In my husband’s family, the idea of having a lot of children is held in high regard. His great-grandfather imigrated from Europe at the turn of the century and had six children, of whom only his grandfather survived. In turn, his grandfather had eight children, all of which survived. Manly himself is the oldest of five; he has a brother, two sisters, and a half-brother. Before we got married, he admitted to me that he would like to have five children, and would prefer to have at least two by the time he was 30. Are you getting a feel for where I’m going with this?
Obviously, Manly’s plan for children has not turned out the way he was hoping. And now, with my BIL and SIL’s pg, the pressure on us has gotten a little more intense. No one has said anything directly to me, but I know that he has been having to answer questions from his father and his aunts and uncles. (Several years ago, right after we got married, one of his aunts almost lost an arm when she patted my belly at Christmas dinner and asked if we were pg yet. I think my response was a lesson to the rest of his family to leave me the fuck alone.)
Now, no one in Manly’s family would have the bad manners to tell us that we are not as worthy or valuable to the family because we don’t have children; in fact, that would be vehemently denied. But the fact remains that I feel like we are becoming second-class citizens, if you will, because we have been unable to produce those very desired grandchildren/great-grandchildren. It’s very slight, very subtle changes in how my in-laws, my FIL especially, treat me and Manly versus how they treat BIL and SIL.
As an example, I’m going to confess something here that I’ve been trying to bury inside. My husband, as the oldest, has always sat at the head of the table opposite his father. The night that my SIL announced her pg, my BIL sat down at the table in that spot. Whether it was unconscious or a deliberate statement, I don’t know. But in the past seven years, I cannot remember any other time when BIL took that place at the table. It was like a knife through my heart to see my BIL usurp Manly’s place physically, almost as a analogy to them taking ‘our’ place as parents of the first grandchild, and it still rubs me raw that he did that.
I’ve been aware that since we’ve been trying, and failing, to have kids, I’ve changed my own behaviors. I’ve become much more of a girly-girl than I ever was in the past. I make it a point of pride to be a good cook, to keep a clean well-decorated house, be gracious to guests, be a hostess at family gatherings, and to dote on my husband. All of those stereotypical actions that you would expect of a 1950’s housewife. At the same time, I’m supporting our household through my salary, working on advanced degrees, going through my internship for my professional liscense, and moving through some pretty high levels of political activity at work. I feel like I need to make up for the fact that I can’t have children by becoming the perfect super mom — except without the ‘mom’ part. I feel like I have to validate my womanhood and my place as an adult by being absolutely without fault in front of my husband’s family.
I really don’t know how the future is going to turn out. But I do believe that we will never really cement our place in Manly’s family structure as being complete adults and individuals unless we have kids. No matter how well we do professionally, no matter how good our relationship is, no matter how far we advance in life, we’ll always be stuck in that limbo of being adult children who have not broken away from their parents. Our needs and desires will always be subservient to those of the providers-of-grandchildren and their offspring. Is it fair? No. But life’s not fair. It’s just what we are going to have to deal with.