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All I did was say that I needed to use the one computer in the office designated for staff use. My co-worker turned my request into an attack on her and her pre-school aged child who were eating lunch at the desk the computer sat on. She told me that she knew I didn’t like kids, but I had no right to be rude to her and her kid. “I didn’t think I was being rude, but if you thought that, I’m sorry,” I told her. I could have brought up the fact that her kid had an open container of BBQ sauce and a soda dangerously next to the computer’s keyboard. I could have pointed out that there were other places in the building where they could have eaten. The weather was nice enough that they could have had lunch outside. I didn’t go there. She grabbed her kid – whom she had a habit of bringing to work with her most days -- and stalked off.
Later, I was mad at myself for attempting to explain myself to her. I had told her that I’m a proud aunt, but she didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t owe her, nor a few other women in the workplace who whispered about why I wasn’t part of their mommy club, an explanation about my life. That day was the end of me making it my problem that others were uncomfortable with me being childfree.
Being a childfree woman in a society that relentlessly picks on women who don’t regard motherhood as a high calling is hard enough. Add being a Black woman to that, and the criticism multiplies. I was berated by a Black man on a message board for being one of “those women who refuse to get with a man and have kids”. Several other men of color on that board grumbled that Black women who do not embrace motherhood as being race traitors. It was the old “we have to outbreed everyone else in order to keep from being stomped down and out” stuff. I have been given the side eye by Black men trying to get my number who find it odd that I never wanted to be pregnant, and think I should be thrilled at the possibility of playing stepmother to the kids they already have. I’ve even had white people tell me I was an “exception” being a Black woman, particularly a single one, without children.
But the rudest remarks have come from other Black women. Of course, there are women in other races who believe motherhood entitles them to a permanent spot on everyone’s red carpet. But some Black women believe motherhood grants them the title of queen of the universe as well. It is viewed as having power, and any woman who didn’t visit the maternity ward, well…what value does she have? Who is she? A Black woman at the church I used to attend started a conversation with me about her kids, then abruptly cut the dialogue off. “What do you know? You don’t have kids,” she told me as she walked away.
My late mother attempted to shut me up after I complained about the behavior of some kids I had encountered. “Okay, we all know how you feel about kids,” she curtly remarked. My younger sister, also deceased, had given birth twice but had given both children up for adoption, another act that some in the Black community do not condone. Having missed out on being a grandma, she pinned hopes on me that I would get pregnant, but I wouldn’t budge. By that time, I had become comfortable with the way things were. Kids did not fit into that.
“What do you do all day?” is another common that has been asked me. The question particularly irked me when coming from another female co-worker. I had a job, so obviously, that was something I was doing for a majority of the day. It never mattered what my answer was, whether I was filling the rest of the time doing volunteer work, running a side business, being a caretaker to a relative, or pursuing a hobby. Whatever I was doing was never as important as running after kids every day, all day.
Someone brought a baby into another office where I worked. All of the women nearby rushed over to coo over the baby. I stayed in my cubicle because I had some tasks that needed to get done. One of the women snidely commented in front of everybody and loud enough for me to hear that I must not like babies because I didn’t join the crowd. The comment was clearly meant to shame and cast a negative light on me. I fumed, but I did not take the bait.
But that last time I was insulted during the aforementioned incident around the staff computer, I’d had enough. As my co-worker walked away with her child, I followed her, letting her know I did not appreciate her rudeness to me. When she kept grumbling about, “I wouldn’t have done you like that,” I snapped, “Whatever, chick,” and ended the conversation. I stopped talking to her, and I kept watch on her gossip buddies, who turned cool against me when they learned of the fallout. When she became pregnant again a few months later, I offered no congratulations. After all, I didn’t really have a right to comment on her condition like she had no right to assume things about me.