When I was a child, a Chinese American born of immigrant parents, I was constantly reminded while under their roof: “Focus on studying. Don’t get distracted by boys.” My teenage mind was driven to excel and always achieve. I obeyed, and for that, I was given a gentle pat on the head for being a gwaai neoi (Cantonese for a “well-behaved” or “good” daughter/girl). As I progressed from college through medical school, that expectation transformed. I am still perplexed by when or how it happened, but at some point I came of age and was soon queried: “When are you going to find a nice Chinese boy/doctor to bring home?” In fairness to my parents, these probes mostly came from grandparents, aunts, or uncles, not them. They didn’t move that goalpost on me. They didn’t even address that goal post at all: we never spoke of dating or relationships at that time, let alone have a dialogue about finding a partner and planning a pregnancy.
Today, I have no children. I divorced and remarried.1 I realize that I am well into a phase when, if I become pregnant, I will likely see in my medical record: “O09.51: Supervision of elderly primigravida.” For a long time, I successfully dodged answering relatives’ interrogations about my love life. Yet somehow the topic of parenthood—and by implication, pregnancy or potentially alternative pathways to parenthood—isn’t too taboo to ask about (“Do you have kids?”). In fact, I discovered several years ago that in some cultures, it is acceptable in a professional setting to include mention of one’s children in a self-introduction. As a childless person, I made light of this unexpectedly personal self-presentation with professionals who I had never met before: “Hi, I’m Tiffany. I’m a general internist. I have two rabbits, Piet and Steffi, and no children.” That usually garnered a laugh, which is all I needed so introductions could move on.
For women, bearing children is a deeply personal choice. So far, I have chosen not to. Beyond that, the reasons are no one else’s business but that of me and my partner, both the responsible parties (parents) in this hypothetical situation. (To be clear, I am always open to a thoughtful discussion with anyone who is struggling with a similar choice—and the stigma associated with it.) One consequence I may have to bear is that I may never become pregnant, should I change my mind now or in the coming years. I accept the consequences of my choice. I also accept that if I were to have an unplanned pregnancy, I believe in my competency and right to decide how that goes.
In a time when reproduction and the individual choices related to it are disturbingly in dispute, I hope that we find our ways to support women’s choices, whatever those choices may be.
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