In case you missed it yesterday, Jennifer Aniston wrote what can only be described as a BADASS essay in the Huffington Post taking on the tabloid “journalism” culture of the decade-long Aniston baby watch. Maybe you don’t like Aniston. Maybe you think that the paparazzi is a part of fame that she “signed up for.” Whatever your feelings towards celebrities sharing these sorts of essays, one thing is true: we live in a world that almost universally reduces a woman’s success and worth to her choice whether or not to marry and have children.
I don’t have paparazzi sitting outside my house right now, but I‘ve been in a long-term, unmarried relationship for more than seven years now. And, about two years in, people started asking the question, “when are you getting married?!” Only they weren’t asking Vin this question, just me. They might ask him about work, the Red Sox or fantasy football, while I get the marriage inquisition. Twice I’ve been asked this question by relatives at another relative’s funeral.
We live in a society that generally lacks manners and the respect for other people’s privacy so much so that this question is seen as harmless by so many. It’s not. It’s a damaging way of shaming women for not living up to their worth as it’s currently defined in this world. It hurts. It makes us feel less than.
When I haven’t seen someone (usually family) for an extended period of time, and one of the first things they ask is “when are you going to finally get married?!” Instead of: How’s work? What are you writing about these days? Any trips coming up for the Foundation? How is your race training going? Their question marginalizes and diminishes all of these other things that make my life rich and full, beautiful and fulfilled to call out what they believe my life is lacking.
As the years wear on, the conversation has reached a near-hysterical pitch for some people who feel the need to repeatedly point out my age, “you’re over 30 now!” Or play on my maternal struggles, “but I know you want children!”
Some of you are probably even thinking, “but Anna we know you want children because you’ve written about it on more than on occasion!” I have. And I’ll continue to do so both personally, and as an advocate calling attention to an issue that far too few doctors address with chronically ill patients. I’ll continue to demand these conversations become part of patient care until the day that pediatric specialists address the fertility risks of certain medications with their adolescent patients. Nothing less is acceptable.
But, and I can’t believe I even have to say this, wanting children and not having them does not make my life any less worthwhile or whole. And while the struggle is all consuming at times, more often than that I’m overwhelmed and overcome by how rich and full my life has become over the years.
I’ve found my voice as an advocate and a writer. I’ve found strength as an athlete challenging this insidious disease. I’ve found hope in other patients working tirelessly on behalf of themselves and one another. I’ve found my own version of faith in this universe which I believe is still magic – even on its darkest days. I’ve found that even old love continues to grow in new and unexpected ways. I’ve found meaning in my life as it exists today. I’ve found abundance in all of this searching and finding. I’ve found I am enough.
And I share all of this not to convince you that I’m happy and fulfilled despite being unmarried and childless, but because I have three little nieces and I want them to grow into women that feel enough. I want them to know that their version of enough is theirs alone. I want for their happiness to be free of the expectations of others. The only way that this happens is if society stops reducing women to nothing more than their marital status and their wombs.