The womb does not the woman define
I am two years shy of 40 and I don’t have kids. There, I have said it. In fact, scratch that, closer to the end of my fourth decade on this earth, and I do not even have a single kid to my name. Shameful, right? Unacceptable. Best case scenario, pitiful – if the multitude of conversations surrounding two high profile women on two different sides of the pond is anything to go by. On the one hand, the newly appointed British PM Theresa May, and over on the other side of the Atlantic, actress Jennifer Aniston.
It was another woman, Andrea Leadsom, her leadership rival until this week – before her shameful exit amidst questions over her questionable CV and jibes at her ill-advised comments – who insinuated May might be at a disadvantage due to her childless state. “Genuinely I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake,” Leadsom was quoted in an interview. Within hours, #asamother was trending on social media with hilarious takes on what other super powers mothers had as opposed to childless women.
Then came Jennifer Aniston’s beautifully worded piece in Huffington Post (who knew she could write so well?) slamming ‘journalists’ on baby bump watch. “For the record, I am not pregnant. What I am is fed up” she wrote, seething at the endless scrutiny and objectifying gaze at the female form. “We are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child. We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies” was her parting shot.
It was with a sense of déjà vu I read this piece – surely we were on this same issue just a month ago when actress Gabrielle Union shut down pregnancy rumours with a single tweet: “Didn’t realize my uterus needed a publicist to account for its comings & goings (uterus hijinks! Whatta rascal) #periodwatch #bloatnotababy” Incidentally around the same time, Toolz shut down a nosy parker on her Instagram feed questioning the size of her tummy with two words: “small chops.”
It seems we cannot go a whole month these days without the comings and goings of a woman’s womb not being the talk of cyber space. While the objectifying gaze was once the curse of those in the public eye, now thanks to social media, all of us –at least those equipped with a womb – can be the sitting duck. I first experienced this after uploading a few pictures of me in an oversized jumpsuit; it was bulging a little around my tummy which I hadn’t realized on the day. Lo and behold, I soon did upon receiving a comment (not even a direct message) from a mere acquaintance on Facebook which read, “Methinks I spy a baby bump. Congratulations!” No questions, no discretion; the person had put two and two together, got 22 and decided to announce it to my FB friends.
Regardless, I would take tactless assumptions over cruel judgment any day. Married for ten years, you’re seen either incomplete or incompetent when people find out you don’t yet have children, especially in Nigeria… My lacking womb has even become a topic of conversation with a Murtala Muhammed Airport gift shop salesman. The conversation often beginning with the unavoidable, “Onabanjo! So you are married my Nigerian brother?” punctuated thereafter with “Ah, you don’t have children?”, “At all, at all?”, “You had better hurry up”, “God will give you twins!” I have learned in time, the best response to a nagging aunty or a tactless Nigerian salesman is “in God’s time.”
There are those of us who are ‘lacking’ not for lack of trying, then there are those who have remained childless by choice or by default. Those of us who left it too late to discover that there is no longer a need or want, those who have never wanted kids, or those who have never found the right man to share parenthood with and do not wish to raise a child on their own.
I have a friend who decided in her early twenties she and her partner had no desire to bring children into an overcrowded world beleaguered by war and poverty. Another friend got married early, then divorced and opted to focus on her career thereafter. One of my most inspirational professors at university was childless – I never knew whether it was by choice or by chance – but she had a very complete life, with a stellar career, a loving husband and a few cats.
In an ideal world, journalists, men and fellow women would be more preoccupied with what goes on inside a woman’s head rather than inside her womb and we shouldn’t have to be under the magnifying glass or scrutinising gaze of strangers questioning why we don’t have kids, why we have too many, why we have left it too late, why we have started too early – more importantly whether our maternity or lack thereof has any impact on what we can or cannot do.
A woman can give birth on a Friday and come back to work on a Monday – if she so likes – or may not have any children but lead a country, as I so hope Theresa May will prove. In an ideal world, a woman married for ten years shouldn’t have to explain or justify her childless state, or a woman newly married shouldn’t be on baby bump watch. So let’s be the change we want to see in the world: Next time you see a picture of Toolz sporting what may look like a baby bump, just think before you speak – it may just be “small chops”.
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