Tried, But Could Not Stop Myself

Long post warning. And for some of you, this may be tmi, so if you're uncomfortable with womens' issues, you might not want to read to the end. But I hope you will.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you're used to the smorgasbord of topics that you'll find here. No matter what, it always comes back to food, but I certainly don't stay in the food only niche. Try as I may.

Last weekend, I was on the treadmill for hours and watching PBS kept me from getting too bored. I watched Daniel Pink's program, Living on the Right Side of the Brain. It was a great special, that I highly recommend. I'd like to read the book too.

One of the things that Pink talks about is the art of storytelling. He used the example of Six-Word Memoirs. I've heard of them before. Read a few on blogs and heard a piece on NPR. I tried to write one, but there was nothing. Couldn't do it.

A few minutes into his special, I found my six-word memoir. "Tried, but could not stop myself."

I don't know if that's good or bad, but I find that with every big step that I've taken in my life, especially when I was really afraid, this was the impetus behind my getting over the fear. Tried, but could not stop myself.

That's why I quit a very good full-time job with great benefits {*sigh*} in order to go to law school. Tried, but could not stop myself.

It's why I started blogging. It's why I traveled alone on a vacation to Paris. Tried, but could not stop myself. It's why I wrote a fired-up blog post when Governor Patrick was running for election.

And it's why I'm writing this blog post right now. Tried, but could not stop myself.

I don't have children. From when I was a little girl, I always thought that I would. I figured I'd have a biological one and would adopt one. I've always thought about the children in the world that needed families and from a young age knew that I was blessed to grow up with my parents.

In the future I know that I could still adopt a child, but I can never have a biological one. Remember the surgery that I had a few months ago? After a decade long battle with fibroids, and already undergoing surgery to correct it, I decided to end the struggle and had a hysterectomy. My overall health was becoming an issue. So why after months of thinking about whether or not to write anything am I writing now?

Yesterday, I read a blog post called "Not A Woman" where a blogger most eloquently discusses her response to a statement in a video by a "mommy blogger." Below is an excerpt.
But then there was this bit that I found so irritating. So grating. So belittling towards people who have not had children because we will never understand anything ever in life until we have children. See also: Your life is unfulfilled until you have a child. You don’t know what love is until you have a child. You don’t know how to be self-less until you have a child. I also hear that chocolate tastes better, all brownies have pot in them and it rains whiskey. But ONLY if you have had children.

One of the moms - Mindy Roberts - said something that made everything inside of me sink because my God, why can’t women just be women and stop comparing and trying to make other women feel small. Or at least that’s how it felt to me when she said, “…what you were before you had a baby? You were a girl. And now you’re a woman”. And ooh, just suck me in the gut with another implication of how much more new and improved a female becomes once she has given birth. So screw you childless people whether it by choice, circumstance or general inability to get pregnant. Also you chicks who adopted because you felt it was the right thing to do? FAIL. NOT A WOMAN. But if by the grace of Mother Nature you are blessed with giving birth naturally then I hearby dub you an actual woman with super human powers.

She said so many of the things that I've felt, but was afraid to write. So much of popular culture makes us feel like failures as women, because we have not had the experience of childbirth. Why is that? I'll never have children, but I'm still a woman. Sojourner Truth put the silly notion to rest that only certain females are women.

Then some mothers break down motherhood even further by criticizing whether they work or not. Why do we do this to ourselves? Life is hard enough.

On this blog, I know that I might sometimes come off as all rainbows and cupcakes. Mostly, I do it to try and stay positive myself. Writing this blog uplifts me first, and hopefully it uplifts those of you who read it too. My legacy on this earth will not be children, so any lasting impact has to come from my actions. Maybe it will be something that I've written. I don't know. But let me try to end this post on a positive note.

I wrote a post about how I loved the book Eat, Pray, Love. The writer, Elizabeth Gilbert, doesn't have children and has spoken about the pressure on women to be mothers.

I like her terms, "the Auntie Brigade" and "sparent" for spare parent, when she talks about the consistent 10-20% of females in any human settlement who don't have children. Below is an excerpt.

"She says when you examine any human settlement in any culture, any time, you’ll find a very consistent 10 to 20 percent of females who don’t have children. It’s so consistent, that she has concluded that it’s a genetic necessity to have a cadre of adult, caring, compassionate women who do not have their own children. She calls it the “Auntie Brigade,” and she likes to think of herself as a “sparent” — a spare parent."

So let's acknowledge the true and deep love given and received, value, and worth of all of us in the world, whether we are parents or not. And if this post was too long for you. I really wanted it to be shorter. Tried, but could not stop myself.

{Updated March 6, 2009} Mindy Roberts, the "mommy blogger" mentioned above, has apologized to the original blogger {Heather B} in an apology post of her own, to me in the comments section of this post here, and she has been making blog rounds apologizing to other bloggers who were offended by her statement. I accept her apology, but do feel that this issue is bigger than just her statement and still needs to be discussed, even though she has retracted it.

Anali's First Amendment © 2006-2009. All rights reserved.
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Eva said…
You are very brave to blog about this. I don't have children and probably won't either. It's tough, for the reasons you've outlined. I feel like I'm not part of the rest of the human race.

And, I loved Eat, Pray, Love. Such an inspirational book!
Anonymous said…
Beautiful and poignant post Lisa.

The notion that a woman is a failure if she cannot reproduce is dehumanizing (a woman is not a baby factory) and should be an antiquated one at that but I guess lingers on to some like superstitions of old.

And the job of mother doesn't end after the baby emerges from the birth canal. That's when it really begins.

I don't really know you Lisa, but what I have read from your blog and twitter, it seems that you have a big heart and are tremendously nurturing to all people who come into your circle whether you are related to them by blood or by circumstance.
Mindy said…
Hi Lisa,

You've missed most of the burning at the stake, and may not know that this has all been put to rest. It was a huge misunderstanding, all explained and heavily commented and accepted by Heather of

I was horrified when I saw the final cut and realized how that statement sounded, despite:

1. the fact that I was re-enacting an overly simplified conversation I had with my young children, not making a political/gender-based/us vs. them statement, and

2. the fact that I never, ever said anything about women who don't give birth being in any way less than one who has.

I very nearly did not have children myself. Years of infertility. Raised in a feminist scholar tradition, with public health experts thrown in. I am the last person to praise a woman able to conceive in order to put down one who can't. The dichotomy and the imagery did however, get the point across to my daughter, upon whom I am impressing the wisdom of being married and in a stable relationship before having babies - not like on Zooey 101, which is one of her points of reference.

So please flog me for the one thing I said, but not for the despicable stances others have taken in the hundreds of comments I have read about my remark. I wrote to the producers at midnight last night and asked them to take that quote out of the sidebar because it sounded awful to ME.

Anyway, I ask that you check the source and see if there's any benefit of the doubt due - I couldn't believe that dozens of people were burning me in effigy and not one of them had come to ask me wtf I was thinking.

This is the last time I hope to speak of this. It's unthinkable to me that most of the readers behaved so cruelly, *intentionally* mind you, after I said something *unintentionally* that I immediately regretted upon hearing it in the edited version - to the point where I asked it to be removed and publicly apologized.

My post:
Lara said…
I LOVED this post, Lisa. Your blog is a highlight in my day.
Mosilager said…
It must have been really hard to write about this. Beautiful post, very heartfelt and warm. Thanks for sharing.

Most of the time we only hear about stigma for men if they are perceived to be impotent, so it's good to hear the female side of it too.
Nance said…
Oh, dear. I'm sorry about all of the painful things that you've discussed here, mainly because they were brought upon you through no fault of your own.

Don't apologize, EVER, for the length of your posts. Your blog--your forum.

I appreciate this thoughtful, thought-provoking post. And I completely agree with your sentiments.
Lisa Johnson said…
grey street girl - Thank you for such supportive words. I'm not sure that I'm brave. I just felt like I had to write something.

chris - As always, I so appreciate your comment. It was very uplifting and kind.

mindy - I accept your apology and thank you for stopping by. As I stated in my comment on your blog, my post and I think Heather B's post was about far more than just your one statement, which was more of a tipping point.
Lisa Johnson said…
lara - I'm so glad!

mosilager - It's was so strange that this post came to me so easily. For months, I debated back and forth whether to write, but the time never seemed right and the words didn't flow. I guess when it's right, you know it.

nance - Thanks so much for the support as always. I really appreciate it.
Mindy said…
Hi Lisa,

Thanks for your reply. Momversation has asked me to do a followup video to talk about this issue: the misunderstanding and that larger issues. I'll try not to f**k that one up. : )
Lisa Johnson said…
mindy - I think that's a really good idea. I'll be looking forward to it.
Suldog said…
Thank you, Anali. This has been a pet peeve of MY WIFE for many years now. We do not have children, and she becomes both depressed and angry whenever she hears such drivel about not knowing what it's like, etc. She is a tremendously loving aunt to our nieces and nephews, caring for them in many ways that their parents sometimes did not.

The gall of such people, to somehow believe themselves superior life forms, knowing more about the human condition, just because they were lucky enough to have a sexual encounter wherein their egg was penetrated by sperm! As another person here said, it only begins then. The real job, and proof of worth, comes while raising the child. And, from what I've seen (and, in many of these instances, heard) there are boatloads of mothers out there who don't know their asses from their elbows.

Sorry. I'll climb down from my soapbox now.
gelci72 said…
This is one of my favorites among your posts. I LOVED it and thank you for writing it.
Lisa Johnson said…
suldog - Thank you for sharing and for stepping up on that soapbox!

t - You're welcome and thank you SO much for everything.
Enyasi said…
What an amazing post! No one has the right to define or measure another person's experience, whether it is being a mother, artist, or what have you. I hear far too many people say things such as this and the truth is, we all have different experiences and walk different paths...but the ability to love and be loved is open to everyone. GOOD for you for calling this out.. and thanks so much for your brave, courageous and positive post.
Lisa Johnson said…
enyasi - Thank you! It means a lot when you comment. : )
Anonymous said…
Lisa, I read every bit of this meaningful post and never considered the length of it :) You are so strong for sharing these thoughts with us. You have much to offer this World. I admire your openness.
Lisa Johnson said…
jen - Thank you so much! I really appreciate your comment. ; )
So So Simple said…
That was a moving post. People should not be judged by their ability (or not), or their desire (or not), to have children... just as we must not judge by colour, size, etc.
Let's just accept your friends as they are. It makes the world a better and easier place to live in.
Good post. Cheers
Lisa Johnson said…
so simple - Thanks Gilli! : )
amisha said…
i am so glad that you wrote this and had the courage to post it here. it is so disheartening to hear the way that women can tear each other apart for the different choices that we make... hear hear to more solidarity and support, and the recognition that we are all worthy whether we have kids or not!
Lisa Johnson said…
amisha - Thank you for the support! ; )

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