The dreaded words that accompany weddings and births hang in the air just waiting to find a well- meaning mouth to trip out of. In the wake of Nuggets arrival I’ve been hearing it a lot from the older ladies at work who are convinced that I want children and just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I work in a company that is about eighty percent women, a significant portion of whom are committing to their babymaking years in a big way. In the six months I’ve been at the company there have been two gender reveals and one baby shower already, so they might be forgiven for assuming that I’m similarly inclined. I haven’t exactly trumpeted my stance on the issue: one does not typically announce to ones co-workers that one has committed to a long term IUD with the same freedom that one might announce that one has committed to motherhood. One of these things is considered an Overshare.
So in spite of my concerted efforts to the contrary, I’m assured that I’m Next. I’m pretty sure that they’re just teasing, so it doesn’t bother me as much as it might bother other child-free women who want their choice respected, damnit. I choose to believe that it comes from a well-meaning place and that it has no influence over my actual personal choices.
But having made that particular personal choice, it does take some of the fun out of enjoying somebody else’s new baby when everybody sees a question mark hovering beyond the tail end of ‘child-free?’ while you see only a full stop: ‘child-free.’ I feel a constant need to explain myself: that I can enjoy babies, particularly newborns, without needing one of my own. I think I can be pretty good with kids without having to be a mother.
Partly, I think the problem is a matter of semantics: we just haven’t evolved the language to describe a non-mother nurturing figure besides ‘aunt’, which works well for as much it can cover, but is still shaking off the stigma of the Victorian era ‘spinster aunt’ as a category of stern, prim, dried out old ladies. I think I’ll be a pretty good aunt, but there’s no word for aunting-instinct. I mean, there is: ‘materteral’, but even I had to look that one up. It’s not exactly an SAT vocabulary word the way ‘avuncular’ is. No one comments on a woman’s materteral instincts. Men can be paternal or avuncular, but language-wise women are maternal or nothing at all.
It seems like a small thing- it’s just a word after all, but without a word to stake out a claim to that middle ground between mothers and old-timey spinster-aunts the decision to stay child-free becomes a hard line decision that requires a lot of explaining and discomfort. I’d rather just enjoy being materterine. Or materturtle. Hmm… This has potential.