"Really," I said. "Now, doc, don't give me that look that everyone else gives me when I say something like that." We got to talking a little bit more. She's in her mid-30's, married, and she states that she's doing well in her career.
"Don't misunderstand, I like kids," she said. "I could be wrong, but I've never really believed that you could have it all - meaning both family and career - at least for women." She continued, "At least with the people that I know, when you try to go for both, then one suffers, and I never wanted that. I always knew I could be a good mom, but I didn't feel that I had the passion or drive to be a good mom."
Now, I know people out there in blog land are trying to figure out if I'm trying to make some kind of political statement with this post. I'm not. In talking with some of my female staff members at the office after this encounter, I guess this having children thing (or not having children) can be a divisive issue.
I did further research on this and found an article in today's Washington Post called Childless: Some by Chance, Some by Choice. The columnist begins the article by talking about how she had a stillborn baby. Soon after that, she and her husband divorced and the columnist chose to remain childless.
The next part of the article describes her work on a documentary about childless women. The reasons for remaining childless are similar to my patient's reasons.
Just as some women talk of a visceral urge that propels them to have children, others speak of an equally visceral urge that propels them not to. Laurie, a transplanted southerner who teaches history in New York, began to realize at an early age that she didn't want children, as she watched wealthy mothers in Richmond hire other women to care for their children. "These people compelled to have trophy babies in certain socioeconomic echelons don't want to face the realities of raising a child." She is now infuriated by what she calls "that Mother Right" -- the assumption that everyone will make way for a woman with a stroller or a child in tow. She goes on to challenge me: "If we believe that this is the hardest thing that anyone can do, then why should it be assumed we should all be doing it?"I realize that I'm putting a big target on myself and my blog for bringing an issue like this up. I have found that the "child people" Vs. "childless people" are very passionate about their respective points of view.
This has been a more painful journey for my friend Lori from Tennessee, who, though quick to find humor in things, was devastated by a miscarriage. Her husband, who had two children from a previous marriage, was reluctant to try again. She's irritated by the signs in parking lots reserving spaces for parents with children: "I park in those spots sometimes just out of sheer defiance -- I'm a peri-menopausal woman under stress -- and I need a sign!" Lori argues that "if you don't have children you've . . . thrown a brick in your path that you're going to spend your entire life trying to crawl over. It would have been a lot easier having had children."
Me? I'm not passing judgement on this either way. I will be further exploring both sides of this issue, because I think it will help me better understand a patient's point of view.