Stephanie over at The Broke and Beautiful Life recently wrote about how the five milestones of adulthood are BS.
I tend to agree. The one that particularly irked me, though, was the last milestone: having children.
What about people who don’t want kids? What about people who can’t have kids? Will they never be adults?
Milestones aren’t “one size fits all”
While this post is mainly about infertility, let me take a moment to point out that even the non-kid milestones are questionable.
The fourth milestone was marriage. What about people who don’t believe in marriage or never find the right person? Are they just in a permanent juvenile state?
The third was financial independence. What if circumstances mean you’ll always need some help from your family?
The second was leaving home. What if physical disabilities or other barriers keep you from being out on your own?
And speaking of home… It’s not listed as a milestone, but it is kind of considered a normal step. But what about people who don’t want to own a house? Is your adulthood truly forged in the fires of mortgages and home repair bills?
Back to the womb
I get that more people have kids than don’t. But counting it as a stepping stone toward being an adult? That’s a little weird — especially as women have kids later and later in life.
Are you really going to consider a childless woman in her 30s as anything less than an adult? Of course not, because uterine activity isn’t connected to being a grownup. Otherwise, there were a couple of gals (including a homecoming princess) who were adults before high school graduation.
And what about women who have a baby but give it up for adoption? Or men whose sperm donation results in pregnancies? Where do they fall?
Hyperbole — for a reason
Yes, I’m being a tad hyperbolic. I know that my ability to vote won’t be determined by an obstetrician.
But people have ingrained expectations: You’ll get married and have a family. And both will come naturally. So if you’re a woman without a kid, you start to feel like you’re treated as an aberration. That people are confused by or downright sad for you.
Obviously, equating women with their reproductive system — even subconsciously — doesn’t bode well for women. Or society in general, for that matter. But it’s especially dangerous for women struggling with infertility.
Less than a woman
For all of our advancements and strides toward gender equality, society still seems predicated on the idea that women are whole only when children are in their lives. That all women want (or should want) kids, and that it’s simply one more thing to check off the list.
Unfortunately, this leads far too many infertile women to infer that we’re somehow lacking compared to our able-uterused counterparts. That we aren’t whole because we’re unable to fulfill what, for others, is a natural process.
It starts to feel like society looks down on us — whether with pity, scorn or bewilderment — as long as we’re childless. That our life cycles aren’t completely until we’ve swum upriver and spawned appropriately.*
And hey, if we women didn’t take the bait*** then I wouldn’t care. But the sad fact is that a lot of us do. A lot of us start to feel like we’re less — at least in some small way — than women who have successful pregnancies.
Sipping the shame Kool-Aid
When I wrote about my miscarriages, I got a couple of women thanking me for talking about it. I was genuinely startled. It was a huge part of my life and worsened my depression for a time. How could I not talk about it?
But after the third one, I started to understand. Much like any serious health or emotional issue, miscarriages make others uncomfortable.
And so you find yourself hesitating to talk about it. You don’t want to make people uncomfortable — or maybe you’re just tired of watching people squirm and come up with an appropriate response. It’s a tiring thing. Then again, so is editing your life.
Then again, the more miscarriages I have, the less I feel comfortable talking about it. So maybe the reticence on the matter is indeed internalized shame. The more you have, the more you wonder if people are judging you. Or perhaps the more you start to judge yourself.
Logically speaking, I know this is no failing on my part. As best we can figure, it’s nothing I’m doing or not doing. But it gets harder to remember that each time there’s no heartbeat. Or worse, when there’s no heartbeat two weeks after finally seeing one.
Lately, I’ve even found myself thinking we should have started earlier. That maybe this is because we left it too long. Though I’m not sure that 33 was all that late.
And hey, maybe it would have been easier if we’d started right after we got married. But due to financial and improper medication issues, it simply wasn’t feasible.
Snapping out of it
In short, this embarrassment and/or shame is ludicrous.
I’ve had five miscarriages, and I may well have a sixth. That’s sad; it may well be tragic at times. But it’s not a reason to feel like less than a “real” woman — let alone, adult — because embryos keep quitting on me.*****
In fact, I’d argue that after the crap I’ve dealt with — blood tests, hormone tests, countless ultrasounds, D&Cs (and bargain shopping for them), jabbing myself with a needle, the consideration of parsley insertion, the definite insertion of refrigerated hormone suppositories and even scheduling potential miscarriages — I’m just as in touch with my reproductive system as any woman who’s managed to grow and expel a living human.
* Then you die. Salmon lay their eggs and die. Or are eaten by bears.**
** Either bears represent reproductive medicine, or I may have to rethink this metaphor.
*** Get it? Get it?****
**** Blame She Picks Up Pennies for my renewed interest in footnotes.
***** I don’t know where they get it from. I personally was quite the overachiever when I was young.
What life events do you think “make” an adult? To any women struggling with infertility, do you ever feel “less than” because of it?