Just the other day, students in the English class where I am a consultant teacher had to read an article on the pros and cons of social media. It was interesting to see the thoughts of 8th graders on this subject. For one, almost none of them use Facebook or Twitter -- they thought that those sites were totally old news. They are all about Instagram and Snapchat and other sites I'd never heard of (which made me feel a bit old and out of touch). When writing about advantages and disadvantages, some said it was nice to connect with people far away, and some said that you had to be careful what you said on social media because it could come back to haunt you, but a lot of them seemed to feel that social media was a waste of time, and, quote, "who cares about selfies?" That warmed the cockles of my heart, because sometimes I look at Facebook and see, in progress, the death of our civilization.
For instance: Why must people take selfies while in the car? Is there something so vital about capturing THAT moment, on your way somewhere, that you need a picture of yourself with a seat belt diagonally bisecting your torso? (If you do this, no offense meant, but please explain...why?)
I realize that, like anything, you can take or leave the parts of Facebook that bug you. I don't HAVE to read a family members' political and/or religious rant that raises my hackles like no one's business. I don't HAVE to click on every mommy blog or article from a variety of online sources (HuffPost, Slate, etc) that comes across my feed. And holy jeezum, do they come across my feed. Sometimes it's hard not to click and read.
My friend list is home to a large number of mommies. And daddies. Mostly in their early to mid thirties, from all walks of life, some working, some stay-at-home, some active in the Mommy Movement, some online once a quarter or so to post a few pictures of their kids from various events. For the most part, this does not bother me anymore, because SO MANY of them have kids that are no longer even remotely babies. Everyone's kids are toddlers to school-age. There's a sprinkling of newer mommies, or mommies with a second or third child, and the occasional second or third pregnancy announcement does throw me for a loop.
But, the thing that is confusing to me is the constant barrage of memes and articles and reposted blog posts that seem to have incredibly conflicting messages about parenthood.
Stance #1: Parenthood is so amazing, that nothing even remotely compares to it, and you are an empty shell of a person if you have not experienced the love that is looking into the eyes of the child you created. You may be lumpy and exhausted and worse for wear physically and often emotionally, but parenthood is a sacred gift that no one truly understands until they've been there themselves. Your heart grew five sizes the day you gave birth and you wouldn't trade your unshowered existence for all the restaurant meals out in the world. MOTHERS ARE THE BEST. MOTHERHOOD IS THE BEST. HAVING A BABY IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU COULD EVER DO. Subtext: I feel incredibly sorry for you if this is not your experience, because it is just magical, and you have to be a part of the "club" to experience it.
Stance #2: Parenthood will ruin your life, parenthood steals your body and your free time, even in the bathroom, parenthood steals your sex life and it's amazing anyone has any second or third children at all given the INCREDIBLE PERSONAL HELL that parenthood causes. It is expensive. It is time-consuming. It is crusted in vomit and poop. BUT, as AWFUL as this is, it is LORDED over the "childless people" in all kinds of articles and memes and internets-what-have-you in compare-contrast charts and narratives about the amazing, privileged, free-moneyed, clean-housed, well-rested lives of PEOPLE WITHOUT KIDS versus the difficult, sleep-deprived, bankrupted, good-moms-have-messy-houses, what?-restaurant?-once-I-knew-what-that-was life of the parentally inclined. Oh, and then the kicker is that at the end, it's revealed that the seemingly awesome life of the childless is EMPTY and the seemingly horrific life of the parent is FULL, SO FULL OF LOVE AND THE GIFT OF CHILDREN.
Confusing, no? Especially when the same people post things from both stances, sometimes in the same day or week.
Stance #1 would be fine if not for the over-the-top and condescending feeling that without children, my life is completely worthless and selfish and I should just drown myself in the toilet. Not to mention, if you are childless NOT by choice this is particularly rankling. (I'm sure it raises the hackles of the childless-by-choice, no-infertility-piece-to-it, I'm not saying that that condescension doesn't impact you if that is your life choice, but I choose to focus on the situation when childlessness has been handed to you like a cosmic whoopie cushion, a gift you most certainly did not want and do not embrace.) If you are doing everything in your power to become a mother and to feel this mythical love-above-all-loves, and it is still failing, these memes make you feel EVEN MORE incompetent. Especially when the focus is on biological children that you birthed yourself, as this option in family building seems further and further away.
BUT, To me, Stance #1 is not nearly as aggravating as Stance #2. This is because, for most of Stance #2's diatribe, I am silently (or not-so-silently) screaming, "THEN WHY DID YOU HAVE CHILDREN??? IF IT IS SO GODDAMN MISERABLE, WHY DID YOU HAVE THEM AND THEN CONTINUE TO HAVE MORE OF THEM???" It blows my mind. It seems that it's become cool and hip to describe your children as monsters, as time sucks, as drains on the bank account, but then to turn around like a psychopath and snap, "But you should BE so lucky to have little monsters at home!" and then make people who aren't parents feel like Marie Antoinette in comparison, flitting around eating cake that no tiny hands have coated in lord-knows-what. It's the comparison, actually, that bothers me the most. Especially, again, when you are doing everything possible to make the dream of 2 a.m. poopy blowout diapers a reality and you would love to be spending your hard earned money on daycare. Then the comparisons are laughable. Because, to counter some of the statements made in Stance #2, all the time:
- I can't sleep in all the time because I have to wake up and give myself shots, or have my husband give me an inch and a half long needle in my ass. SO LUXURIOUS!
- Other reasons I can't sleep in -- doctor's appointments in Buffalo at 7:30, which mean leaving the house at 6 a.m. to drive a deer-infested thruway that is the most boring highway ever and hope I can stay awake, since I can't drink coffee when cycling.
- Dinners out are awesome, and once treatment is in full cycle, are often cut short by the fact that my evening shots are carefully timed and I refuse to shoot myself up in a public restroom like a heroin addict. The dinners out are a nice consolation prize for trying to have a baby for FIVE YEARS and having a nursery barely disguised as a guest room haunting us for years while it remains empty and coated in thin layer of dust and grief.
- Yeah, it's awesome not having to spend money on kids every day. Except we've spent tens upon tens of thousands of dollars over the years just TRYING to have kids with no real success, and while we are thankfully financially quite stable, we have to keep a considerable chunk of money in the bank to finance adoption, which will be a lump sum of tens of thousands of dollars, paid out pretty much all at once. We are ROLLING in our child-free cash monies.
- Then, just to sum up, how about I just put it out there that I would love nothing more than to be done with this hell of uncertainty and pain in trying to have a family, and actually put my money into feeding and clothing an actual human instead of a mythical one, put my time into actually loving and caring and cleaning up after a baby even if it means tiny hands touching me all day and no escape even in the shower, because then I WILL HAVE BEEN SUCCESSFUL.
I realize I sound a little bitter. I realize that everyone has the right to vent, and when specific mommies vent about a bad day or night where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, I have absolutely no problem with that. It's more these universal, "Oh yes, I GET that!" shares on Facebook that paint motherhood/parenthood as either a beatific existence that no one understands until they're there, or paints it as the worst pit of despair you could find yourself in and dear lord think twice before having those little monsters because they will RUIN YOUR LIFE but then again, I'm still better than you because I have the BEST JOB IN THE WORLD, and I am raising the future. Both rub me the wrong way as an infertile person. Both make me feel both inadequate and infuriated, and wonder seriously where the gratitude is. Because I can see the gratitude in the moments that we have, in between cycles and while we are in this neverending cycle of waiting for our baby to come, and that even though it sucks to shoot myself up and disrupt my day with doctor's appointments and receive calls that lately always end in tears and receive bad news after bad news after bad news, we do have good things because we don't yet have children. We have a nice house uncluttered by primary-color plastic. We can go out to dinner at a moment's notice and not worry about babysitters. We can go on a somewhat fancy vacation and sleep in. We can enjoy Fall Back because we don't have a baby that doesn't realize there was an extra hour added in the night. There are perks. But I would never make a meme saying how AWESOME it is to be infertile and NOT have children, and how much better of a parent I will be because I have suffered so. I'd like to believe that's true, but it's probably not. And it's probably better if I keep that thought to myself rather than sharing it with the world to make those who DIDN'T work so hard to get their babies feel inadequate.
I am begging you, people who post things that compare parents and people-without-children, to consider for one moment that there are an AWFUL LOT of people, (1 in 8 couples, actually), who are childless but desperately long not to be. Those memes and posts are a double whack to the heart and the ute. They mock our pain. When you call your kids devil spawn and monsters, remember that there are people out there who are willing to do anything and everything to have what you have, often gained easily with no difficulty. When you complain about how expensive it is to have children, remember that for some, it is far more expensive to TRY to have children. I am not trying to rob you of your experience. I know that one day I will have a night soaked in vomit and shit and feel that my life as I know it has ended, and I also know that one day I will look into the face of my child and feel amazing love and wonderment that I am responsible for this life. But I sincerely hope that I will not generalize and hold that over other people, will not make my life seem somehow more significant or more martyr-y for it, will not make others feel less-so because they are not also parents. For both the infertile and the people who choose a child-free life from the get-go.
Let's try make the internet a friendlier place for everyone, with less judgment on who has the better or worse life, and whose life has more meaning. Let's try to celebrate what we have without making others feel inadequate. Let's not disparage other people's choices (or not-choices). Let's just all be a little kinder, even though it seems the Internet thrives on just the opposite.