The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Under pressure

This post has been about eighteen months in the making. That's roughly how long I've been pressured by various people, some related to me, some not, to somehow make them happy, rather than myself, by producing a baby.

I have to write about this. I've tried not to because it is so personal. But it just makes me so angry, and is so indicative of the broader ownership people seem to often feel of female bodies*. Even other women - they have been the worst so far at telling me I ought to breed at their convenience rather than mine.

When The Piano came out everyone told me I had to see it. I didn't, just because of the pressure; to be contrary. In fact I've never seen that movie, although I've read the book they reckoned Campion ripped off for the plot. I mention this as a matter of warning.

I have taken to asking people who ask me if I am pregnant "why, are you?". Even grandmothers long past their fertile years. If it isn't rude for them to ask me, why is it rude for me to ask them? Just as it is none of my business to inquire of their reproductive wishes and plans, it is none of theirs to ask me. My attitude isn't making much of a dent though.

For all they know I could be trying and trying and their questions are barbs enlarging the hole slowly growing in my heart. Why does it even matter so much to them whether or not I have a baby? Are there not other ways by which to judge the worth of a woman, ways that do not exclusively focus on her role as a mother?

How can I stop them? Should I get a t-shirt made that says "None of your damn business"?


* Yes this is a common theme at the moment. I don't know why I'm particularly hot about it right now, I guess it's just a confluence of things I am experiencing on- and off-blog, which compel me to write it all out in a bid to understand it better and to find some solutions that will banish my frustration at being in a women's body which so many people seem to think they have more right to control than I do.


red said...

its intresting that you mention that the most pressure comes from other woman. things get incredibly complex (and intresting!) when you realise its not about men doing xyz to woman its about society (men & woman) doing this to women.

its like both genders have been caught up in the terrible monster that they have either created or help maintain.

how does one fix a system that one cant step outside of?

Psycho Milt said...

"For all they know I could be trying and trying and their questions are barbs enlarging the hole slowly growing in my heart."
Yes! Yes, yes, yes! I'd never fucking ask anybody about this unless they brought it up, for exactly this reason. Especially if they're over 30.

Apathy Jack said...

My flatmate's solution for when I ask her if she's pregnant (which happens anytime she has any small ailment - head cold, sore ankle, period pain etc) is to yell at me and hit me.

It's barely my fault - assuming people are pregnant is an occupational hazard. (To be fair, I'm usually right...)

Frank Stupid said...

Goddammit Jack - randomly accusing people of being pregnant is my schtik - stay out of my patch, teacher-boy or you'll be feeling the wrong end of my bobble-stick, possibly saying "good lord, do you ever clean this thing?"

Anyway, to be fair to the people hounding Span at the moment, I think the Are-You-Pregnant-Yet crowd is primarily made up of people with nothing particularly interesting to say, but who desperately need to fill the silences. They started with "who's that? who's that? Is that daddy?", moved onto "why don't you go out and play in the sun instead of watching TV all day?", graduated to "where do you think you are going to at this time of night, wearing THAT, young lady?", and went full-blown with "Surely you aren't going to move in with him before you get married?".

Never mind, you'll get your own back when they start asking the question "You wouldn't put us in a home would you?"



Amanda said...

I can understand how you feel. It's not exactly the same but I've been getting a certain amount of pressure to have a second child. I realise its often just a way of making conversation but I really wish a few people would not feel it is ok to casually guilt trip me about my daughter being an only child like its not something I haven't worried and worried about and which doesn't make me really sad sometimes. I have a lot of good reasons, which are very personal to me & my partner, for the choices that I have made and I don't think I should have to justify myself to everyone who presumes to know what I should do with my body and life etc.

Anonymous said...

When we decided to up roots and leave NZ earlier this year, I told people that we had to leave to get away from all the people having babies ;) Even now, talking to a newly pregnant friend the other day I was asked "when are you coming home to have babies with us?" Don't get me wrong, I love my friends' children and I am a very proud godmothter, but my husband and I am really not ready to start my own family yet.

On another note - I am really enjoying reading your blog Span - one of the few worth reading to keep up with news and views from NZ.


Stephanie said...

Just society's way to get you conform. Once you get married, you are supposed to have kids. Then the kids have to go to the right kindy/school/varsity course. That's because most of the general public are idiotic sheep and some of them might be jealous about your percieved lack of responsbilities and extra freedom that not having kids extends to you.

To each their own, do what you can to make yourself happy and to hell with the critics.

Take care of yourself, and remember you are fabulous.

Idiot/Savant said...

I'd go for the T-shirt. And if "NOYFB" doesn't get the point across, get one with "I'll breed or not in my own good time, so just fuck off" on it.

Better yet, give them one for their birthday. That should get the message across.

Alternatively, you could respond to any question about pregnancy and children with one about herpes (or other STD of choice). If people are going to ask rude questions, then they deserve a rude question in reply.

(And yes, its a rude question, and yes, so much of it seems to be driven by a desire to have someone to share dirty nappy stories with. Expecting other people to breed for your convenience is just downright obnoxious, and the asker deserves to be reminded of it)

Sanctuary said...

Babies are cute. There is your answer.

stephen said...

This man is regularly asked by certain relatives if there are likely to be more children. Pointing out that this minimally requires someone else's co-operation does not work.

I am not sure that a selfish desire but understandable desire to see one's genes perpetuated is the same as demanding control of your body. It is very rude though.

Lucia Maria said...

I'm guessing that you are in your 30's, the time when most women have their first child now (I think it's 32). Having children will be on the minds of many women in their 30's if they don't have them, or if they do have their 1 or 2, they'll be wondering when their friends will have them.

Having children with friends actually makes the whole process much easier and more fun. Otherwise women that have kids have to find a whole new set of friends because their childless ones have no idea about the new world they are in.

As my cousin said when she had her first child and I was pregnant with mine, once you have a baby you become part of this secret women's club that you didn't know existed. Nothing is ever the same.

Are you possibly also grumpy about all this because you do have that biological urge that refuses to be silenced all the time? It gets worse as you get older as you realise you are running out of time.

Anonymous said...

Do people still ask that sort of question?
Obviously they do, so my vote is for the t shirt say
This my body F**K OFF
On the other hand we need young women to breed to keep our society going, so as a people it is our a general sort of way not as a personal question

Ghet said...

Oh, you wanna feel like other people own your body? Try walking around actually BEING pregnant. Every damn woman over fifty you run into anywhere feels they have the right to ask about the private details of your life, your health, your due date, your birth plan. It's the only time I've ever felt 'owned'.

But this impulse to enquire about your breeding plans is the same one that drives people to ask if single men in their thirties are gay. I've seen dear friends driven absolutely bugshit by that.

Anonymous said...

Have a think about not just having a baby but looking after the child for the next 20 years. The affect that this will have on your life in regards your personal ambitions, dreams and desires.

Having a child is a permanent relationship you cannot (and should never) divorce out off.

The childs needs will always overide those of its mother (and hopefully it's father).

Ask those people, when being pressured you about having a baby, about the amount of effort they will be contributing over the next 20 years to bring up the child they so desperately want you to have.

Span said...

1. My biological clock isn't ticking. Not that it should matter anyway.

2. So much to look forward to about pregnancy - morning sickness, labour, having to get new clothes, generally getting to be quite unwieldy and needing to go to the toilet all the time, not to mention having anyone and everyone feel they can give you "advice" (i.e. judge you). Gosh I'm just going to run out and get impregnated immediately!

3. Yep people still ask these questions. I'd rather they didn't gossip about it behind my back, but I definitely prefer that over them actually asking me.

4. Thanks for the suggestions on how to handle the Askers. I particularly like I/S's suggestion about the herpes... *evil cackle*

Cactus Kate said...

Definitely tell them all you are saving for a house and can't afford a baby.

The only way family members can answer that back is with offers of cash or silence.

sagenz said...

roflmao - so this anti "the baby question" post gets you defending yourself and saying you aren't about to drop a sprog. :)

having babies is part of what nature intended. it is only the last 40 years that society has matured to the point where most women can control their point of conception.

getting angry about people's interest makes as much sense as getting angry about it being windy in wellington or muggy in auckland. shit happens.
but although being a feminist unionist mother is a natural thing, you should definitely try and reduce the number of little unionists in the world.

so when is it due?

Idiot/Savant said...

Sage: nature "intends" that we be eaten by leopards. Which is yet another reason to say "fuck the natural order".

Lucia Maria said...

Idiot, we are not the leopard's natural prey. We are the top of the food chain, didn't you know?

Foggy in Nelson said...

lucyna vs leopard.

let's go.

Lucia Maria said...

Weapons, Maria, weapons. Something humans excel at. :)

Foggy in Nelson said...

sorry Lucyna, based on your earlier comments I thought we were talking pre-civilisation ;-)

Lucia Maria said...

Pre-civilisation humans had weapons, too.

Idiot/Savant said...

Lucyna: well, we are now - but from an evolutionary perspective, that's no part of what nature "intends".

Of course, I could have also pointed out that Sage is suffering from the Naturalistic Fallacy in arguing that we should take guidance from nature - but its so much snappier to point out that that gets us to a place where life is nasty, brutish, and short, and where we get eaten by leopards. better I think to say "fuck the natural order", and do what we want to do.

Lucia Maria said...

I get your point, Idiot. I also get Sage's point, in that to be a woman is to be biologically programmed to have children. If women don't have them, human beings die out. We can use our brains to subvert nature, but underneath those biological urges are still there and necessary for human's survival.

If only a certain small percentage of women choose not to have children, we are still ok for the future. But at a current rate of 1.9 per woman in NZ, we are below replacement rate already. Which means immigration is necessary, but it may be of a type and nature that will change NZ society not necessarily for the better if we are not careful who we let in.

As to what all this means for Span, if she absolutely does not want children, it would be best to say so to all the people who ask. It stops them from asking after a while.

The weird thing is this feeling of "ownernship" over being asked. That's just so out of my comprehension as a concept, I really don't get it.

Trouble said...

It's the freeloader problem. Women with kids don't want to be the only ones sacrificing their health, independence, time, sleep, income, and sanity for the sake of the replacement fertility rate and keeping undesirables out. So they recruit :-)

Plus there's basic human psychology. Some people are so thrilled about their new partner/baby/SUV/suburban palace/plasma TV that they can't imagine everyone doesn't want one. And if someone doesn't want one, it's an affront on their own taste.

Span said...

Sagey, where do you see me defending myself or stating whether or not I intend to reproduce sometime soon? I only said that my biological clock wasn't ticking, because there seemed to be an assumption from some that it was.

The purpose of my post is to vent some of my frustration at being quite frequently asked a question that I consider beyond the bounds of politeness and well into stickybeak territory. From many of the comments I can see my experience is not unique, as I suspected. Indeed it appears to not even be restricted to those who haven't had kids yet, which was something I hadn't previously considered.

Incidentally Nickname Pending also gets asked if we are breeding right now, but nowhere near as often as me, and it tends to be phrased quite differently, with no pressure.

It's quite amusing to see the number of commenters who don't know me in real life who have made some assumptions about my life which are quite far from the mark :-)

Span said...

Lucyna, The feeling of ownership, as in feeling that others have some ownership over my body, is in the insistence, the frequency, the clear implication or the explicit statement, that I should get up the duff.

Isn't it a form of ownership when someone else is trying to tell you what to do with something you have full control over, in this case my body? Why would they feel that telling me to get pregnant now was an ok thing to do if they didn't feel some control, when in fact they should feel none?

They seem to feel they can tell me when to make such an important decision even though the consequences of that decision have minimum impact on them and maximum impact on me. I rather like Gerrit's idea of asking them what their commitment will be to the next 20 years of my child's life if I get pregnant as suits the Asker. Except that then I might be bound to let them give me parenting advice...

Lucia Maria said...



I see. So ownership is when someone tries to tell you what to do, period (like in your piano example). You get told what to do, you don't like it.

I really don't think the people telling you what to do, do it out of a sense of "ownership". I would guess that they know you well and are therefore trying to be helpful. Though as I tell my children, "helping" someone, when they don't want help is not helping, it's interfering.

Which is probably why you are reacting. And your contraririan nature is rebelling against what you're being told what to do. Having known a number of contrarians (my sister, her husband, my son, a friend I convinced not to kill himself ...), I can recongnise that from what you've said.

That's why I asked about the ownership, because that seems to me to be something you are feeling rather than what the "helpful" people are thinking.

If you ever ask people about what the impact of having children has made on their lives, many will tell you that nothing could have ever prepared them, that it was the best thing they ever did. I can tell you that if I thought things mattered in my life before I had children, that now those things pale into insignificance. It's like I wasted time before I had them on trivia. Someone above added kids to plasma tvs, etc. Nope, nothing like that.

Without knowing you better, is it possible that people around you sense that you are lost in some way? Maybe they feel that your sense of purpose will come back if you have a child? Maybe?

I can imagine most of what I said will be very annoying for you, so I apologise right before I hit the login and publish button ...

Idiot/Savant said...

Lucyna: you might lie awake at night worry about whether the human race will die out, or whether we'll have slightly more immigrants than we did before - but I don't think many other people do. Instead, they just want to live their lives as they see fit. Those lives might include children, or they might not - but as I see it, its really up to them - humanities-future-at-stake or no. Anything else is a particularly vile form of slavery.

Lucia Maria said...

You have no sense of obligation towards the future, Idiot? Then what's all that climate change stuff that you go on about, if not the same as the duty human beings have to continue?

You people on the left are very mixed up about your terms; expecting people to procreate is slavery, asking about when a person will have children is ownership of their body. Really, really, weird guys.

Trouble said...

The human race is at no risk of dying out because of people not having enough kids. Seriously. 6 billion and growing. It is at risk of having seriously reduced quality of life in the future because of the way this generation is consuming.

What may also possibly be at risk is the majority of European descent people in this country (although people have been worrying about that without cause for at least 70 years). I don't see that as nearly as important as Lucyna seems to.

sagenz said...

I/S - I tried not to make a judgement about whether the questions were right or wrong, simply that they are in the natural order of things. Naturalistic fallacy is only applicable when somebody is trying to argue that something is better because it is natural. That was not my point. Should Maui rage at the sun? what good (or bad) does it do. To me there are too many things in life that cause stress without being bothered by those things you cannot change.

But your comment "fuck the natural order" is interesting. I assumed you would be of the environmentalist persuasion. And therefore trying to live in more harmony with the natural order of things is desirable (although not necessary). Dont take this next point as an attack on anybody here. It constantly surprises me how many environmentalists berate us for not taking better care of the earth then get upset when a man or woman follows genetic instinct and makes judgements based on physical atractiveness. Environmentalism and feminism to me seem to be a contradiction.

oh and span - I took the clock reference as a denial of pregnancy and was just trying to wind you up :)

Ghet said...

This is just fascinating. I just love the fact that, as a parent, I'm so often told what I think and what I want.

I LOVE the fact that the vast majority of my friends (the same friends I had before I had children BTW) don't have kids. They like playing Uncle/Aunty to my kids and they're not all shagged out from chasing their own kids round all day. I'm not part of a 'secret club' - women who just want to talk about their babies bore me to tears. All the same things that interested and engaged me before I had kids still do. I have rolled for initiative while breast-feeding.

Environmentalism is absolutely nothing to do with some idealistic 'natural order', and far more to do with CURBING natural human impulses in order to preserve finite resources.

Idiot/Savant said...

Lucyna: not in the sense of personally helping to continue the human species, no. Why would I?

What I care about is the quality of people's lives. And despite your fears about replacement rates, there will still unquestionably be people in the future, and their lives will be adversely affected by climate change. So will mine; I'm young enough that, barring accidents or my unhealthy lifestyle catching up with me, I'll almost certainly live to suffer from it. So there's an aspect of looking out for my own future interests as well.

As for muddled terminology, try starting from this radical thought: people own their own lives, and no-one else has any right to tell them what to do. Understand that, and you might understand people's annoyance at social pressure to breed.

Idiot/Savant said...

Sage: what Ghet said. While others' views will of course vary, for me its not about living according to some idealised vision of nature, but rather about survival and quality of life. You can't shit in your own nest and live beyond your environmental means without it coming back to bite you.

Idiot/Savant said...

Ghet: I have rolled for initiative while breast-feeding.

Did it give you a penalty?

sagenz said...

cities & industrialisation work. they are more efficient ways for more people to live. The only genuinely limited resource is land. with a good market energy is effectively infinite. (think fuels cells and solar/biofuel) We are nowhere close to hitting earths capacity for people and world population is slowly stabilising

The world has been naturally hotter than it is now. Humans have a marvellous ability to cope. In the event that average temperatures do rise by 10 degrees that would make some areas of the world less livable and others more productive and more liveable eg Siberia. I wont debate the likelihood os such here.

Therefore according to your logic any environmentalism is effectively a value judgement that preservation is more desirable than an increase in industrialisation.

span - I am doing it again. Taking one of your highly personal posts off on a complete tangent :) will pull my head in if you say so.

sagenz said...

and as far as people owning their own lives is concerned. Just to be more provocative on a well left of centre blog.

we live in a community. The ongoing success of that community requires that some of the population will breed. we are given orgasms by to increase the desire for intercourse.

So it can be argued on a societal level we all have an interest (albeit small )in healthy young women breeding. You cannot start to argue here that humanity is a cancer and population should reduce. we just fucked the natural order :)

So people asking "the baby question" are simply doing something that is genetically programmed.

Meta[+]Analysis said...

I think Kelly Osbourne said it best with:

"My teeth, my car, my vagina, my business."

Idiot/Savant said...

Sage: Oh, I agree, cities and industrialisation work; I like living in one (or I did; PN hardly counts), and I like having computers and electricity and flush toilets. What concerns me is that it is not, at present, sustainable - and certainly isn't with the rest of the world aspiring to (and deserving) a first world lifestyle.

Markets cannot solve this, because the environment is uncosted. Farmers pay nothing to dump their shit in the water we drink, and power companies pay nothing to burn coal and give us lung cancer and global warming. Internalising those externalities would be a start, but I think we have a long way to go. I'm technologically optimisitc, in that I can conceive of the technology which would allow us to live sustainably rather than burning down our environmental capital - but I don't think we're there quite yet.

(There's also an aspect here of preference about quality of life. Sure, we could fill the planet to its maximum, and pack ourselves in so that we're all standing on Zanzibar or living in Chung Kuo's ice hives - but life would suck. The sort of life we want to live is entirely up to us, and I'm voting to have some trees around, rather than a monoculture of people living off ramen)

As for humans having "a marvellous ability to cope", sure - in the long term. Its the short term disruption and suffering that concerns me. Global warming won't kill us all, but it will make life very miserable for a lot of people for quite a while. And that I think is worth avoiding.

OTOH, you comment about 10 degrees of warming doesn't exactly convince me that you know shit about the subject. Ten degrees of global warming isn't just beyond the IPCC's worst nightmares; it's also beyond what the planet has ever experienced, except possibly briefly during that 55 MyrBPE clathrate event. That led to a mass extinction, and I'd really rather not see one of them.

Idiot/Savant said...

SageNZ: if people in the community care about perpetuating it, then they can; nothings stopping them. Meanwhile, I'd appreciate it if they kept their noses out of other people's bedrooms.

Brian S said...

I/S, a Londoner living circa 1850 could equally have made the same assertions about London: that it was unstainable and heading for disaster. A river so toxic and smelly that even parliament had to be abandoned. Filth, vermin, disease, and degradation everywhere. 4 million people and counting. Yet today London thrives and is cleaner than ever. Obviously the market *does* cost in the environment.

Ghet said...

I/S - penalties certainly ensue when your baby blarps a feed all over the GM. OTOH, said baby is currently drawing up his first MERPS campaign.

brian, what changed London from the hellhole it was in the 1830s wasn't the market, it was legislation. Technological advances too, but first they brought the delights of smog and workplace fatalities. But it wasn't the market that decided people shouldn't live in crowded tenament basements with raw sewerage running down the walls, it was government intervention.

Span said...

I'm glad this post has sparked so much debate, but I am a little confused how we went from me being sick about the pressure to get preggers to accusations that that means that lefties are hypocritical to care about the environment.

Anyway, I don't buy Sage's proposition that those pressuring me to get all babied up are just acting on evolutionary urges. I've studied evolution, from the anthropology side, and we do things all the time that are counter-evolutionary. If we were really just purple prose robots programmed by our genes with no free will then surely we'd do little more than was necessary to survive and propagate those genes - but in fact humans do so much more than that. Art, science, even politics, even this blog - not strictly evolutionarily necessary, and yet still these things happen.

Besides which, some of those putting the pressure on are not even genetically related to me or my partner. So it can't be their genes driving that selfishness.

Idiot/Savant said...

Span: Oh, its because we are the source of all evil. Can't you see my evil devil horns?

(Damn, now I need to get a pair)

Jordan said...

Brian - that is so so so wrong. London got cleaned up by public, collective action enforced by law. Not by the market.

Craig Ranapia said...


Ugh. Well, I do like the response of Gladys Mitchell - who had a long and satisfyingly childless life as a teacher and mystery writer - who said the biggest disincentive to having children was the possibility of spawning the kind of vulgar and impertinent lump who'd chide women over their lack of children.

Sorry if this makes me sound seriously reactionary, but what happened to the notion that some lines of inquiry are just out of line in civilized company?

sagenz said...

span - dont take any of this personally. i am just enjoying stirring in a gentle way. It is good to engage in some debate without insults flowing.

even non genetically linked people can be interested in improving the genetic balance in society between rabid wing nuts and gentle unionists.

The point being it is a genetically programmed urge to ask. there is no point in being upset by it and there is no point insisting it is an impertinent question. It is a natural question. but that does not mean that anybody has any right to remonstrate with your choice. it is simply natural to ask.

London was cleaned up by consumers indicating they preferred cleaner conditions. The market is people after all. So they supported government action to clean up. you could argue it was market action if you accept people are consumers. But it was not "the government". Nike ensuring better conditions for workers in asia is the power of the market. yes jordan they are also the public. consumers in 1850 were doing the same thing.

as in china now people preferred jobs and higher incomes to a certain point then quality of life improvements became more important.

the positive power of the market

Brian S said...

Jordan - The huge Bazalgette London sewer project of circa 1860 was founded on the false premise that cholera was cause by "foul air", even though the real cause of cholera was known at the time. The project worked in spite of itself! Which was lucky for London. Although public works projects such as this have benefited London, the main reason London is liveable today is not because of these but because capitalism has massively transformed the way we live, producing things that were hardly imagined 150 years ago. To bring this back on topic, consider how Span's original post is very reflective of a woman living in the 21st century with all the benefits of 21st century life. The choices facing women in London 1850 were terrifying different. Could a women in 1850's London choose *not* to have children?

Icehawk said...


As a mild-mannered and softspoken father of two, I have some advice:

Be rude. Be *really*, *really* rude. Tell them to f*** off, and that it's none of their damn business.

Being a parent is great - for me. But it's incredibly life-changing and vastly traumatic and couples break up over having kids and people get post-natal depression, and if you do your life will never, ever be the same. It's an incredibly important and private decision to make.

"For all they know I could be trying and trying and their questions are barbs enlarging the hole slowly growing in my heart."

I have friends whose wedding ceremony went on and on and on about how the purpose of marriage was to breed. I smiled sweetly but found it slightly offensive. At least two guests I know of who were married and childless cried bitter tears. The couple who were getting married still don't know why. I don't think they ever will.

Muerk said...

"The couple who were getting married still don't know why. I don't think they ever will."

Good. It's their wedding and it shouldn't be ruined by the (understandable) sorrow of others. Marriage and procreation have been linked forever and I know it sounds brutal but tough.

Span said...

NRT: I believe DPF may have some you can borrow ;-)

Anonymous said...

My favorite is when folks assume that just because I don't care to reproduce, I must hate kids. Kids are long as they go home with someone else.