For quite a few years now my husband and I have marveled over (and made mental note of) the outrageous things we’ve had to stomach from those worthy of induction to “The Dense Hall of Fame.” Here’s a little anecdote that’s sure to get some blood boiling. My last post described a recent rather awkward exchange with a colleague inquiring about my childlessness (see Handling the Loaded Question). The comment, however, that has always stood apart for its abject insensitivity went like this…
A few years ago while my husband and I were in the heat of battle with hormone shots, ultrasounds, follicle counts and sperm scrubbing, a woman at my husband’s workplace was shooting the breeze with he and some other colleagues when she turned to him and asked (here’s that load question, again) if he had any kids. He’s not one to offer up extraneous details and answered simply. “No.”
She, in turn, jumped to the wrong conclusion and then some. Her response?
“My husband and I also thought about taking the selfish route, but then we thought, what would we do buy a more expensive BMW? So now we have three kids…”
My husband doesn’t recall the rest of her prattling because he was so stunned at her erroneous judgment of him, of our situation and that of many other couples. Selfish? Oh where do I begin?
He was also amazed that the comment came from a woman. He might have expected such a snide observation from a guy who craved nice wheels in his garage rather than colicky baby, but a woman? He expected more empathy from someone tuned into monthly cycles and nursing schedules.
It’s also remarkable to me that her first response to a married childless man was to think in purely consumer terms. How shallow is that? In her case, I began to wonder if there shouldn’t be some intelligence requirement for procreating.
My husband tucked this story away for quite a few years without sharing. He knew that until recently it would wound me deeply to think that others perceived our childless state as a choice of hedonist consumption over conceiving and raising a family. To put it purely in financial terms (and that’s only a small slice of the sacrifices we’ve made), we invested a fortune into our efforts to conceive — enough to buy more than a few high-end BMWs to put it in terms the woman in question might understand. Our many efforts, sadly, didn’t lead to what most every couple around the globe desires: a child that marries our rich history of family traits.
My husband is no longer is associated with the company and it’s a good thing because if I ever got a few minutes with that woman she’d get a dressing down the likes of which she’d never encountered before…
March 26, 2007 3:53 pm
What a stupid and judgemental whore!
I wonder if she would have responded differently if it had been you instead of your husband. An incorrect perception that the man is more “selfish” and that if a woman had responded with “No”, the coworker would have jumped to a different conclusion.
I think she still deserves a dressing down.
March 26, 2007 4:02 pm
I wonder whether she would have made the same comment to a woman. It sounds like she was trying to be witty and chatty with a group of colleagues (but ended up a half-wit). I think there’s a very unfortunate generalization that if you don’t have kids, you must not want them, and thus you must not be a good person.
March 26, 2007 6:16 pm
Once again, thoughtless, stupid and ignorant! There are some people who are completely uninterested in having children, and they have a right to be that way. And there are just as many who have them anyway and screw up the future generation. And then there are those, like us, who had the choice removed from us. Don’t be too unforgiving of her, having children doesn’t necessarily bring you ultimate happiness. I know it till hurts. I just skipped yet another baby shower and then my husband and I went to a friend’s birthday breakfast and everyone there had small children in tow and there was even a pregnant couple. Sigh. Kind of wish we hadn’t been invited, you know?
March 27, 2007 3:12 pm
It seems like everyone going through IF has more than a handful of these types of comments. I just don’t understand how people can be so clueless, rude, ignorant, self absorbed etc. It never ceases to amaze me. I’m so sorry!
March 27, 2007 3:39 pm
People can be such idiots. She clearly never struggled to get pregnant, only had to let go of her BMW dreams to get pregnant! So many people never even imagine that anyone out there can’t get pregnant with unprotected sex alone. So frustrating!
March 27, 2007 4:04 pm
I’m going to try and make a generous guess here, because deep down, I really want to tell this woman to stick it, but is it possible she has heard that from people and is repeating it?
Just because, this was the “line” I know a couple of infertile couples used in a lighthearted way, so no one would ask them any more questions. I hated when they did say it, but they DID say it.
It also reminds me of the way women in the 1950s-60s used to talk about DINK couples they were being gossipy about. “Hah, they’re selfish!” In reality the couples may have been IF but it just wasn’t talked about.
My adoptive mother used to say this, mostly because she couldn’t comprehend why someone wouldn’t want to adopt. And back then there were lots of healthy white newborns. Anyone could get a kid, no screening no nothing.
Overall, the inherent judgement in the statement is sad. Like she can’t see beyond her own nose…
March 28, 2007 5:31 am
You’re right, that comment does make my blood boil. How dare she just assume that you don’t have kids because you’d prefer a new BMW or something similar. Sometimes, I wish we COULD trade places with the fertiles (like in your next post…) so they could walk a mile in our shoes and face the bullshit comments we face every day. It might teach them to keep their mouths shut. Aaargh.
April 10, 2007 10:43 pm
Now at (or a bit past!) mid-life, I am a childless-by-choice woman who has learned a great deal from Pamela about the kid-centric nature of our culture. Insensitivity abounds towards those who yearn for children but are unable to conceive. Certainly during my own journey, I’ve been asked many times if I had children and if not, why not? Since I had no strong desire to parent, I was not stung by these questions. However, I now seen how insensitive – how intrusive – they are. How many times, I wonder, have I tossed out a careless comment or aquestion that stung deeply?
Thanks to Pamela’s willingness to share her experience and her pain, and to the comments in response to her posts, I’ve learned about an area that remained unnoticed by me for much of my adult life. My heart goes out to all of you.
April 12, 2007 12:58 am
I read Bumble’s comment and laughed. I have no kids and I make no apologies for my lifestyle because that’s my business.
While I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t think that that woman was rude and an idiot (As a childfree person, I would be “selfish” here) I always bristle when someone calls those without children “selfish.” Why, on earth? Oprah has no children. Does anyone call her selfish? What about a drug-addicted felon? Is she selfish? Not everyone was cut out to be a mother. And some are doing the world a favor by not having any. Some people have terrible families, hereditary diseases, and congenital defects. And some people, like me, had a father who didn’t want children, but had them anyway because he didn’t know what else to do.
And he couldn’t stand up to people who said they should.
No one should ever feel like they have to apologize for not having children. And what’s wrong with a BMW if you can afford it? I love my Mercedes…I hope they bury me in it.
However, I believe that if it is your dream to have children, I believe everyone who wants one should have a child to love. May your child come soon and live to be 120.