Are You Really Tired or Busy if You Don’t Have Children?

It is always interesting to peel away the layers of just how much there is to deal and cope with when you’re going through infertility. Just when you think you’ve navigated this road long enough to have seen it all, you uncover another layer. One topic that’s kept coming up for me over the past few weeks is the idea of owning your time when you don’t have children yet.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about giving oneself permission to pause. I shared how nurturing it was for me to take some time out, disconnect from the usual stresses to just allow myself some breathing space, as well as to create distance from fertility related pressures. Taking a break to pause did me so much good. I felt really refreshed, grounded and hopeful as I entered the New Year. In January, my husband and I did our goal planning for the year. I got back into my work flow and was excited for the opportunity to get started on some new writing projects. Around this time, a friend reached out to me concerned that I’d been too quiet. I was somewhat confused, as I hadn’t ghosted and gone completely quiet. I’d still checked in periodically, sent my holiday greetings and dropped off gifts over the festive season, and also shared a picture or two of the beautiful scenery from our New Year’s getaway. There was something about the tone of the conversation that didn’t sit right with me and at first I couldn’t put my finger on it.

I soon realised something. I was being reprimanded, so to speak, because I wasn’t as available as I usually was, and the judgement around how I was spending my time boiled down to one thing – I don’t have children. It became clear that there is an unspoken double standard. Why did I need downtime if I didn’t have the same levels of exhaustion that someone as a working mother had? And was I actually busy when I didn’t have the responsibility of child rearing?

I understand that being a mother is challenging just as much as it is rewarding. I am constantly inspired and moved by the incredible mothers who I know. I see how much love, sweat and energy they put into their families. I, myself, want to and am trying to become a mother. Yes, perhaps I “don’t understand because I am not a mother” …yet. But it raises a few questions for me. Like, why a childless woman’s degree of tiredness or busyness, or her right to her time and to space is sometimes diminished? People who don’t have children can be busy with different things. And, why are there comparative levels of suffering where one weighs more than the other? Infertility has a weight too, with the longing, heartache, anxiety, depression and other difficulties that come with it, yet too often that is still overlooked. Though, it shouldn’t feel like a competition either.

 In an article featured on medium.com, writer Yael Wolfe explores her personal experience of how “culture invalidates the lives of women who don’t have children.” Wolfe speaks candidly about the expectations placed on her to show up to constantly support, assist and take on responsibilities for family members regardless of how busy she is, simply because she is the sibling who doesn’t have children, saying that sadly “the road doesn’t travel in both directions.”

Wolfe says:

“It’s weird to me that it feels like I’m going out on a limb to insist that childless and childfree women are busy, too. I feel like I’m supposed to think it’s sacrilegious to say such a thing — to assume that I can (and should) take up as much space in the world as a woman who does have children. But the older I get, the more I witness the insistence on this strange competition and the more I insist that we let it go.”

From conversations with other TTC sisters in my community, I gather that many of us experience some variation of this in one way or another – having your boundaries and your time disregarded, and expectations placed on you that don’t seem to be reciprocated. There is an expectation to be understanding and supportive of people who have children when they are overwhelmed, yet the same understanding or grace is not offered.

I’ve been asking myself, how to change this, but the truth is that I’m not sure. At times I even feel guilty for finding it frustrating. On one hand, I do believe in a sense of community and giving help where it is need. I make myself available and consistently show up as often as I can. However, at the same time I believe that women like me do deserve some consideration too. So, I am letting myself release any guilt around focusing my time on what is important to me, to rest when tired and to prioritise my goals and interests when the moment calls for it. My responsibilities, stresses and interests may look different to that of someone else, but they are mine.  

How do you protect you space when you need to? Has anyone made you feel guilty for being tired or busy when you don’t have children? How do you find your balance between being supportive and nurturing your own needs?

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