The past few weeks have been strange ones for Grey and me. Between another viral upper-respiratory disease that hit the whole family and landed both Beats in the ER for ear infections (thankfully not pneumonia, though), a cold virus that caused me to lose my voice and finally a round of rotovirus that solely hit the parents at our daycare (Beats were completely unaffected due to their vaccinations . . . thank the universe), we've been home a lot more lately trying to recover and not pass any of this on to our coworkers. Because of this, there's been more run-ins with Fleur and having to watch her mental health deteriorate due to the impending "lockout" that is coming in the next couple of weeks. All of it so depressing to watch.
One evening, while speaking with a neighbor about all of this, the conversation turned quickly to what results in these types of situations: stories of elderly abandoned in nursing homes with no one ever visiting them to those who live in severely impoverished situations. Sighing, this neighbor looked at me sadly and made a concluding statement that immediately caused to me to audibly protest: "she wouldn't be in this situation if she had children." It didn't take long to correct her, pointing out so many examples for why this assumption was completely false. Yet, even after that, just knowing that myth exists still plagued me.
The idea of having children as a way of securing caregivers for aging parents isn't a new one. In many cultures, multigenerational families exist under one roof in order to ensure that this practice occurs and even in cultures where families don't reside together, the topics of aging parents is a common one. Hence the myth flourishes that to guarantee that you will be cared for as you age, who need to have children. At all costs.
In June 2013, a month before the Beats made their dramatic entrance into the world, Grey and I made a point of touring labor & delivery at the university. I remember wandering through the L&D rooms, being greatly amazed at their size, marveling at the options available for the patients and even impressed with the postpartum support. During the tour, one of the topics that came up was security. Our tour guide explained that each parent would be given a bracelet linking them to their baby and that security was of the utmost priority. She then went on to explain that the reason for all of this was because there are sadly some people who will go to great lengths to get a baby. That they feel such a need that they will even resort to stealing someone else's child. Never mind the fact that most kidnappings of this nature are done by a family member or someone close to the family (i.e. a baby daddy left out of the loop or a disgruntled family member). No, what was implied instead was that crazy infertile would sneak in and, if you weren't careful, make off with your child.
The thing is, most people don't openly talk about dealing with aging abusive parents and the long term negative affects this decision can have for generations. When we hear about elderly abandoned in nursing homes, the judgement is always that the children are selfish and uncaring. Never mind the fact that there very likely is a reason these people are alone.
The flip is this assumption that those who are childless have no interest in children or building/fostering family. That somehow because they are not parenting, they don't have the same interest in building community and seeing the next generation flourish. During my time in the ALI community, I've had the opportunity to meet women who are not parenting after infertility who actively counter this taboo daily. As they write about their families, their communities and the children in their lives, it be plainly clear how the love the share and foster is better the world around them.
After the Beats arrived, I found even more examples of this in my daily life. There were the NICU nurses who were living with infertility who I watched love and care for my fragile Beats, helping them grow and thrive. In the moments I found myself breaking in the NICU, they wrapped me in love and helped shoulder some of the burden so I could be with my babies. There was the neonatologist who we met who was undergoing her final round of IVF. I remember the day she learned all her embryos had died and that her only chance for pregnancy would involve donor egg. She came into the NICU that day and specifically to work with a family whose newborn daughter was struggling to eat and was very dehydrated. I watched that doctor who was grieving the loss of her biological children pour love and support into a family who clearly would never understand.
Even now, I see those examples. I see them at our daycare, with the teachers and directors who do not have children who pour themselves into each child that pass through their doorway. I see them in the older couple who offers to babysit for their neighbors who are new parents. I see it in my community when an older gentleman helps a child reach for a book at the library or when a younger couple offers their seats on the bus to a single mom and her kids. And I see it with my mentors and advisors, women who are not mothers, who still support me during this period as my career has taken a backseat. They remind me that they still believe in me.
The honest, hard truth so many in this world struggle with is that having a child will not ensure your happiness or well-being. Placing that burden on the next generation is not only unfair, it's just plain selfish. Yes, having a child will change your outlook on life and for many will open their hearts in ways it wasn't open before. But having a child does not lift one to a higher calling. There are terrible people who procreate without issue. Similarly, there are amazingly loving people who will never parent. Yet, in the end, those who are awful and abusive will be alone while those who chose to love and build will always have family by their side.
Watching Fleur lurk the grounds like a zombie has been hard to witness. A younger and more naive version of me would have been sucked in long ago, allowing her to drain what energy I have due to pity. Watching neighbors avoid her, it's clear how she's chosen to live. As sad is it is, there's a lesson to be learned through her. A lesson similar to the one learned during infertility: happiness and wholeness needs to come from within.
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