Childfree or childless? Neither, we are Lunàdigas!
by Giusy Salvio – Redazione Lunàdigas
Can the terms childless and childfree express the complex and diverse world of women who don’t have children, without resorting to the usual toxic stereotypes?
From an early age, whether we like it or not, women are used to dealing with the idea of motherhood.
From an early age, we are taught that we are bodies capable of reproduction, machines created to welcome life and then push it out into the world. Rarely does anyone bother to teach girls to get to know their own body, to explore it, to become aware of it, to enjoy it.
Sit properly, mind your language, don’t touch that.
And while future women wander in an hazy sea of lack of self-awareness, oblivious to their own physical (and not only physical) potential, on the other hand, they are constantly reminded that one day that very same body, about which they know very little or nothing at all, will have to give birth to another human being. A destiny – and a duty – towards which women are called upon: by parents, school, media, aunties, neighbours, gynaecologists (men and women), greengrocers and even, sometimes, the dog walking down the road.
If they show any doubts, if they attempt a slightest deviation from the dogma, whether it is a choice or not.
Choice, that’s the keyword.
Anno Domini 2021, and still it comes as a surprise that women can freely choose not to have children, still a privilege in the richer part of the world not struggling with famine, and not even thinkable elsewhere.
In any case and at any latitude, if you do not want children, you are seen in the least as a bit weird, there must be something wrong in your head, in the way you have been raised, in the experiences you have had.
You don’t want children because you are selfish, you want to remain forever a child, you don’t want to take YOUR own responsibilities, or you have been hurt, you have not been loved enough, or you have been loved too much. The answer “I don’t have children because I don’t want them” is usually never greeted with a full stop, but with an endless string of question marks. Questions that often cross the threshold of intimacy, first of a woman and then of a couple, shifting the burden of the decision – and therefore of the guilt – onto the female half.
Men don’t get judged when they do not want to become fathers, their reasons are not over-analysed and, if they are questioned, we often see them withdraw from the discussion, as if they didn’t even know where children were really coming from, but certainly not from their side; so why ask?
Everybody seems to forget that the patriarchal oppression of women, historically, has been based (and still is) precisely on reproductive rights: when it comes to choosing about having children or not, the only players are the women.
And what happens when you can’t choose?
What happens to those women who want children, even badly so, but can’t have them?
If you think that they will only receive solidarity or, at worst, commiseration and pity, you are mistaken.
If children take long to arrive, there starts a long ordeal made of increasingly intrusive and incessant questions. In the middle of a Sunday lunch with relatives, there is often someone who, out of the blue, in between biting into a steak and sipping some wine, asks if you have already tried IVF, or starts lecturing you about the manual of good conception, offering unsolicited advice supported by accurate drawings.
Or else, a colleague bumps into you and asks if that swollen belly is the result of loove or of a terrible weekend feast. Mainly, you feel overwhelmed by a language of failure, even in a medical environment, when you begin to investigate the physical reasons for a conception which is not happening.
And so we hear about infertility, inhospitable and even hostile wombs.
Until recently, if a couple could not have children, the first (and only) culprit was the woman: she was the one being examined, analysed, “rummaged”, undergoing an endless series of extremely invasive and painful tests, often accused of not putting in enough effort (who knows what that means!), of not wanting it enough, of not praying enough (we have heard that too, yes!), only to discover, after months and even years of therapies, after a simple examination of her husband’s sperm, that the problem was his.
Fortunately, today a lot has changed and, when a couple struggles with these types of issues, both partners are examined. Nevertheless, the aggressive medical treatments on women’s bodies have not changed, and neither the use of a language bordering judgment, violence and guilt.
This journey is physically and mentally exhausting, pushing many women to abandon the path of artificial insemination or fertility treatments. New paths await them, made of compromises both with themselves and with life: they must reinvent themselves, living with a desire that can never be fulfilled, creating a new self and nourishing it with the same love that would have been dedicated to a new life.
And this is where the boundaries between women who choose not to have children and those who cannot have them (or who do not want to go though such an ordeal to have them) begins to mingle, bringing us closer.
For many, the American terms childfree and childless, clearly separating women who choose from those who have no choice, are still relatively new. These terms are used, and rightly so, to name something that until the last century dared not speak its name. Just as there wasn’t (and still there isn’t) a term for parents who lose their children, there was no term for women – and men – who did not have children, precisely because this condition was neither thinkable nor imaginable according to nature (patriarchy’s favourite leitmotiv).
Often those who identify as childfree proudly claim their sense of belonging to the term, supporting their choice as the result of a journey of conscious self-determination; women who identify childfree are those who have reached the choice of non-motherhood through the path of feminism, or those who, since an early age, expressed the desire not to have children, and feel hugely uncomfortable to be defined in terms of lack, suggesting an absence as in the word childless.
Like all terms that are too specific and a bit sketchy, however, childfree and childless do not exhaustively define the complexity behind women’s thoughts and experiences with respect to non-motherhood, and risk to create useless divisions rather than constructive discussions. The contrast between “real” and “non-real” childfree women very much reminds us of the ancient patriarchal division between “real” women (that is, those endorsing the imposed model) and all the others, the non-women for whom the stake – at least the metaphorical one – is sadly always round the corner.
But the world of women with no children is not just limited to those who do not want them and those who cannot have them.
There are women who can’t make up their minds, those still waiting for the right person, the right job or the right planet, those who have seen themselves mothers since childhood, but when it comes to take the plunge, they hold back for a year, for two, or forever.
There are those who know they never wanted children as long as they can remember, and those who will never decide and will let life decide for themselves. There are women who never wanted to hear about motherhood, but then get pregnant and decide, joyfully, to carry on with the pregnancy. There are also those who give birth only to regret it afterwards, regardless of how much they desired it and how much they love their children.
There are those who are struggling with terrible diseases and with the fear of transmitting them, and there are those who, simply, trying to navigate through their lives at stake, forget to have children, and think about it only when it is too late.
Finally, there are those who have the tools to undertake a (never-ending) path of self-awareness, working on their desires, and those who don’t and who therefore will inevitably be more inclined to channel their choices through the social diktat, without asking themselves too many questions, only to end up trapped in a whirlpool of incomprehensible sorrow and, often, feeling hostile and judgmental towards other women.
We started our project (just as a reminder for the newcomers) to give voice to women who choose not to have children. From the very start, we realized that the complexity of the discourse on non-motherhood could not be defined exhaustively only with those two terms – not even in our language – as points of reference.
Hence, the need to find a word that not only embraced all the countless possible aspects of not being a mother, but that also maintained an open line of dialogue with mothers, with the precise aim of giving life to a different narrative of motherhood and non-motherhood, as compared to the roles traditionally imposed by society.
This is how the term Lunàdigas was born, a term with its roots in the Sardinian language, a language as ancient as time.
Lunàdigas are the fertile ewes that, for unknown reasons, do not lamb. Some only for one season, some others forever.
And the shepherds – all men – baffled by this mystery, thought of the influence of the Moon.
The very same Moon which, in almost all mythologies around the world, is the symbol of the feminine and its power. So yes, mothers forever or never mothers, with or without children, women free to claim their place in the world outside the constraints of patriarchy… let them believe that we come from the Moon.
Neither childfree nor childless, we are Lunàdigas!
Go to the Living Archive If I can’t have children, I will try to lead a life the way I like it