Last century — that sounds so much more interesting than “in 1991” — Susan S. Lang’s book Women Without Children hit the bookshelves. It was already a dozen years old when I found it but it was one of many books I turned to when it became clear that despite our best efforts my husband and I were unlikely to produce a child. I craved an understanding of what sort of life awaited me.
I had been so fixated on one day turning our spare bedroom into a nursery that I hadn’t even considered how a couple’s life would move forward without the experience of parenting. Evenings and weekends that I once expected to be full of overseeing homework assignments, PTA meetings, Girl or Boy Scout troop gatherings, visits to the zoo and well, you get the picture, would be filled with, what???
I was grasping for new role models. I felt alone, alienated really. I had no cohorts, no one I could rely on to illuminate the new path I was on. Susan’s book opens with a lunch encounter she had with an acquaintance, a women who had battled infertility and arrived after some soul-searching, like me, without a child. While she was confident she had made the right decision, she described the the transition from assuming she would one day be a mother to coming to terms with the fact that she was not going to be one as “fraught with emotional isolation and upsetting upheavals.”
Truer words have never been spoken. Susan goes on to write that “today, we live in a very pro-motherhood (pronatalistic) society…women who have missed their chance to become parents have a hard time finding support for their lifestyle.” Yes and yes. And if I might add, it seems that the pronatalism has grown even stronger since 1991. I’ve referred to it more than once as an unabashed “cult of Mommy” that curiously transforms women overnight.
They seem, once pregnant (present company — my readers — excluded) unable to demonstrate much in the way of empathy for those who were unable to conceive. It’s a subjugation of identity that leads women to use their child’s baby photo as their online avatars. Did the woman responsible for the baby mysteriously disappear? And what, pray tell, will happen when those children are older and out of the nest? What will their avatars be then I wonder…the mind boggles.
I’m just now into reading Susan’s book for the second time. It’s one way to remind myself that while my path feels unfamiliar and more often than not, awkward, there are those who’ve gone before me. Thank you, Susan Lang, for taking the time to interview and capture the stories of many voices that are very often unheard or overlooked.