose your life”, they get SO uncomfortable (they look away, start sort of laughing of shame, put their hands in front of their mouth in shock). and that works as a great opportunity to discuss that they would have given that response if i would have been a man (which i am not); then it is normal. they get the point. period.

    but i actually think babies are smiley, warm, funny creatures on whom i can project all my caring tendencies. well, not all, but surely some of my friends’ babies. at 24 (33 now) i planned to get pregnant (without partner) for when i would be 26, i had it all figured out: i would get pregnant, write my MA thesis, deliver, deal with everything and be a mega-mom and get a job and live happily ever after. but i got sick and now i am physically/functionally infertile. well, with lots of planning i could have kids, maybe, but i would have to give up my life, my phd, my academic career. ah, and move countries to get insemination etc. if i would have the money to pay for it. but these are more technicalities really.

    and, obviously, sometimes it is sad because it is not that much of a choice. but it is rather fine; i am an auntie to so many babies/kids that i have an online calendar to send me reminders of their bdays. i love my life; i want to have my career. it is not that i want to give up babies for having a career, no, i just really really dig using my brains and think of (new) stuff. in opposition, i loathe baby-centrism. it is annoying, but mostly, it just bores the hell out of me. it is not the babies – they just do whatever they need to do, it is the parents & (western european) society. i mean, seriously: how much is there possibly to say about babies and kids? i just drift off. after the first two times: it is so b.o.r.i.n.g.., can i read a book? thinking about it, the babies and kids are much more fun than the parents; we can play with lego and make up weird stories. but, oh, how do i dread the moment that all my brothers have wives and babies, then we have to talk about nail polish AND diapers. save me!

    now, the interesting thing: when i criticise this stuff, it has only once been suggested that is do so because i cannot really have these babies myself. and why not: because i am a lesbian. people do not even register when i say that my body aborts automatically; i am not expected to have babies in the first place.

  12. being told confidently by colleagues with no medical knowledge that I will get pregnant eventually

    Oh yeah. I was told throughout how great fertility treatment is and stories of people who did 3 round of IVF and then got pregnant (either in a 4th round or spontaneously). These are meant to be comforting, but at our age, these are the 10% (or 5%, or now,1%). And we’re in the 99%. Those stories actually do piss me off/hurt me.

    (But I suspect this is just general disability/illness fail…I got all sorts of rubbish medical “advice” about my arthritis including blame for 1) what I ate and 2) what pets I had.)

    I am curious how this goes on the other end – do people with more kids than is ‘appropriate’ in our sociodemographic circle (more than 3, perhaps?) also get invasive and insulting questions/comments?

    I did this once. I was riding the bus with a visitor and saw that he had 4 kids waiting for him with their mom. I forget exactly how we got there but he explained that they had gotten there because they had had two boys and wanted a girl. Got a girl, then decided that two girls would be more balanced, and got another boy. I did ask that if gender balance was so important why they didn’t adopt (I was rather naive about adoption at the time).

    So #mefail. (I stand by my “WTF” reaction, though. It seems to be very weird family planning, though I’d imagine that it didn’t actually play out that way. Plus, IO guess if your preference order is 1girl 1 boy, then 2 boys and 2 girls, then 3 boys, 1 girl, then 2 boys, 1 girl, then 2 boys, then it’s fine; i.e., you are fine with up to 4 children but have specific preferences for subset arrangements. Perhaps my training in what is a “sensible” family size is distorting things.)

  13. Thanks for this excellent series of posts. I am childless – by choice – and so my perspective is also a little different. I really appreciated the discussion of insensitive behavior in a baby-centric society. I encounter this behavior frequently, and increasingly so as I get older. For example, one of my colleagues recently took it upon themselves to tell me that they are concerned I am not living a meaningful life because I am not a parent. It did not seem to occur to this person that this might be hurtful or insulting.

    Whenever I explain that my husband and I have chosen not to become parents, this choice is almost never respected by those with whom I am speaking (e.g. “Oh well, you have plenty of time;” “You can still change your mind;” “Having children is so rewarding;” “You must have at least one child;” “But you’d be such a good parent;” “You’ll regret it later if you don’t have a child.”). However, like anonymousfemalephilosopher, I tend to endure other people’s questions and insensitive remarks, rather than calling them out and transferring the burden of discomfort. These posts made me think that perhaps I should start calling people out and asking them to think more carefully about how they talk with others about these issues – perhaps doing so might effect some positive change.

  14. Despite the evident fact that there’s lots of social pressure, especially on (presumed-straight) women, to procreate (in the right ways, at the right time, in the right household configuration), I’m not convinced we have a “baby-centric” culture. Babies may get put on pedestals, but they’re squeezed into crazy routines and packed into strollers and playpens and rendered “cute” with bows and pastel “onesies”…

    Many people are in love with their *idea* of babies. Very young people themselves are about as varied and as interesting as… well… people. If you’re not the kind of person who embraces every new opportunity to meet strangers, then I don’t see why you should uniformly go nuts over babies, unless it’s because babies allow you to project certain hopes onto them that older people often manage to resist or disappoint.

    I suspect that this is well understood by many people who voluntarily steer clear of parenting. Making an unconditional commitment to host and support an unknown human being is an astounding move, and/or a not-fully-conscious one. (I say this as one who has done it, once, and without major regrets — but with lots of bewilderment about the inexplicable enthusiasm of strangers, and of family members who couldn’t get a fraction as excited about, say, a partner whom I had explicitly chosen as family.)

  15. Ditto, another anonymous. I’m one half of a childless-by-choice couple, and I’m more than a little sick of being asked to explain and even defend this decision. Usually by people I don’t know that well.

    The most frustrating are the evangelical parents. You know, the ones who insist on explaining to you how you should obviously have kids, because kids are so great, and because having kids is the best thing that ever happened to them, etc. I never really know how to respond to these people. I’m sure their kids *are* great. I’m sure their kids are the best thing to ever happen *to them*. None of this makes me want kids of my own. Even a little.

    I mean, being becoming disabled is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. But I don’t expect other people to go out and try it on the basis of that testimony.

    [magicalersatz’s comment descends into incoherent grumbling]

  16. Yes, it’s differently bad when I meet those who assume my childlessness IS by choice. It’s not, and I’m still sad about losing the pregnancy I had, so it’s an exercise in patience to listen to people explain to me that they understand many academic women choose to be childless, but I should really choose to have a successful pregnancy. (!)

    I actually feel like I’m rearranging furniture in my head while listening to their odd attempt at persuasion. I have to make these mental moves to understand that they’re thinking I do not want what I want, then figure out why they might be thinking I do not want what I want, exercise various principles of charity… It’s tiresome.

  17. “becoming disabled is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me”
    I’d like to hear more about this, though I realize it’s not what this thread is supposed to be about.

  18. This has been a wonderful series; thanks so much.

    I am not surprised that learning you are infertile was difficult, but I am not sure at all why.

    I haven’t seen much here from parents of much older children. I have some negative feelings about the great toll early motherhood took on me, but I realize now that I was utterly besotted with my son. It seems different when they are full adults and have lives that are shaped by all sorts of things, including their sometimes unwise choices. I.e., they are no longer fresh, magical beings. They are more like neighbors with whom one have vastly complex ties, including ones of love, but have the dreary problems adulthood also brings. From this perspective it seems odd to me to think everyone ought to have children, unless one thinks really that isnwhere one’ worth lies.

  19. Thanks for this series of posts. I’ve found them – and the discussions – an immensely helpful framework for thinking about these things, some of which are relevant to stuff I’m bumping up against in my life. Great stuff AnonFemPhil et al.

  20. ” “becoming disabled is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me”
    I’d like to hear more about this, though I realize it’s not what this thread is supposed to be about.”

    Ooh, you said a mouthful. There is material related to this on the Disabled Philosophers blog, but we could invite that commenter to say something in a new post (as we’ve access to the email address of the commenter).

    Disabled Philosophers, as a reminder, is here: http://disabledphilosophers.wordpress.com/about

  21. I commented briefly on the nature of my childlessness in the previous post and the comments one gets, but one of the most silly ones has always been “You will regret it when you choose not to have children”.
    Several (!) of my nephews are on prozac (before the age of 23) and none of my nieces and nephews are without the kind of problems that keep their parents awake at night. They are generally pretty nice kids, btw, and I do have good hopes that the now two unplanned children that are making me an early great aunt will actually turn out ok, but really.
    This combined with the knowledge of attempted and successful suicides in the previous and current generations.
    Sometimes it is just good to contemplate the alternative: “You will regret it when you do choose to have kids”.

  22. Thanks for sharing your experience. One thing that is special — or at least sort of special — about being a *philosopher* dealing with infertility seems worth adding. And it’s not anything about how we can think through all the details with our razor-sharp critical faculties, or anything like that. It’s the SOCIAL stuff.

    We are a small profession. Especially in our subfields, we know a lot of other philosophers personally, from conferences and so forth. Now, some of those people become genuine friends, and many remain completely arms-length acquaintances. But many occupy this weird liminal space between friends and colleagues… and it’s hard to navigate. These people feel close enough to you to talk about your childlessness, and say all the insensitive stuff above. (No mere business acquaintance would ever BRING IT UP.) But they are also not close enough to you to for you to actually want to have a real, honest, possibly teary conversation about it. The fact that our work lives blend into our personal lives make hard stuff about infertility, disease, ill parents, and so on very tricky.

  23. I’m turning 28 soon and I’ve never in my whole life wanted children. Aside from what most assume (“Oh indeed! You’re afraid of responsibility/the pain/giving up your freetime!”) I simply just don’t really like children. I find I dislike a lot of adults too, in that this revelation of mine was often treated as selfish, horrible, odd, or that I was too ‘dumb/young to know better’. I found the latter particularly hurtful, but universal; especially from those who had children.

    In your case you have the medical needs to back up your decision (which boggles my mind they’d deny you this at ALL given the repercussions). However I’m perfectly healthy….excepting the side effects from the birth control I must endure since no one will give me the procedure. On that note I grow more curious. How is forcing me to not only gain ridiculous amounts of weight (which has damaged my self-esteem perhaps more than I understand), but deal with the mood swings and anxiety that is also warned about with the contraceptive I use any more reasonable than choosing to do without all of that and just be happy to be a healthy adult? Granted most would say, “use a different kind!” I find I have very few choices as most contraceptives bring their own sets of complications given my body type; a laundry list I won’t air here, just suffice to say I chose the lesser of all the ‘evils’.

    I grow tired of being treated like I do not know better; or that simply because I choose what is not the norm, I’m suddenly less in-tune with my own desires. I know in the end, I would not have the patience to be a parent and the lifestyle it brings would leave me very unhappy and resentful. I discovered while googling this topic, someone commented they had nightmares about being pregnant. I’ve had the same myself and found that knowledge amusing and comforting.

    Your posts were refreshing in that I could sympathize with your struggle to make your wishes validated; and that your description of your ‘inadequacy’ later on made me think. Both about “would I want to deal with that?” and “I already feel that way.” I feel that way as of now since I know I will never give my husband children; my mind is made up. Even without the procedure. I carry a guilt about this and I feel worse to the point of offense when people pry about our plans on the matter…a feeling I’m sure I’ll always carry. In the end I wonder, would it feel worse to be guilty because I have the potential to have kids despite my wishes, or guilty because I no longer have the ability to do it?

    Thank you for making me at least think some more on this topic and be able to put my feelings into complete words finally.

  24. THANK YOU so much for this! I recently had to have a hysterectomy, and while I thankfully started with a very understanding female doctor and surgeon who never gave me the kind of grief you experienced (that part of this makes me feel so sick!)- there is so much here that’s a reflection of what I’m still struggling with, it’s honestly very comforting to see it expressed by someone else who is also infertile.

    Whether you’ve thus far chosen to be child-free (in my case, I’m 40 and never wanted to have kids until I was with the guy I am with now – we just hadn’t seriously gotten around to deciding yet), always wanted to be child-free, or always wanted to have a baby, I believe that dealing with the fact that the choice has been taken away from you without your consent is unfathomably hard. You expressed it beautifully – and made me feel like I’m not all alone in the way I’m processing all of this.

    Thank you again. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  25. These are really some very profound thoughts.
    Women who go through menopause have a small taste of what you are describing, the relief not to be dealing with periods, or the potential for pregnancy, but a kind of sorrow that this door is now closed.
    It does pass because menopause comes when most women are ready to do something besides raise children. But if you lose the ability to have children at a young age, that is a lot different. I could see that as being very hard, even if in fact you did not want to have children.

  26. This robust family of 2 humans, 5 cats, 3 hens and a dog likes to refer to ourselves as a liberating “child-free” vs. the more pitiful “childless.”

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