Last week I saw a primary-care physician for the first time (thanks, Obamacare!) since I was in college and was covered by my parents' insurance. As a 34-year-old person who has never been to the hospital, doesn't take any prescription medication and makes under $15,000 a year, insurance was not really a priority for me over the last eight years, so I went without it. I had dealt with a few minor emergencies here and there — like when my flip-flop blew out Jimmy Buffett-style and I needed a tetanus shot — by basically going under the table through various medical channels. Other than that, Planned Parenthood and the Boulder Valley Women's Health Center aided me with the necessities.
Feeling like I now had a regular doctor with whom I could actually develop a rapport and discuss my health concerns was a relief — except for the part of the appointment when she started interrogating me about what form of birth control I was using. Keep in mind that, yes, I was there for a check-up and well-woman exam; however, I'd never once asked about birth control. Yet she made no fewer than three attempts to get me to agree to an IUD. When I refused all three times, the conversation shifted drastically. If I wasn't going to commit to regular birth control, then I'd better be talking to my partner about having kids because time was running out and I was of mature maternal age now and... wait, what? Excuse me?
Western medicine is amazing. It saves lives and creates healthy outcomes every single day. The world needs medical care, especially when it comes to women's health and accessibility to birth control without stigma or judgment. But in the almost-decade I went without insurance, I was fine. I had dealt with some minor health issues homeopathically and lived to tell the tale. I had also had my share of experiences with various forms of birth control and, long before I met this doctor, had made the decision about what was best for me. But all of a sudden I'm sitting naked save for this drape of a giant paper towel cut into the shape of a "gown" on an examination table for fifteen minutes and a doctor I just met wants to put me on drugs or make sure I get pregnant ASAP. I left feeling totally weirded out, now overly concerned with the fact that I might die soon or my uterus might fall out or turn into sand if I don't have a baby.
This past weekend, I attended a brunch with my mother for this women's volunteer group she's a part of. Five minutes after we sat down at our table, I was interrogated by one of the other mom-types in the group. She wanted to know why I wasn't married, and said she couldn't believe that none of my mother's daughters was married yet. I mumbled something about it being 2015 and that women didn't have to do that sort of thing anymore to survive, but her comment stuck with me. A stranger had decided that at 34 years old, I was too old to not be married.
My mother is and always has been a feminist — in fact, she is much more of a feminist than most of the women we were sharing brunch with, something I gathered from the statements made at the end of the event when awards were being given out. During the event, women in the group were being recognized for their contributions to this service organization — but only being quantified by the archaic ideas of womanly worth. Each time a woman stood up to be recognized, we were told how long she had been married, how many kids she had (and she got bonus applause if her kids were married and had kids) and how much devotion she had to her church (this was not a religious event, by the way). I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone.
I sat there thinking that, according to this group's criteria, my own mother isn't even enough of a woman for them: She's divorced, has four unmarried children with no kids and doesn't belong to a church. She may have worked forty to eighty hours a week for the last 41 years as an emergency-room nurse and she may be a kind, selfless saint of a human being who loves her family more than anything — but she wasn't a woman of note. And neither was I.
Sometimes I forget that I live in a feminist bubble where I surround myself with powerful women of all ages and walks of life. Then I get slapped into someone else's reality by people who don't want to know me at all, they just want to know if I'm married and if not, why not. Or they are a doctor who wants to know why I am not thinking about having kids right this very minute. What a weird world they must live in to think that these things make or break a woman.
After these two incidents, my head was spinning. What if I was doing it wrong? What I was supposed to marry my first boyfriend at nineteen, as I was once told? What if I was too old to have kids? What if I died doing exactly what I loved and knew that every choice I made was the one that was right for me? What if I wasn't defined by my attachment to a man?
On a recent morning after these weird social interactions had me questioning my very existence, the head witch of my household (my boyfriend and I live communally with three other people in small house) embraced me and said, "In a few years can we grow weed in our basement and raise kids together in our communal home." That sounded wonderful to me — if it is in the cards at all. Coming from a person who knows me well, understands the relationship I'm in and gets that I am more than just a person capable of doing laundry and making babies, I respected her comment. Will it happen? Who knows? The future is pretty open-ended.
Don't get me wrong; I love that some of my friends and family are married and that some of them also have children. But those things don't define them either way to me, and I think it's fair to request that I am not defined by these things, either. Being legally or spiritually bound to someone or sharing in the creation or adoption of another human are not arbitrary notions — these life choices are a big deal and I respect that. But whether or not I participate in them doesn't make me or my life any less valid.
It's 2015. It's time to stop asking people (especially women) why they aren't married. And for goddess's sake, quit assuming that a person is dead inside because they don't have children. There's room on this planet for every kind of us.
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