As a fellow member of Team No Baby, this book was recommended to me by a married friend who regularly suffers the prodding of complete strangers on the topic of her reproductive plans. I feel for her, because if there’s one benefit to being 34 and unmarried, as I am, it’s that no one asks me when I’m planning on having a baby. Most people puritanically want you to have a man for that first. Still, as someone who finds all questions on the status of her love life intrusive and doesn’t pay any heed to the ticking of the ol’ biological clock, I’m right there with her, rolling my eyes at anyone who deigns to suggest I need to get a move on.
I Can Barely Take Care of Myself (2013) is comedian Jen Kirkman’s memoir on her life sans baby. She starts in her childhood, takes us through her awkward post-college years, her marriage, and her divorce, all the while maintaining a steadfast anti-baby stance. While I appreciate having another woman on our team, I have to say I was less than enamored with her story. There is actually much less about the trials of being a childless female than I expected. Sure, the absent baby is often the butt of jokes about kids who want to know why God would kill their grandparents or about women who breastfeed in public or about the general grossness of little humans, but there is little introspection on what it means to not be a mother, to choose not to breed, to live in a society where we’ve had more options than ever before and still be reduced to your reproductive potential.
It’s unfortunate that the best way I can describe Kirkman’s take on childlessness is as whiny. I understand the temptation to respond that way, after the thousandth “you’ll change your mind” or “there’s still time,” but I would have preferred a more mature, even sociological look on motherhood and what it means to eschew that choice. To not be a mother is to be a part of privileged society, one that has access to education, contraceptives, modern medicine, and a little thing called women’s rights. We do not have to be married to ensure economic security. We can plan when, if at all, we become pregnant. We can pay to have someone take care of us in our old age. These are not rights bestowed on every woman worldwide, nor even every woman in America. While it would be nice to not have strangers try to convince us we won’t truly know love until we change a few hundred poopy diapers, we do have more to celebrate than Kirkman lets on.
I suppose it’s unfair of me to expect an erudite discussion on such an important topic from a comedian merely recounting tales from their life. (Although, Aziz Ansari sure got the job done!) But, in sharing the personal, are we not expecting some sort of connection with a larger group? Do not we not do ourselves a disservice to examine how we fit into some greater puzzle? Do our experiences and opinions not carry import for those whose voices cannot be heard? Kirkman may not have asked to represent for the legions of non-mothers, but in a time when women are still reduced to that binary – mother or not – it would have been nice to read something that acknowledges what it means when we choose “not.”