Trying Something New…
Written by Ashley Kelmore, Posted in Childfree, Feminism
I have my first post up on Medium. Thought I would share it there instead of reprinting it here.
No matter where you go, there you are.
Written by Ashley Kelmore, Posted in Childfree, Feminism
I have my first post up on Medium. Thought I would share it there instead of reprinting it here.
Written by Ashley Kelmore, Posted in Childfree, Feminism, Politics, What I'm Reading
At this time next week, President Obama will be former President Obama. He did many things I disagree with, but I will miss him so much.
Written by Ashley Kelmore, Posted in Childfree
Some of you know that I’ve been working on a book for the past few months. Last fall many of you were kind enough to allow me to interview you; I used the NaNoWriMo model to force myself to organize my thoughts and create a 30,000 word manuscript in November. In January I started editing it; in March I went to a day-long publishing workshop, which was pretty amazing.
However, life kind of got in the way after that, so other than a little bit of reorganization and edits, I haven’t touched it since then. Thankfully my sister asked about it this weekend, so I’ve finally sent it to her (and my husband) to take a look. I’m hoping for honest feedback, and REALLY hoping that I can take the inevitable criticism heading my way.
If any of you are interested in taking a look and offering suggestions, let me know!
Written by Ashley Kelmore, Posted in Childfree, Reviews
I am pretty vocal about the fact that I won’t be having children. I’ve written about it in the past, and I’m currently writing a book aimed at folks like myself. My husband and I found each other online in part because we both said ‘no’ to the ‘want kids’ question on OK Cupid. So when I saw this book reviewed in a few different places I figured I would pick it up.
It’s a collection of essays by writers, so it is necessarily a bit limited in that regard. It primarily features women, although there are contributions by men. I’m not sure of the racial demographics of the writers; none of the stories (if I’m recalling correctly) take on whether they think they’ve encountered more (or less) push-back because of their ethnicity.
The book provides for some chuckles, and elicited a few head nods from me. I could related to some folks, but not fully. I mean, I wasn’t one of the writers, so I can’t expect to have my exact feelings related back to me in essay form, but I was a bit disappointed because most of the essays still seemed a bit apologetic about not wanting children, and really interested in making the concession that people who choose not to have children are a bit off, wrong, or even, yes, selfish. I found that disappointing, because I was hoping for something different.
One essay in particular really rubbed me the wrong way. Lionel Shriver, who wrote “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (a book I hope to read some day) wrote a weirdly misogynistic and frankly delusional essay that almost had me giving up on the book (hers is the fifth essay in). Obviously she can only speak for herself in this most personal of essays, but she presumes to speak for me, and that is obnoxious. She says things like “In contrast to our predecessors, we seldom ask ourselves whether we serve a greater social purpose; we are more likely to ask ourselves if we are happy.” I’m not sure what version of reality she exists in, but I would argue they are both equal, or even completely oppositely weighted. Lots of people are making sacrifices because they understand that the way we’ve been living isn’t doing anyone any favors.
She also seems to call out those who complain about the fact that people ‘like her’ aren’t having children (e.g. well-educated, white, affluent) for what they are (not-so-subtle racism), but then seems to agree, with such disturbing lines as “we don’t consider the importance of raising another generation of our own people, however we might choose to define them.” That reads dangerously close to expressing distress over not enough white folks in the world, and that’s super creepy.
In addition to that weird (hopefully unintentional?) racism, she also makes an argument that absolutely infuriated me. She suggests that by not having children, we are ignoring our duty to the future, because we are denying the world the creation of people who might solve the world’s problems. Essentially, it’s similar to that anti-choice argument of ‘what if you’re aborting the next Einstein?’ Aside from the fact that maybe my kid would grow up to be a serial killer, so by not reproducing I could be saving the world from that pain, this claim essentially ignores the fact that maybe WE can solve the world’s problems. She seems to making a point that women exist to create the people who change the world, as opposed to changing the world ourselves. I am not okay with that at all. I firmly believe that I have the opportunity to change the world (probably in very small ways, but ways that matter); I don’t think the only way I can do that is to give birth to a child who will then change the world. She falls into the trap that so many of us are trying to claw our way out of: the idea that my worth exists only in the children I create, not in the other things I create as well.
So yeah, that essay aside, the book is probably worth a read. I just wish it were better, and more original that the sheepishness so many of us who choose not to have children feel compelled to express to those who do want children. I wish there were more writers who owned their choice as completely valid and not one needing justification. But that isn’t in here as much as I’d hoped.
Written by Ashley Kelmore, Posted in Childfree, Feminism, Random
So the other day I was at an evening work event. There were some delicious appetizers, a bunch of beer and wine, and some fancy sparkling water. Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m not big into beer or wine, but that I love bubbles. So I grabbed a can of the seltzer and was enjoying it when a sweet and well-meaning former colleague came up and said “sparkling water? So? Any chance that a little one is on the way?” I laughed and said no, I just like seltzer water and am driving later, and left it at that. But it bothered me, and I realized it bothered me for a couple of reasons.
The first reason is this idea that adults are required to drink alcohol if it is available. It seems that adults are thought of as abnormal if we choose to drink non-alcoholic beverages when wine or beer are around, and I quite literally do not understand it. I don’t drink often, and when I do, I usually limit it to one or two drinks at the most. And I certainly don’t drink if I’m going to be driving in the next couple of hours. I like some alcoholic beverages (sparkling wine, Irish whiskey, rum-based tropical delights), but they are definitely what I would consider ‘sometimes’ things. I get that many people enjoy beer or wine every night, but I’ve reached the point where I find it a little bizarre that the default assumption of adulthood seems to be “evening + gathering of other adults = MUST DRINK.” Why is that? I don’t recall agreeing to that.
And to be as clear as possible – there is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with drinking wine. Or beer. Or liquor. I don’t think people should do that before driving, obviously, but I get that many people drink. A quick Googling for some data shows that in the U.S., on average, adults consume about 4 drinks per week. I probably consume maybe that many per month, so obviously some people are going to consume more. But somehow it has gotten so engrained in society that adults are going to drink at night, that someone choosing not to do so needs some sort of reason – in my case, since I’m a woman of childbearing age, it must be because I’m expecting. I don’t like that. I’d like to be able to choose whatever beverage sounds good and not have it somehow be a signal to the world that I’m in the midst of growing a human.
The second reason that bothered me is that whether I’m pregnant or not is really no one’s business. Again, anyone who knows me at all is VERY clear about the fact that if I’m pregnant, a) something has gone horribly, horribly wrong, and b) I’m not going to be pregnant for long. So even asking me that question shows that you and I? We’re not that close. And since we AREN’T that close, why would you feel it necessary to ask me such a personal question? If I were pregnant and wanted you to know, guess what? I’d tell you.
Now, I can’t speak for women who actually have been pregnant and have faced these situations, but they always strike me as very uncomfortable. I feel that asking if someone is expecting (whether it is due to abstention from alcohol or not) puts women who ARE pregnant in an unfair situation: either they tell the person they are (even if they had no intentions of doing that), or they can lie and say no. Again, if someone wants me to know they are pregnant, I really, strongly believe that it’s up to them to tell me. Sure, I’ve asked friends about timelines, in terms of a ‘hey, are you guys still thinking about going the kid route?’ more from a wanting to know what’s up in general frame, and it’s possible I’ve even forgotten myself and veered into the territory about which I’m currently complaining. Especially with really close friends – I know I’ve been tempted to want to ask how things are going when they’ve faced reproductive challenges. I want them to know I care! But over the years I’ve learned that there are ways to express support for those friends without repeatedly asking “are you pregnant now? How about now? How about … now? I see you didn’t have any beer tonight – are you finally expecting?!” I get the curiosity when someone knows that people want children, but I think it’s a really good thing to remember that people will tell me when they feel it is appropriate, and my timeline of wanting to know really doesn’t factor into it.
Are these superficial things to complain about? Possibly. But I do think they demonstrate a couple of broader problems. I think the fact that people need to find a reason for why someone chooses not to drink shows that we don’t really have a healthy relationship with alcohol in our society. It’s almost as if some people who do choose it feel insecure about that decision, and want to be reassured that it’s acceptable to have that glass of wine. I just wish they’d keep their issues to themselves, or at the very least, consider asking WHY they care about what I choose to drink.
I think it’s fairly obvious that the idea that an individual woman’s reproductive choices are fair game for discussion by anyone is problematic, and this is just but one teeny tiny (and possibly not that common?) example of the entitlement to know about those choices. It’s just one manifestation of how women of a certain age are seen almost as public property, even by those with the best and sweetest of intentions. Again, I wish more people would just take that second to think “hey, if she were pregnant, she’d probably tell me when she wanted to” and leave it at that.
Written by Ashley Kelmore, Posted in Childfree, Feminism, Reviews
I reviewed another of Jessica Valenti’s books (“The Purity Myth”) for last year’s Cannonball Read, and she actually acknowledged my review on Twitter. That was a very happy day. I knew about this book but hadn’t read it; I discovered it on Audible on Friday ended up listening to it pretty much straight through.
Ms. Valenti is a feminist author and mother of her young daughter Layla. Layla was born SUPER early, spending her first weeks in the NICU. Ms. Valenti spends time talking about her feelings of helplessness when her daughter was in the hospital, and definitely shares many anecdotes, but her parenting experience isn’t the main focus of this book. Nor is the book an attempt to convince the reader they should or should not have kids. The book instead is focused on all the ways society has made it challenging to parent (and, specifically, to mother) children, while society also pushes the idea that of course all women should both want to be mothers.
I am not a mother. I am childfree by choice, choosing instead to live my life with my husband and whatever animals we have (currently two awesome cats). I covered this issue in my review of “I Can Barely Take Care of Myself” (good book!), so I won’t spend my review focused on that topic, although Ms. Valenti covers it adeptly. Instead I’m going to focus more on the political issues she raises. From breastfeeding (or not) to working outside the home (or not) to women being treated merely as vessels for children, Ms. Valenti provides strong, interesting and often disturbing facts that reiterate how generally shitty it can be to be a mother. The lack of acknowledgement of how hard it is, the hardline critics who believe there is only one right way to parent (I found her section on attachment parenting to be especially interesting), and the fact that women are sometimes hardest on each other all comes through in pretty vivid fashion.
She shares a story about giving her daughter a bottle during their first outing to a café (pretty big deal, considering she spend the first couple of months of life in the NICU), when a stranger literally said to her “Breast is best – if you’re having trouble I’d be happy to help you out.” The FUCK? Who thinks that is even a little okay? Her point being that what’s best for you might not be best for the mother over there, and that politically we need to fight for the ability to do what works best for our families. Mandated paid maternity and paternity leave, medical coverage of lactation counselling AND breast pumps, etc. What I like the most is that even when she’s presenting the different positions and possibilities (and sometimes expressing a strong preference for one option over another), she’s making strong arguments for the right to make these decisions ourselves, as families.
That’s not to say that she believes that “I choose my choice!” is always going to be the best. She talks about the anti-vaccine movement, and also about studies suggesting that it’s better for the whole family if the mother works outside the home (part time or full time). But her main focus is always on women not being so hard on ourselves, and on society giving mothers the benefit of the doubt, especially each other. Motherhood shouldn’t be a competition, and lately it seems to have evolved into that.
Ms. Valenti also acknowledges that certain mother stereotypes definitely play to the benefit of white, upper-middle-class women. For example, society (and conservatives especially) say women should stay home with the children, but if a single mom wants to provide that type of home for her children? She becomes a “welfare queen.” I would have liked more on the different mother experiences of women of color, though, and I think through the years (this book came out in 2012), she has recognized that she needs to work more on presenting those perspectives.
Finally, one of the more disturbing part of the book came somewhere in the middle, where she talks about how women are treated as worthless if they aren’t currently or planning to become mothers. One example is the now-common suggestion that women always act as if they are pre-pregnant (think about all the medication commercial voice-overs that say you shouldn’t use something if you are pregnant “or may become pregnant”). She shares the story of one woman who had zero plans to ever have children. She needed some medication, but her doctor gave her the less-effective version because it can cause side-effects in pregnancy. Umm, what? Nope. Treat ME as the human, not as a possible vessel for some hypothetical fetus. Please. It takes an even darker turn when you learn about woman arrested MID CHILDBIRTH because she was attempting a VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section). They literally cuffed her, dragged her to the hospital, and held a trial to force her into a c-section. Her fetus was appointed an attorney; she was not. Yeah, that happened. Like I said: dark.
Motherhood looks to me like a ton of hard work. I see my friends with kids and they are doing amazing things. And so far none of them seem to have just disappeared into their kids, replacing their own identities with ‘mother’ across the board. I have so much respect for what they do every day, and I wish that society could catch up and make it easier for all of them.
Written by Ashley Kelmore, Posted in Childfree, Feminism
This post has been writing itself in my mind for over a year, when I had my first real encounter with someone who refused to accept that I did not plan to have children. During a discussion about his two-year-old daughter, the son-in-law of a family friend asked when I was going to have kids. My response of ‘oh, I’m not having children’ was met with a guffaw. He condescendingly insisted that I was wrong and would change my mind. It was a frustrating encounter, but not unusual. It seems childfree people are often told that we either don’t know what we want or we are selfish for wanting what we do.
Oh, I know what I want, and that is a life without my own children. I do not want to raise them. It’s not something that interests me, it’s not something I’ve ever desired, and it is not part of what I want for my life. Please note: this doesn’t mean I don’t like any children – I volunteer as a leader for a Campfire group of 10 four-year-olds. I happily hold my friends’ children, play with them, get them slightly age-inappropriate gifts. It just means I do not want to raise one of my own.
I get that someone who has always wanted to have kids might be taken aback when they encounter someone with an equally strong but opposing viewpoint, and that they might gasp “why” initially, but perhaps after the first “because I don’t want kids” they can let it go. I mean, think of how weird it would be to really start questioning a pregnant woman about why she wants to have children, telling her that she will change her mind and that she’s really missing out on a fantastic life. Seems pretty inappropriate, right? Yeah. Same for refusing to accept someone’s statement that they don’t want kids.
Also, I get really tired of the people who sort of nod, giving us the idea that they either get what we’re saying (or have the manners to let it go), then smile and say “yeah, I get it. It’s fun to be a little selfish.” Say what? The decision to have children is just as self-centered as the decision to not have children. What comes AFTER that may vary in selfishness, but think about it. I think most parents expect that they will find some joy in parenting. My understanding is that it is (or can be) very rewarding but also very difficult. That it’s something that gives parents satisfaction. It’s something they are doing out of a desire, to accommodate their vision of the future. To help them have the life they want.
Sounds remarkably similar to the reasons why people choose not to have children. So why is one choice seen as selfish?
Part of the problem seems to me that the reasons people (who have children) suggest people like me aren’t having children are inevitably quite trivial, but if you ask most of us, the reasons aren’t trivial at all. I’m not childfree so I can sleep in. I’m not childfree because I can’t handle the responsibility. I’m not childfree so I can have lots of money to spend on fancy clothes.
But even if I were – why should anyone else care? Why should anyone feel so invested that they want to change my mind? Or want to suggest that I just don’t know myself as well as someone who does want children? It seems so … unnecessary.
If you still can’t really wrap your head around why someone would not want children, or thinks it’s a ‘bad’ decision, try this analogy:
I don’t want to be a doctor. That doesn’t mean I think doctors are bad, or that pursuing a medical career isn’t a great thing. I also recognize that we need doctors in the world, and are lucky that there are many, many people willing to take that on. No one yells at me for not wanting to be a doctor, or condescends that I will change my mind; they accept that being a doctor is not for me and that I know myself best. They don’t call me selfish for not wanting to go to medical school; they accept that I’ve weighed my options and becoming a doctor doesn’t come up high on the list. And doctors don’t come up to me and say “Oh, you should be a doctor. I know you say you aren’t going to be one, but you’ll change your mind. It’s awesome, and the best possible route for everyone.”
And to address that other looming question: what if everyone thought like I do? Well, what if everyone wanted to be a lawyer? What if no one wanted to be a sewage system operator? There are lots of different roles people can fill in the world, and most people fill many, many roles. But we don’t expect everyone to fill all the same ones; in fact, that would be a recipe for failure. Why must the exception to that be reproducing?