'Not the norm' doesn't mean 'in the wrong'

I’m going to institute an annual Emily Litella Award for Human Matters reader-mail. I speak, of course, of Gilda Radner’s infamous character portrayed during the ’70s “golden age” of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” Emily would present a detailed editorial argument based from the outset on a foundational misunderstanding. Finally, “news anchor” Jane Curtin would shout “Emily!” Jane would tersely correct the misunderstanding, rendering moot Emily’s entire presentation. To which, Emily would say “Oh,” then turn to the camera and say, meekly, “Never mind.”

On July 9, the Las Vegas Review-Journal published my column reflecting upon the deeper, archetypal meaning of fertility and procreation, then applying these ideas to modern life partnerships/marriage. And I received the following letter, drastically (and I hope fairly) edited for space from its original 954 words:

I found myself in total disagreement on one of your hypotheses. Since it touched on a subject that I have contemplated and sought answers for most of my life, I decided to express my side of your conversation regarding procreation.

You mentioned that you had met women who, from an early age, knew they did not wish to bear children but that this is wrong, by implication saying that “this is not the norm.” You stated that this denial, whatever the motive, needs to “... move through a time of grief... ” and that these feelings must be faced consciously as “loss.” I would beg to disagree with your assessment of the women who choose not to procreate.

I write to you as a well-rounded modern-day woman who is world- traveled, speaks several languages and has always been an observer of the human condition. I knew at the age of 3 to 4, when other little girls were playing with dolls and I was busy building model airplanes, that I never wanted any little babies. Little puppies and animals were my love, next to books, building things and figuring out how things worked.

I was put in a special school for little kids with what was then considered “genius IQ.” I was in college at 11 years old, on full scholarship, and later in Pennsylvania for my MBA degree. At 21, I was working on an actual missile site as an aerospace engineer.

The thought of becoming a mother had no relevance in how I saw myself or my life. I had many wonderful men friends and was married several times. I always explained before marriage that career would come first, and while I loved the concept of marriage, I did not foresee children in my future. As you can see, my views of children and motherhood refute your analysis that any woman who does not want children has to suffer the loss and grieve over this choice.

I disagree with your hypothesis that “these women” have to grieve at not being part of this natural process. Mr. Kalas, I promise you, I have never grieved at not wanting children. Just the opposite, I have been so grateful that I acknowledged that this was not part of who I was and stayed true to myself.

I have had a spectacular life and careers and have done a great deal of good to improve the human condition during my lifetime. I do not feel that my life has been less a life because I chose not to have children.

— M.K., Las Vegas


I don’t know who or what you’re contending against here, but I assure you it’s not me. I neither believe nor did my column say any of what you apparently heard.

Walk with me. Stop me when we disagree.

1. For human beings, fertility and procreation have archetypal meanings well beyond the obvious biological phenomena. Modern people tend to leave archetypal exploration in the unconscious. Consequently, we tend to downplay and even marginalize the archetypal meaning and consequences of reproduction.

We OK so far? It’s just an anthropological observation. Not a smidge of value judgment.

2. It is an observably obvious fact that women are biologically designed to conceive, gestate and bring forth children.

Surely we don’t disagree here.

3. There exist women who, from an early age, know they are not “called” to motherhood. This “knowing” is clear, consistent and well-integrated.

This is you, M.K. You are one of these women. Again, an observation. Women like you exist. No value judgment. Of course women thusly described would have no need to grieve not becoming mothers. For them, it would not be a loss.

4. The women described in No. 3 are not the norm.

You say “not the norm” implies “this is wrong.” Uh ... this is nothing I’m implying, good woman. Rather, your own mistaken inference. “Not the norm” means not typical. Uncommon. Statistically in the minority. Another mere observation on my part.

5. Much, much more common is that women who deny or are denied motherhood report this experience as including loss. Grief.

These women aren’t better than you, M.K. Just much more common.

6. Great love affairs are generative ... or they atrophy and die.

Making babies is just one way to be generative, M.K. Individual couples, not to mention individual men and women, can and do find other, powerful and beautiful ways to be generative. As, obviously, you have in your life. Do we disagree yet?

7. Midlife romances often report a retro-longing about procreation. These couples benefit, I believe, from finding other ways to manifest the generative power of love.

I imagine you have spent your life having to battle ignorant prejudices about your personal calling and choices. Those prejudices don’t appear in my July 9 column because I’ve never held them.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or skalas@reviewjournal.com.