Inclusion and Exclusion in the Parenting Clan
A few days ago, a TSA agent in rural Alaska asked me how many weeks along I was. This was a first. Most of the time people can’t tell I’m pregnant or they are embarassed to ask in case I’m not. It was nice. I felt seen, and I would be dishonest not to admit that this is something I have longed for–to be seen and welcomed as part of the parenthood clan of humankind.
That this longing to be part of the parenthood clan was a painful one arose both from the very personal and simple and timeless struggle of wanting children and not yet having them, and also from a frustration with our cultural rhetoric around parenthood and the inclusion/exclusion it creates. We have all heard countless times phrases such as: “There is nothing as meaningful as being a parent” or “you can’t know love until you are a parent” or “you don’t know anything about kids until you become a parent.” I have heard these things through my lens of living a life in which, since I was eight years old, I have been dedicated to ending child abuse and interpersonal violence. I have heard these phrases as a schoolteacher working 80 hour workweeks for my struggling students; as a sexual violence educator for kids and a victim advocate; as a social worker/epidemiologist specializing in interpersonal violence, child trauma, and healthy child and youth development; and as the person at the party who is super happy playing games with the six-year-olds. I have always loved children and felt completed by having them in my life and making a difference in their lives–whether as a professional or auntie. And I know I am not alone.
There are countless aunties and uncles–of the blood and non-blood type–and adopted grandmas and grandpas, foster parents, step-parents or partners, teachers, social workers, policy-makers, pediatricians, and so many others who DO have wisdom about children and who DO have meaningful connections with and love for kids, and who live lives rich with meaning. (Not to mention people whose lives are rich with others kinds of meaning as well, such as great social or scientific innovations, community-building, etc.) Some of these people never become parents. Some won’t become parents for a while. I reject a discourse that says that these people’s work and love is less important than those who biologically bear children.
Before this pregnancy, I had to reject that discourse on ethical grounds, while also feeling wounded and excluded by it and reminded of what can seem, when steeped in it, like a biological failure to do this meaningful and seemingly easy thing. I rejected that discourse and yet longed to be a part of this group of biological parents, longed to join in this magical experience of creating a being and giving that being life through natural birth and then raising that being well and being there for him or her until I die.
So, now I am a part of that group. I am going to be a real live mama in 25 – 27 weeks. Oscar really is going to be a dad. And it feels great for so many reasons, one of which is this naming into the community of parents and this sharing of pregnancy with my pregnant friends and my midwife mama and her practice. But even as I am welcomed in to the clan (and I should make clear that I have the beautiful souls in my community who welcomed me in as a mama-to-be and an auntie and person-who-cares-for-children well before I ever became pregnant), even as I am now beginning to be SEEN as a pregnant woman and mama, I remind myself to not make this clan exclusive. I remind myself, even as I discover the wonders and joy of nurturing a being inside me and, in the future, as I discover the wonders and joy of being responsible for a child, to not place myself above others in some imagined hierarchy of meaning in life or ability to care for children.