I was at Target with our four children (ages three to nine) when I heard the whispered comment:
The condom aisle is that way. You do know how those things are made, right?
My face filled with heat, and I turned to respond, but realized that he was gone, and I didn’t really know what to say. Should I lecture a stranger about reproductive choices in front of the kids? Should I explain that two were mine by birth, two were mine by marriage, and that all of them were planned, wanted, loved, and cared for? Should that matter? Should I tell him to shut the fuck up? Should I comment on the relative good behavior of the kids? I mean, fuck, have you ever been to Target with four children? (I’m playing a very creative game of “I’d Rather” in my head while I type this).
Mostly, I was embarrassed, and angry that his comment made me feel embarrassed, and that I felt the need to defend my choices and my family. Also I felt embarrassed, because I have been guilty of this type of judgment in the past. When I worked for an affiliate of the largest pro-choice women’s health organization in the country, a coworker gave me a funny picture to hang on my office wall. It featured a picture of the Duggar family, who had 14 kids at the time and the caption – “It’s a vagina, not a clown car.” Everyone laughed when they saw it. At a pro-choice organization.
As an atheist, I have mocked the quiverfull movement, whose fundamentalist Christian adherents do not use family planning, hoping to have every baby with whom God blesses them. I have heard about young teens or older adults deciding to keep unplanned pregnancies and have thought to myself – “they would probably be better off if they had an abortion.” I have laughed at and shared that funny French condom ad featuring a toddler having a tantrum at the grocery store.
These examples may seem relatively benign and are often well-meaning or even based on an understanding of reality. Having 19 pregnancies can lead to a whole host of medical issues for a person, including pregnancy complications and post-partum hemorrhaging. It can be very, very challenging to support a large family on a limited income or even a moderately high one. Cultural and religious practices that limit a person’s access to birth control and/or hand control over someone’s fertility to their husband are inherently harmful and paternalistic. Generally speaking, young teens are not ready for kids and may experience economic, social, and educational disadvantages if they become teen parents. People who become pregnant past 35 years of age are at higher risk for health problems, pregnancy complications, and having a baby with chromosome abnormalities. Toddlers can be assholes.
It’s not wrong to be concerned about a person’s health, well-being, and/or their ability to care for children. To have legitimate worries about child hunger, neglect, or overpopulation. To hate misogyny and the fact that so many people lack information about and access to birth control. Right?
Well, sure, you can have those opinions. However, if you consider yourself pro-choice, please kindly keep these thoughts to yourself when it comes to other people. Yep, you heard me. Shut the fuck up about other people’s reproductive choices. It’s none of your damn business.
And yes, that includes using the word “breeders” ever. Or feeling sorry for someone who is “childless by choice.” A person’s identity is not limited to whether or not they have children. One doesn’t stop being a person when they have a child, and they are certainly whole without one.
Also, please stop making comments about people choosing to use fertility treatments or not choosing them when they experience infertility. It’s really none of your business how long they’ve been trying. Unsolicited advice about alternative remedies that worked for you or your second cousin or to simply “have more sex” are insensitive and hurtful. Questions or comments about the ethics of not choosing adoption are equally yucky. It’s none of your business. Every family is different. See also: questions about whether multiples are the result of such treatments. Yuck.
And for families like mine, statements about how hard it must be, and questions about how we can afford them or if any of them were unplanned make me feel like shit. No, I don’t live in a shoe. No, we aren’t members of a religion that prohibits birth control. I am one of the strongest advocates for access to birth control and abortion in my state. I am empowered with the knowledge and resources I need to control my fertility. But even for women who aren’t, those comments are judgmental, shaming, and disgusting. And we currently only have four kids. I can’t imagine what it must be like for larger families.
Let’s talk about birth control. Jokes about birth control usage and failure are not funny. We are talking about pregnancy and what someone uses or doesn’t use for pregnancy prevention. It’s personal. And it’s complicated. And it’s anti-feminist as fuck to comment on or shame someone’s lack of education, misuse of birth control, or contraceptive failure resulting in pregnancy. Someone’s fertility, contraception use and/or mishaps are not a joke.
I want everyone on the planet to have access to comprehensive, age-appropriate, medically accurate sexuality education, the full spectrum of birth control, free or low cost abortion care, and evidence-based fertility treatments. I want people to be able to control the fuck out of their own fertility (pun intended). Unintended pregnancy is common (45% of pregnancies in the US). And it’s mostly women (and non-binary people) who are shamed when it happens. STOP.
And since we are on the subject of shaming mostly women. Can we please stop making comments about moms not deserving the kids that they have or not deserving to have more, because they 1. are poor, 2. are on public assistance, 3. are single, 4. have something horrible happen to them like their child falling into a gorilla enclosure.
Statements like – “If she can’t afford a baby, she should keep her legs closed,” “If she can’t watch/hold/live in a well-appointed bubble at all times with her toddler, she shouldn’t have had him in the first place,” or “She should have an abortion/get sterilized/not get pregnant again, because she is poor, unmarried, unemployed, etc.” These conversations always seem to edge over into eugenics land. Classist, racist, sexist…stop! And please don’t mention tax dollars, or I will have to soap box about the working poor, hungry children, and the percentage of the Federal budget that supports an unnecessary war.
Being pro-choice means I support a person’s right to choose when, if, and how to become a parent and how many children they choose to raise and love.
- Choosing to have an abortion is fine.
- Choosing to continue being pregnant is fine.
- Choosing to let another family adopt your baby is fine.
- Choosing to try to get pregnant at any age is fine.
- Choosing to use fertility treatments is fine.
- Choosing not to use fertility treatments is fine.
- Choosing to adopt a child is fine.
- Choosing to not adopt when you can’t get pregnant or can no longer get pregnant is fine.
- Choosing to be a single parent is fine.
- Choosing to not have children is fine.
- Choosing to only have one child is fine.
- Choosing to have five children is fine.
- Choosing to have ten children is fine.
That condom ad is pretty funny, though. Looks like he has a threenager. They’re the worst.
Featured Image: mycargear.com