There's a pretty dramatic scene in the very first Mighty Ducks movie wherein Coach Riley attempts to cut down his former star player, Gordon Bombay, by sneering, "You're not even a has-been, Gordon. You're a never-was."
The never-was, of course, is the worst of all failures: someone who has an innate talent or gift for something and never puts that gift to use. A pile of lost potential. A big waste.
In today's Guardian, Polly Vernon describes the reaction she's received after publicly announcing that she does not intend to have children. Many people, apparently, would like to make Ms. Vernon feel like a never-was, as she has the parts and the potential, but "selfishly" chooses not to use them. To some, she is not Polly Vernon, woman making a choice, she is Polly Vernon, selfish, heartless, baby-hating bitch.
"I stated my case. I listed my reasons, even though it annoys me that the child-free have to justify their status. No one ever asks a parent why they have kids. But I explained that I like my life as it is, my lifestyle, my career. I explained that I had felt this way for 30 years - and that even though all the things that were supposed to change my mind (love, a long-term relationship, pressure from breeding contemporaries) had happened to me, I remain resolutely childless," Vernon writes. The reaction to her piece, she says, was "terrifying. Emails and letters arrived, condemning me, expressing disgust. I was denounced as bitter, selfish, un-sisterly, unnatural, evil. I'm now routinely referred to as "baby-hating journalist Polly Vernon."
Like Polly Vernon, I also do not intend to have children. And as soon as I wrote that last sentence, I felt the need to qualify it with the following truths and explanations: I adore children, I work with children frequently, I plan to continue working with children and children's organizations, who knows how I will feel re: having children in 15 years, there are mental illness issues in my genes that I'd rather not pass on to children, etc. I don't discuss this around women attempting to conceive, I don't talk about with anyone, really, except my fiance, who is on the same page, and the one time I did let it slip around my mother she warned me never to speak of such things, as I may regret it later. This is standard for any woman, I suspect, who makes any statement or decision regarding childbirth (or lack thereof) ever.
Women having many children are criticized for being selfish, stupid, neglectful, a burden on the system, etc. Women who have the "ideal" number of children are criticized for deciding to go to work, deciding to stay home, deciding to have children before a certain age, deciding to have children after a certain age, etc. This is nothing new and nothing surprising, and though I understand Vernon's frustration, I also think that even if Polly or I chose to have children, we'd still be faced with a truckload of judgmental bullshit from people who have no business interfering in our choices.
"Childlessness is going to be a feature in many of our lives; we need to start seeing it as a choice, a valid option, rather than a failing. We certainly need it not to be taboo," Vernon writes. Being childfree does not, contrary to popular belief, have to equal a never-was. Does it "take guts," as Vernon argues, to say that you wish to remain childfree? Sure. But perhaps, in some weird way, the shock and outrage aimed at Vernon's announcement is actually validation that this choice doesn't remove us from women who choose to have children as much as place us in a strange state of solidarity with anyone who has been challenged, questioned, or judged based on what they choose to do with their reproductive system.