In the past year Time magazine has run two cover stories (Are You Mom Enough? and The ChildFree Life: When Having it All Means Not Having Children) and managed to miss — both times — a notable segment of the female population: women who don’t identify either as “moms” or “childfree.”
If you dropped in from outer space you would conclude, based on Time‘s view of the world anyway, that:
1) People without children spend most of their time idly lounging around in the sand of by a pool (um, how does not having children make one independently wealthy?) usually with a glass of alcohol in hand — or at the ready in some carefree place. (BTW: I happen to know quite a few parents who drink more than a little … )
2) My cohort: the vast majority of my blog and book readership — are those not parenting, but not because we didn’t want to or try to. In the media and television world we simply do not exist.
Nothing like being made to feel invisible, eh? Kinda makes you want to wave your hands, whistle and declare in your outdoor voice: “heeelllllo….we’re over here!”
The graphics included in the Time story provide extensive data points on the market size that moms represent in the U.S. ($2.4 Trillion), the average number of children born per woman (from 7 in Niger to 1.4 in Germany, Italy and Japan) and the percentage of childless women ages 40-44 who are “voluntarily childless” (49%).
The rest of us — well, we didn’t even make the cut as outliers — no graphics on the number of women who came away empty handed after extensive (and expensive) infertility treatments. No graphics on the number of failed adoptions either.
Editor’s Note: In 2012, of the 1.5 million fertility treatments performed globally, 1.1 million failed: a 77 percent failure rate. In the United States, the overall failure rate was 68 percent. You can read more on author Miriam Zoll’s guest column at Our Bodies, Ourselves here.
While kudos are in order to the reporter, Lauren Sandler, for calling out “motherhood’s ambient roar,” something described as oppressive by women in their 30s and 40s who haven’t given birth. Ms. Sandler missed an opportunity to include the point of view of women for whom no black or white choice existed.
I particularly took issue with Ms. Sandler’s breezy statement “with fertility treatment widely available, not to mention adoption…”
You’d think she was talking about shoe shopping, not human beings — as in DSW offers a wide selection of footwear ready to be snapped up, don’t miss today’s sale!
No mention whatsoever about the very real costs associated with building a family — all born by millions around the world without any guarantee a child will arrive or remain:
- Financially ($15,000+ per IVF cycle — all with low odds of success and all out of pocket unless you happen to live in 15 states in the U.S. that have varying degrees of health insurance coverage, or in more progressive countries that offer fertility treatment for less); I’ll let my friends who adopted share their respective bills for domestic vs. international adoption, both of which are more competitive than ever.
- Physically (no one goes into fertility treatment requiring surgery, anesthesia and amped up on artificial hormones without worrying about what it’s doing to one’s general health and well-being).
- Emotionally (the trauma of infertility can feel like an assault on identity not to mention create isolation as friends become parents, and there is much less in common with them).
In short, just because you want to become a parent doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing for all who embark on that path. I’ve learned something the past 10+ years that Ms. Sandler and others have missed. There is a vital and dynamic group of women (and let’s not forget our menfolk) outside the neat categories that mainstream media love to pit against each other: parents and childfree.
Who comprises this overlooked part of the population? Those who were unable to conceive even after pursuing all manner of medical intervention, those not in committed relationships during peak childbearing years (and didn’t want to parent alone), those who timed out in the adoption world or were part of failed adoptions, as well as those whose partners were unable or unwilling to become parents.
Living between the two worlds — the moms and die-hard childfree — can often times be downright weird, as evidenced in this war of words. Neither knows what to make of us. Though those with children are particularly harsh with their judgement.
As a minority in our dominant pro-natal world, one that as Ms. Sandler points out “equates womanhood with motherhood,” and surrounded by the “glamorous martyrdom of childrearing” with the endless parade of baby pics and mommy talk that permeates our society, I can fully appreciate the complaints of one of the childfree quoted in the Time article:
I resent that the entire culture of this country is obsessed with kids.
… especially when 33% of Americans believe having children increases social standing. Really?
That’s the first time I’ve seen that lovely statistic. So, those of us without children are seen by a third of Americans as having diminished social standing? Now that’s just cold. How about some love for those of us who pay taxes to support local schools and causes that support the next generation even if it means we are routinely overlooked in society’s rush to remind us daily about the mommy industry and the all important role of moms everywhere we turn.
In an era where motherhood has become what one university demographer described as today’s “social imperative,” it’s important to hear all the voices, not just the loudest ones.
On my reading list this summer: Cracked Open, by Miriam Zoll. What’s on yours?
34 thoughts on “How About a Time Cover Story on Women Who Aren’t Moms or Childfree?”
Time has always been my favourite American magazine and actually the only one that I almost regularly read. So I am quite disappointed by this article.
I think you should write a letter to the editor. Let’s our voices be heard!
A very interesting piece, Pamela, with so many links to so many other good pieces. I must admit, I fell down the link-rabbit-hole and read seven different pieces. I have to admit, one thing that really struck me is how both sides feel vilified, those with children and those without. It’s interesting that everyone feels attacked, that no ones feels they are the ones in a position of power. Perhaps it is just human nature to hone on slights (both real and perceived) and feel the need to defend oneself.
That isn’t to say that you aren’t just justified in your opinion. You absolutely are. It’s clear that people are vilifying those who chose (or don’t choose–these are certainly not the types to ask WHY someone is not a parent) not to have children and I absolutely agree that motherhood is exhaulted in our culture. But there are also those trying to tear it down. I suppose no one is safe.
It reminds me of all the articles I’ve ready about how working mothers are chastised at work (both explicitly and implicitly) for having children, how it is assumed that they don’t take their jobs as seriously anymore, that they can’t make the commitment they once did and that they won’t produce the same work (be that quality or quantity) as before they had kids. And yet recently I read that women who are not mothers are being penalized for that “choice”. I don’t really understand how it can go both ways. How can it be assumed that you’ll work less and create poorer output if you have kids at home and also be assumed that women who don’t have kids don’t have their priorities straight. I guess, more than anything, I am confused. Maybe women are always the scapegoat and no matter what path they take, they are made to feel inferior for it. Maybe it’s just women who are inferior, over and over again, no matter where in their life they find themselves.
I, for one, wantd very badly to become a mother. And yet I absolutely understand and respect those who don’t. My sister will likely never have kids (I would be so surprised if she “changes her mind” as everyone tells me she will (I have absolutely noticed that no one takes her claim seriously, absolutely no one and I can imagine how frustrating that would be) and I absolutely think that is the best choice for her and there are days that I envy her absolute certainty that a childfree life is right for her. I honestly think it makes everything a lot easier.
But I absolutely agree with you that the voices that are always missing are the voices of those who wanted kids but weren’t able to have them. Those voices are so important and yet they are almost universally ignored. I guess they belong to the doubly disenfranchised, as they have suffered from infertility and/or loss or a situational inability to have a family AND now are not parenting. The parents don’t want to recognize them because they make them feel guilty or they just don’t understand them (usually the latter, I’m sure) and they childfree don’t want to accept them because after all, they did WANT to be parents, so obviously they don’t understand the desire not to be parents and they might even take the side of parents in some of these nasty “battles.” Basically women like you don’t belong to either group and are, in fact, shunned by both. I suppose it’s not surprising that so few articles even recognize the existence of a group of people who actually wanted to be parents but didn’t end up with children. I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe it is to speak more loudly, as you said. But when your message is met with so much anger and misunderstanding and vitriol, it’s not surprising that so few do.
The whole situation is all kinds of messed up.
Mostly because someone who wanted to parent and could not is not the same as someone who NEVER wanted to parent. You are a part of the “norm,” in that what you wanted to do (have kids) was/is considered the norm by society.
Someone like me, who never wanted kids is treated like some kind of deviant for not wanting kids to be a part of my life. So, honestly, you don’t really understand what happens when people find out I never wanted kids, and did everything possible to ensure that never happened. Childfree is not the same as involuntary childlessness (and yes, I do have sympathy for someone who is infertile; the things you all go through around that sounds like hell).
Always bucking the trend. That’s how I have begun to view myself. After 6 failed attempts at IUI and not financial enough to attempt IVF only to have a total hysterectomy due to a uterine tumour. My choice to have children vanished along with my uterus. Adoption is not an option as I have mental health issues.
So of all the statistics that 1 in 6 women suffer infertility, 1 in 4 people will suffer mental health illness and who knows the statistic that states I’ll be able to live comfortably but never be hugged by a child that will call me Mum, just means I buck the trend on statistics.
Knowing that I am not alone in my abyss gives me strength.
“So those of us without children are seen by a third of Americans as having diminished social standing?”
And people who have children wonder why those who are unable to have children sometimes have a sense of entitlement to become parents. Maybe if the childless weren’t outcasted and looked down upon by society this entitlement wouldn’t exist.
Hope you sent in a letter to the editor!
I had to laugh.
Only today did I realize that I have always been reading European version of the Time.
No kids on European cover. Only Germany & Euro issue:
I second Klara’s thought about writing a letter to the editor!
So, Time ran an article on twins. And then they ran an article on only children. And there was one about being first born. And one about being a second child. And they did one about being a middle child. And one about being the baby of the family.
But you know what? They never did an article about fourth-born kids out of six. We are just a silent minority with our own issues and problems, and we never get recognized by society.
Like, we are far enough down the chain that most of our clothes are used, but then the kid after us gets new ones. And then there’s the issue of still having two younger siblings, so although we never were taken care of by our own mothers, we have to take care of the kids that are younger than us. This isn’t problem for a family with eight kids (Time of course did a piece on John and Kate), but it is an issue for those of us who are number four of six.
Why won’t Time write a story about us?
Wow. Just read the beginning of the TIME mag article and wow. It always amazes me the judgement that is passed on others who makes choices to live their lives in full but outside of the way deemed appropriate by society. Even more do when those choices came after trying to pursue what is the norm. The idea that anyone living with infertility simply needs to do X, Y or Z is a bogus one, as the condition is significantly more complex and diverse than many are aware of let alone try to even begin to understand.
The truth is there is a lot of fear surrounding those who live in a manner that is not the norm. We see it with many things, from attachment parenting to breastfeeding to making voices about one’s reproduction to even other aspects of life. What I’m finding again and again, though, is that those who are passing judgement are usually the most screwed up in life and really should be ignored.
Thank you for the article and this thoughtful post.
I just bought & read the Time article (after hearing the buzz around it for the last few days). Thank you, thank you, Pamela, for a great response, and you definitely should send a letter to the editor (or at least the link to this post).
The article did make some good points, and I appreciated the point that, since infertility treatments are so widely available, this only increases the pressure on women to become mothers. And it does describe how difficult it is to be a non-mother in a mommy-centric world.
But otherwise, there is really no acknowledgement that a significant portion of women without children did want to be mothers at some point in their lives, and that there are many reasons why they didn’t. It would be sooooooo nice to see an article in a major publication that acknowledged this. :p
Very, VERY well put. I would only add, to your breakdown of the “overlooked part of the population”, those of us who found ourselves faced with infertility but made the choice NOT to pursue further medical treatment or other methods of family building – for whatEVER reason. Whether due to financial, ethical or other concerns (that is, realizing that it just didn’t make sense for us to spend so much money and put ourselves through so much stress with only a very, very slim chance of a positive outcome), we don’t ALL decide it’s worth risking our relationships, health, sanity and future on a slim to nothing chance, and then we find ourselves even on the outs with the infertility community because “obviously” we “didn’t want a child enough”.
Socki…so well put, and so grateful that you posted this response! We have just recently decided to not move forward with any treatments , and I am carrying guilt and shame for the decision . I fear judgement for not trying hard enough. Your comment reminds me that my personal journey is just that… My journey, and we have made the best decision for ourselves.
Excellent.well written and to the points…. I loved the reaction to Fertility Treatments being widely available, yes you would think it was like shopping…honestly that Lauren woman has a child!!! Did she get it from the local supermarket and defrost it, do you think?…….Well yes if you have money, borrowing power, emotional support and don’t depend on your own income (so you can eat), an income that you’d have to give up if it actually worked. VLP(very low percentages).
In the UK the NHS do it for free, but the laws are always skipping about, as to how old you can’t be to have 1 shot at it. After they raised it to 40 from 35, I changed my plans and raced back from abroad at the age of 39 only to be told my eggs were out of date and I wouldn’t qualify???!!! Mmmmmm….convenient…
Well done,this needs to be a widely published response.
Excellent response and rebuttal. The media cycle seems to be full of judging, simplifying and making issues that are grey into black and white, especially in the last year. This story is no exception.
I know there are many points you’re making in this post, but I’m stuck on the 77% failure rate.
I had no idea.
I would imagine the success rates are better for younger women (& even lower than 23% for women in their 40s), but when you average out the rates over the span of women’s fertile years… I’m not entirely surprised.
I still think it is a good idea that you – Pamela – write a letter to the editor.
But I also think that also all of us should write a letter to the editor. Reason? One voice is not enough!
(well. I will not write. I am only European, after all :)
Wishing you a beautiful summer to all of you (even if it will not include carefree lying in the swimming pool).
Fantastic post, Pamela, as usual. Love the “dropped in from outer space”. I have not yet read the full article, but it sounds like a doozy, filled with more propaganda from the uninitiated. How disappointing that it is coming from Time, but, then again, they have published quite a few controversial articles/covers the last few years. Hopefully, the hullabaloo created by this article will bring attention to those without children not-by-choice – a crowd reliably ignored by the mainstream media.
Thanks for your post. I saw this article discussed on the morning news programs last week and bought a copy while in the airport this week for a business trip. After reading it, I came away thinking that I didn’t belong in either camp because of my infertility. Thanks for being our voice. And, I may just write a letter to the author/editor as well.
I’m sure included in the infertility population one would assume that people like myself would fall. I don my believe that I was infertile, but will never be able to have my own children. I struggled for many years with endometriosis that lead to 3 miscarriages. I have now had 4 surgeries, the last of which was an almost full hysterectomy just 4 weeks ago. I’ll never know whether I was truly infertile or not. Yet, people like to dump myself and others into a category that I don’t feel we belong. I am now infertile, yes, but had the physical pain not been so outstanding who knows if fertility treatments or simple medications could have made my dream of being a mother come true. Sad yes, but there are many categories often overlooked.
Sigh. I think because I’m young (though I have plenty of IF seniority! Seven years ttc/in treatment, thankyouverymuch), people think I’m in the “glamorous life” phase. (I only wish I looked like that in a swimsuit after years of untreated hypothyroidism, many rounds of fertility drugs, and finally depo to keep the endo in check! And I don’t drink a drop. But hey, I do like to have an active social life.) I debate whether I should disabuse them of the notion. If I could get fertile people to envy my life, would that strike a blow for the childless?
Although that suggestion is perhaps unwise in view of the point made by the first commenter, who noted that no one feels empowered in this debate. I feel fairly confident that I represent the least-heard demographic, but clearly nobody feels heard at all – no matter how hard they’re being marketed to. What a mess.
I’m very late to this, but finally have a chance to read it properly and then comment. The main thing that has hit me is the statistic that 49% of childless women are involuntarily childless. Which means that the majority of women without kids – the group they wrote the article about – are actually women who wanted kids but couldn’t have them (for whatever reason – infertility or circumstantial), and are precisely the women they didn’t mention in the article! Argh! OK – I’ve just gone back and checked your statistic again, and it was for women aged between 40-44. But still!
(much bewildered shaking of head going on here)