What gives you the right?

I like to think that I’m not a judgemental person. But I know, when it comes down to it, I make snap-judgements the same as the next. And I know I have no right to make those judgements, to use my values to measure someone else. So I try not to. I try not to let that self-righteous streak creep-in, try not to assume. And I really try not to hurt.

I don’t like social chit-chat, I don’t like talking about nothing to strangers. I will talk for hours with friends, but I’m a bit shy with people I don’t know. And I do know that the only way I will get to know them is to talk to them, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. Unless of course, that stranger is willing to talk politics, and then I know the conversation will flow. Or if it’s a work context, then I’m the ringleader in a group. But social conversations with strangers are not ‘my thing’.

The conversations I hate, are the ones that go like this: the initial chat about the weather/traffic/what brought you here, then we move on to jobs/careers. Which very often leads to the next question – do you have kids? Funnily enough, that progression doesn’t happen as often with my husband (who is henceforth called M, as I hate the phrase ‘my husband’). Asking about his career is rarely a precursor to whether he has children. But as a woman, it seems to be regarded as a natural conversational progression, jobs to kids. When I say no, no kids – the response can (thankfully, not always) be an instant judgement: ‘career woman’. Sometimes this is said straight-out, sometimes it’s more subtle. But, the judgement is that I chose my career over having children. I’ve never heard anyone even allude to having made a similar judgement about M, I’ve never heard ‘career-man’ being muttered as judgement.

The conversation can then take a number of different turns, I’m sometimes told that I am not fulfilled as a woman unless or until I have a child of my own, or the conversation could follow the turn that I haven’t ever really loved anyone (unless or until I have a child of my own), or, my own particular favourite, that I couldn’t possibly understand the importance of the health system/education/whatever you’re having yourself, until or unless I have a child of my own.

I usually paste an inane smile on my face throughout these conversations. I do have enough social skills to know that the reaction I want to give is not a socially acceptable one. It is not acceptable for me to scream, what gave you the right to judge me? Why do you assume that I chose one over the other? Why do you not make the same assumption of M.? When did womanhood become equated with motherhood, that I am not a real woman until I have procreated?! Of course I have loved. And believe it or not, I do understand how important the health service is. I understand it at an academic level, it is part of why I am politically active – I believe health services should be related to your health not the depth of your wallet. And I have used the health services far too often not to understand it at a personal level. And why do you assume it is a choice that we do not have children?

I know it is not socially acceptable to scream this out, with choice expletives dropped in at will. And believe me, I have an impressive range of expletives. So instead, I smile and try to change the subject. And I try not to show how their judgement has hurt. I bite my lip and don’t tell them that without my career, and M.’s, we couldn’t have afforded the unsuccessful cycles of IVF and all the heartbreak that goes with it.

And the times that the conversation doesn’t contain those judgements, doesn’t hurt so much, I’m grateful. And after I say ‘no, we don’t have kids’ we move on to something else.