Bearing Life: Women’s Writings on Childlessness
The Feminist Press, 2000
Rochelle Ratner, Ed. Reviewed by Rhonda Chittenden
For any woman who has considered the prospect of remaining childless, for those who think such women are fundamentally flawed, and for women who remain ambivalent about the issue, the anthology Bearing Life: Women’s Writings on Childlessness is recommended reading. Editor Rochelle Ratner has collected an array of voices, spoken through essay, memoir, poetry, and fiction, to reflect—and ultimately affirm—the complex and often contradictory experiences of women who, by choice or circumstance, are childless. Delivered with aching regret, fierce self-assurance, biting sarcasm or casual acceptance, the writers confront compulsory motherhood with the often-ignored truth that many women’s lives are complete without children.
Although competing for attention with a decisive diversity of successful writers —including Margaret Atwood, Rita Mae Brown, Sandra Cisneros, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Linda Hogan, Irena Klepfisz, Joy Kogawa, and Amy Tan—Joy Williams’ “The Case Against Babies” delivers historical perspective, trend analysis, and pop cultural criticism in a tight acerbic diatribe reminiscent of the cynical sassiness that many so-called third wave feminists have perfected in venues such as Bustand Bitch. Arguing that the planet will soon face its demise due to human overpopulation, she especially attacks Western women who struggle with infertility, but through the services of “hot-shot fertility doctors” achieve pregnancies that manifest in twins, triplets, even quintuplets and beyond. “When you see twins or triplets do you think awahhh or owhoo or that’s sort of cool, that’s unusual, or do you think that woman dropped a wad on in vitro fertilization, twenty-five, thirty thousand dollars at least . . .?” Possibly the most offensive piece to more sensitive readers, Williams also communicates the absurdity of unlimited and unquestioned human reproduction at the cost of environmental integrity.
As for other contributors, in “The Deferred Dream,” Tory Dent writes with tenderness and guts about the impact of her HIV infection on the possibility of pregnancy and motherhood. In “Tie Me Up, Tie Me Off,” Jodi Sh. Doff describes how years of hard living led her to the gift of tubal ligation for her own 30th birthday. Mary Mackey, while armed with the response, “This is a Question I Do Not Answer,” lists the series of interrogations with which she had to deal for being a woman without child. And, in “From Black Woman Artist Becoming,” bell hooks tells of her choice to commit to her full potential as an artist rather than risk its stagnation by becoming a mother.
Cumulatively, these stories of infertility, abortion, disinterest, custody loss, and miscarriage combine to illuminate the often-invisible circumstances of childless women, women whose lives, when addressed, are at most despised and at least cause for suspicion in a culture that, despite the advances of feminism, still equates womanhood with motherhood. As evident by the list of further reading provided in the book’s closing pages, many women are challenging that equation; Bearing Life adds to their testament.
Rhonda Chittenden, MS, has worked in the field of women’s reproductive health for 14 years and has been a sexuality educator for eight. Persistently inspired to make feminism visible in her Midwestern city, she has organized local feminist conferences, film festivals, fundraisers and, most recently, a shameless variety show, with more in the mix. Her teaching interests include female sexual subjectivity, LGBT cultural competency, and abortion. She loves Indian food, big trees, and listening to old school rap with her cute ass partner.