"Pride and Joy: The Lives and Passions of Women Without Children" by Terri Casey

A Review by Janis Cortese

Stay at home mothers may complain that feminism has eroded at the respect that motherhood deserves, but the truth is that childlessness is no more respected in women than it ever was. One need only gauge the reactions of most people to the following announcements:

to see that the acceptance of childlessness in women is miles behind the acceptance of women who choose to procreate. It's also interesting to note that the attitude towards men who do not wish to procreate is quite different; such men are not congratulated, but neither are they really vilified. Most people seem to admit that a man's desire not to raise a family is an understandable wish not to tie himself down, and remain forever footloose. And while this is seen as a regrettable but common male desire, the desire not to have children on the part of women is seen as something entirely different: an unnatural and frightening refusal to step into the role that society has fixed for you. Only men are supposed to want to remain free and ambitious. Women are supposed to crave being tied down and living vicariously through the accomplishments of others.

(And in truth, even those who claim to respect motherhood also feel the same way about it. The conservative pro-family forces in the government talk a good game about the sanctity of childbearing, but when push comes to shove and they have to cough up some money, they reveal themselves as the misogynists they are -- convinced that the rearing of children is something fit only for the stunted intellect, consisting only of brainless and mechanical buttwiping and nose-blowing -- and certainly not worthy of a reward! And refusing to take part in it is seen as the dangerous refusal of a woman to let herself be bit-broken and saddled.)

So after swimming through so many contradictory attitudes and opinions about motherhood and women, it's wonderful to get the real dish from women who have freely decided not to have or raise children of their own. The picture of the childfree woman has been painted in our society without checking with the actual facts of such women's lives; this book is a much-needed calibration in such a milieu.

Also, speaking as a woman who is living a childfree life and will continue to do so, it was great to see so many varied opinions and life experiences on the part of these women. Even among the childfree, there is a picture of ourselves as suffering crushing pressures on the part of our families to procreate, and being ostracized by friends for not having children. And childless women in general are supposed to be deafened by the ticking of our biological clocks (as if we have turkey timers in our vaginas that pop when our viability has expired!), frazzled and panicked like Bridget Jones, and desperate to latch onto anything with a penis just to put a bun in the oven.

Thanks to all of these social messages, it was wonderful even for me to see so many diverse experiences among other childfree women. My own decision not to have children was not born of much angst -- I've never been drawn to jazz trombone or macrame, either, and I don't spend time angsting over all my lack of desire to be a heptathlete, play the oboe, be an ambulance driver, or paint a house. I simply don't do them. I happen to be very ambitious and career-minded, and it so happens that my lack of interest in childbearing/rearing has allowed that part of my to develop fully. Also, I've never experienced any pressure from my mother to have children.

This isn't however, supposed to be the picture of the childfree woman. We are supposed to be battered at by our families for refusing to give our parents grandchildren . . . but according to the stories of the women in this book, we are not always. Some are -- many others are not. In other words, it's okay to be joyous. It's okay for your childfree lifestyle not to be the single most important defining characteristic of your life. It's okay to have a good relationship with your mother and your friends while living childfree. It's okay to not have children for reason that have nothing to do with zero population growth or politics -- to be childfree simply because that is the life that one wants to lead.

Maybe this is like the old feminist picture of the political lesbian -- that women should and must turn away from marriage to seek other women because the patriarchy was evil, because men were evil, or simply because heterosexual relationships so often seem to fall short of our needs. It took quite a while for lesbians to begin voicing their own opinions -- that while they may appreciate the above factors, they were lesbian simply because they preferred women, and even in a world of complete sexual equality, they would continue to do so.

How wonderful! A book that allows us to smile and celebrate! A book that acknowledges that we are not always running away from parenthood, but are instead running toward our own lifestyle, one that happens not to include children. A book where hectoring about Earth First! has nothing to do with having no children.

Not that it's all wine and roses -- any childfree woman can name former friends or total strangers who have felt the need to comment on our lives. But the bunker mentality that even the childfree believe governs the majority of others like us isn't as prevalent as we might have thought.

As Kim stated above, however, this book is only one quarter of the picture. There are plenty of stories about the joys of motherhood, and about the pain of wanting children while not being able to have any. But while motherhood is often acknowleged as being difficult, no one has yet had the guts to speculate that much of the post-partum depression that new mothers are famous for might actually be crushing realization that you've made the wrong choice. Unhappy mothers have not spoken their story, and are not likely to publicly -- at least not entirely truthfully.

But we happy childfree types can speak our own story -- refuting the assumption that we must be miserable, an assumption born only of the (guilty?) silence on the part of miserable mothers that allows the voice of the happily procreative to sound as the only voice of parenthood. It's about time this book was written!

Copyright 1999 Janis Cortese.