I had a running revelation the other day. I have running revelations quite often, I don’t run far or fast, but there’s something about the time outside, the concentration that isn’t on work or anything but the next step, and the silence – I tend not to listen to anything while I run, mindfulness stuff/philosophy podcasts sometimes – that means new thoughts come to me when I run.
This was my new thought. Some of the suffering I have felt, and sometimes still feel, about infertility and failed IVFs and the ongoing life of childlessness not-by-choice, is self-inflicted because I too have bought into the prevalent idea that I am not a fully-rounded human being because I am not a parent, because I too have bought into the idea that mother-love/father-love/parent-love is special and different and it changes everything. Because I too have bought into the prevailing, everywhere, constant and never-ending belief in our society that until we are human beings that have procreated other human beings we are not fully actualised humans.
Parents say this stuff all the time – “I never felt love like this until I held my baby”, “having my child changed everything”, “I didn’t know love until I had a child”. And I trust that these things are true for the people who are saying them. When I hear them, however, I cannot help but feel left out, that they are speaking of something I will never know, an intrinsically human thing I’ll never get to experience. It is a very common human thing to be a parent* and I don’t get to have those feelings. Ever.
So I knew that I felt sympathy or (shudder) pity from those who love me because I don’t get to have this very human experience. What I hadn’t quite taken in was that I have also been doing it to myself. Constantly hearing the sentiments from the world that tell me I’m not a real woman because I’m not a mother, not a fully-realised human being because I’m not a parent, and internalising them, so that – on some level – I believe them myself, even though I don’t want to and nor do I think they’re right. And yet, I know that somehow, I too have taken in these ideas. Like internalised homophobia, it’s a hard thing to see about ourselves. And now I’ve seen it for part of the nuclear family lie that it is. The same lie that tells us two parents are always better than one. That a family needs a mother and father. That families are always based on a heterosexual coupling. That we are only families if we have children, or parents, or have just two generations in one home, whatever other mid-20th-century nuclear family cliche we’ve bought into.
Seeing it means I can not only question, as I do when I hear those sentiments expressed by others**, it also means I can question those sentiments when I find myself buying into them. I can notice that part of the hurt I feel is that I too have bought the world’s lie that my life is not of value unless I procreate. It’s tough to notice where we’ve been damaging ourselves, in addition to the world causing us pain, but it’s useful. There’s not much I can do about the world – though I try! – but there’s a lot I can do about me.
* it’s also a very common human thing to die, and I’ve had a life-threatening illness twice more than many people. I appreciate that fewer people want my life-changing experience than want the life-changing experience of parenthood.
** because honestly, when someone says they never felt self-less love before they had a child, I really wonder what they were feeling for other people who needed them and how they managed to be so self-centred until they had children.