Shut Up And Go Away: Your Stories About Fighting The Pressure To Have Babies

A Sister of Mercy nun pushing six babies in a six-seater pram along Clacton Promenade, circa 1937. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images) (Fox Photos/Getty Images)

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The unrelenting, inescapable pressure on women to have children comes from family, friends, strangers, culture and, for some, from within.

Here at LADYist, we've fielded more than few letters about this from readers across Southern California (and stomached these pointed pressures ourselves).

"There's this intrusiveness on women, and women's reproductive everything," said Claremont-based psychologist Katayune Kaeni, who specializes in women's mental health.

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There's an assumption that people have a say about what women do with their bodies, she says, and that has consequences. In some cases, the stress from that constant pressure to have children can lead to anxiety and depression.

Here are a few of your stories.

LY | FAMILY MEMBERS "DISMISS MY DECISION"

Ly Taylor, 31, is an accountant who lives in downtown L.A. She said it took her mom a long time to accept that Taylor was never planning to become a mother. "She didn't take that too well when when I told her four years ago that I will not have children," Taylor said.

Taylor's mom told her she was missing out, not just on motherhood, but on womanhood. "My mom views it as a joy, as responsibility of being a woman. And I view it as a burden," she said.

Taylor's mom lives in Vietnam and their relationship is long-distance. Taylor was resolute in her decision, and her mother eventually came around.

"She kind of understands, especially when she comes here and she sees my financial situation, my living situation," she said. "She understands it might not be the best choice for me."

Taylor's extended family is less understanding than her mom. "They dismiss my decision," she said. Many tell her, "Oh, you'll turn around."

Taylor believes her Vietnamese culture plays a big role in the pressure she's felt. She said asking about whether a woman is going to have a kid is as common a topic of small talk as chatting about the weather.

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COURTNEY | I FEEL LIKE A "HUMAN INCUBATOR BOX"

Courtney F, 29, lives in Irvine. She said the family pressure to reproduce makes her feel like a "human incubator box." She added, "I have always known I want to be a mom, but that doesn't mean that I only want to be defined in one way as a woman."

Courtney said resisting pressure is about having agency over her own life and body. "I would be the one carrying the child. I would be the main caretaker. If the person in charge of all that and responsible for all that isn't, isn't feeling good about it, or they're feeling pressured, it takes away from the life-altering, wonderful experience that [motherhood is] supposed to be."

CORAL | TALKING ABOUT MY MISCARRIAGE "DOESN'T SHUT THEM UP"

Coral Barriero of Monterey Park is Mexican-American. The 44-year-old said the pressure to reproduce has been all around her for years and she think it's cultural.

Three years ago, her grandmother confronted her over a tamale breakfast to tell her she should hurry up and have a baby.

Barriero said she's noticed that most of the people who try to convince her to reproduce are Latina or Asian American women. "Now that I'm older, I hear it more from strangers," she said. "They'll never take no for an answer."

Barriero tells people she tried to have a baby and miscarried. "I always think that that's going to shut them up, and it doesn't shut them up," she said.

Losing a pregnancy was emotionally hard, Barriero said, but it led her to recognize her true feelings about motherhood. "It took all this to realize that this wasn't our path. This isn't what we wanted to do in the first place, it was just the pressure."

Sometimes, Barriero said all the stress about having kids made her question herself: "Oh, my God. Did I let down my lineage, my family?"

Fortunately, she said her mom always taught her that it was her choice. "Since we were children, my mom said being a mother isn't for everybody," said Barriero. She's glad she was raised with that attitude.

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GENICE | "THE OLDER YOU GET THE MORE THE QUESTION COMES"

Genice Brown, 33, is from South L.A. She works in the child development field and is studying sociology; she wants to be a social worker. Brown hasn't had kids, but she said she wants them.

"I want to have them when I have them, not feel pressure to have a kid," she said. "The older you get, the more the question comes, and comes, and comes ... It's constant. Ask me questions other than, 'When are you having a kid?'"

"You start to see families form around you. It makes you start to feel like, 'Am I less of a woman because I'm not producing children?'" said Brown.

Women feel that way when they see friends having kids, she said. It comes up when life doesn't turn out quite as you planned. But, Brown said as she's matured she's changed her perspective.

"You're not less of a woman," she said. "You bearing children does not identify you as a woman. That's not your passage into womanhood."

HOW YOU SHUT IT DOWN

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It's no one's business what you do with your uterus, and some of you told us that's exactly what you tell people who try chiming in.

Some of you said you try to explain your preferences or financial challenges.

Many of you told us you straight up ignore probing questions, or deflect them with humor.

Ly tells her family in Vietnam that she can't have kids because she's far away from the help she might have if she still lived there. "The most effective way for me to shut that down is that if I'm here, nobody's going to help me," she said.

Genice tries to politely encourage people to stop asking the question. "It is a rude question, because you genuinely never know what they're going through," she said. "And most of the time, people honestly say, 'Oh, I never thought of it that way.'"

THE PRICE OF PRESSURE

The familial and cultural pressure comes with "inherent shame," Kaeni said.

"It's multiple family members. It's every time they see you ... It's the lingering question ... sometimes to the point where people will start avoiding social situations, family situations so they don't have to answer those questions ... People are shamed sometimes for not wanting to have kids, or they're ashamed because they can't," she said. "And if they're not getting that publicly, from other people, they may have an internal experience of shame."

All of this shame can make a woman feel isolated. That can be toxic for a woman suffering from infertility or who has lost a pregnancy. And the stress from all the pressure is most likely to affect a women who doesn't feel she has a support system, or has other underlying stressors,

"There's just this extra layer of sting and pain that comes with that," said Kaeni. "Not everyone's going to want to open up and say, 'Well, I have a medical condition, or I've had multiple miscarriages.'"

If you are experiencing anxiety or depression for two weeks or longer, for any reason, it's time to get help from a mental health professional.

IF YOU *DO* WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT

Kaeni wants to remind you that "there's no way to prepare yourself to meet everybody else's needs." She suggests you work to let go of other people's expectations and consider what you want.

If you're preparing to have a conversation with, say, your mom who's emotionally invested in having grandkids while you're perhaps eyeing a 20-year solo trip around the world, keep these strategies in mind:

  • You don't have to talk about it. Ever. Or until you're ready.
  • Consider the relationship dynamics and anticipate the flashpoints.
  • Define your boundaries. What is open for discussion? What is not?
  • Decide what support you need. Is there a loved-one you can debrief with after the conversation? How will you take care of yourself after a hard conversation?

And if you're the one bringing it up with someone else, remember that "we're generally not very careful with our language when it comes to these kinds of questions," said Kaeni.

If after all of this you still insist on talking to someone about their plans to procreate, ask yourself these questions first, and then ask permission first to even have the conversation.

  • What gives me the right to ask this question?
  • How well do I know this person?
  • Am I curious or making assumptions?
  • Am I being open minded?
  • Can I be supportive of her decisions?
  • Can I curb my agenda?

A version of this story was on the radio. Listen to it on KPCC's Take Two.




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