Dear Mothers,

I owe you an apology. I am sorry for being a crappy feminist and not including your issues in my fight. I’m sorry for not realising how significant those issues were until I faced them myself. I’m sorry for not listening to you as I should have.

I’m sorry for the times I, frustrated with the marginalisation of childless women, failed to realise those with children were marginalised too. I didn’t see we are damned no matter our choice. I didn’t see we are seen as less whether we are mothers or not. I felt judged for not having children, never realising you felt equally judged for having them. I didn’t see that women are often defined by our reproductive status, and that there is no winning.

I’m sorry for the times I didn’t realise how much the experience of pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood changes you. I’m sorry for when I thought you meant it made me less of a woman not to have experienced it, not just a woman with different experiences. I’m sorry for the times I didn’t respect your experiences or how much they can change you. They’ve certainly changed me. And I promise now I won’t expect that my experiences are yours.

I’m sorry for not realising how truly painful it all can be. I’m sorry for the times I have dismissed or minimised your pain, just because another friend told me it wasn’t that bad. I didn’t realise that every single birth and every single pregnancy and every single child is different. I should have trusted you.

I’m sorry for not believing you when you said you loved differently as a parent: not that you loved better than me, but you loved better than you had before. You were talking about yourself. I thought you were judging me. I thought you were saying I hadn’t experienced love like yours. And it’s true: you were. But I never will experience love like yours. Every love is different.

I’m sorry for not worrying enough about the financial implications of parenthood. I’m sorry for using “choice” as an excuse not to support you. I’m sorry that I didn’t realise the huge financial burden that biology has place on women, and that in a civilised society, we should be attempting to limit such burdens.

I’m sorry for every time I laughed “haven’t they ever heard of birth control”. I knew the odds but I didn’t realise how real the failures are.

I’m sorry for the times I took your choices as a judgement on mine. I know they weren’t. You did what was right for you. My choice to spend 14 years of adulthood child-free was right for me. Our choices were unrelated to each other.

I’m sorry for the times I was a bad friend. For the times I didn’t listen. For the times I thought that the gulf between us was impossibly large. It wasn’t. You were still you. I was just too wrapped up in my own experiences to listen to yours.

Now that I’m approaching the other side, I hope I can avoid making the same mistakes with my friends without children. To remember that their love is not better or worse than my love, just different. That their fights matter too. That their choices having nothing to do with my own.

To remember the gulf is not so wide, and that if we listen, our burdens can be shared.

And I’ll re-read this, regularly, to remind myself that we are all in this fight together.





6 Responses

  1. This is beautifully written and empathetic to both sides of the equation.

    One little quibble: “childfree” is a term for women who don’t wish to have children, ever. If you change your mind and have children, you were never childfree; you were childless.

    To me, the word describes a fundamental part of my identity in positive terms, so I feel I must defend the definition.

    1. Absolutely, you’re right about this. I do wonder about the language of childless for the non-child years: I guess it makes it seem like it was one continuous line from not having kids to having them, rather than a search and questioning… while not having kids is absolutely an identity and deserves its own terminology, I wonder how we can use language to capture the sometimes deep sense of ambivalence some women have about children before they have them…

    2. People change their minds. We are not static but fluid and circumstance, age, experience and many other factors play into our identities. To be a different person than you were 20 years ago and to want different things does not erase who you were or what you wanted. To say it does is a very narrow box to put people in.

      You can have been childfree and go on to have children.

  2. “I’m sorry for when I thought you meant it made me less of a woman not to have experienced it, not just a woman with different experiences. “”

    Yeah – except for all the times when people with children come out and say those things in so many words – and they do.

    1. I’m sorry that happened to you, and it’s deeply unfair that it did. I experienced similar comments too. But I truly believe this is a minority of people, and transferring that onto others who don’t believe that is damaging for all of us.

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