They Call Me A Breeder?

Today is the last Monday of the month of August. For ten years, the last Monday of the month of August meant only one thing: back to work. In the districts I worked, teachers report that day to prepare for another school year with students. Eight years ago, on August 30th, I woke up before my alarm. I opened my eyes and smiled, thinking about seeing my teaching friends again and visiting my classroom. And then I remembered. I didn’t have a classroom anymore. My teaching friends were thousands of miles away and I would not be joining them.

Instead, ten years of a career I loved was neatly stored in four boxes. And the only conversations I would have that day were with my then four year old son and ten-month old baby.

I had made the decision to not return to work that fall for much the same reason I had decided to move back home to the Northwest. I was overwhelmed balancing the demands of my career with my family. Spending half my salary on child care seemed fool-hardy, especially when my time with my family was always caught in the demands of grading papers, papers, and more papers.

So I left all that and started over. And what I realized that beautiful Monday morning was that starting over meant losing a big part of your identity.

I had no career, no friends, no income. But what I struggled with so mightily that morning was the sense I had no identity other than “mother” to my children and “spouse” to my husband. Without a career, what was I?

My conversations with adults had two options — things my kids were doing or stories about students I once had. Neither of these topics were any more interesting to others than the price of gas or the weather, so my conversations got smaller and smaller, shorter and shorter, until I mostly stopped talking to others. After all, people talk about what they do. I didn’t do anything very interesting.

As you can imagine, it was a very dark time in my life. My depression bloomed nearly out of control and I was miserable. I didn’t regret leaving the classroom and the stress of teaching, but I did regret doing so had left such an empty space in my identity.

I bring up this period of time because I have learned a new thing about myself. Apparently there are folks out there who call me a “breeder.” I’d heard this term bandied about before but only last week realized that to some folks, it applies to me too.

Me. Reduced to a breeder.

The first time I experienced the term was in reference to a family with lots of badly behaved kids out in public. I imagined the person use the term breeder because of the number of kids and I moved on. After all, I don’t have lots of kids.

Then I heard it used to describe a mother on welfare. I’ve never needed public assistance so I moved to the next story in my news feed.

Some gay folks I know have used breeder to describe straight couples who have kids. They smiled and used socially accepted tools to convey they were only joking so I didn’t get offended.

But fast forward to last week when I realized that there are people who use breeder to talk about any woman who talks about life with her kids. For some, just to be female and to have children is to be a breeder and therefore be somehow less than the men and women who do not have biological children.

I did some rudimentary web-searching on the term and opened quite the can of vitriol. According to some folks, based on the fact that I have children, I have no other merit — all I am is a breeder. I have had my humanity stripped away simply because I reproduced. The fact that I have three children makes me even more disgusting in their eyes; the taint of being a breeder increases with every child a woman has and with every temper tantrum that child may have in public. And the term is used regardless of the people’s character or life-path.

So I guess I’m a breeder. I’m a breeder because my children play a significant role in my life. I’m a breeder because I don’t have a career. I’m a definitely a breeder because I am a woman who had three children. And those children have probably all had a temper tantrum in public.

I wonder about my children. Are they somehow tainted by my breeder status? Are they somehow less worthy because I had three of them and have talked about life with them? Is there a chance that I will outgrow my “breeder” identity as my children grow-up and leave home? Perhaps if I had more hobbies, could I set down the mantle of breeder given me?

The stretch marks across my belly will fade faster than the knowledge that I have been dismissed by others simply because I chose to live my life differently than they did.

Thank you for trying to give me an identity. However, I chose to not take it. You may call me what you like, but I choose to see myself as something else: a person.

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10 thoughts on “They Call Me A Breeder?

  1. Never been there, exactly, though I can relate to not knowing what to call yourself when not engaged in an active career (other than being me).

    I had no idea that the term Breeder had come to be used with such derision. When/where I grew up the term Breeder was used to describe a woman who had a certain kind of pelvic structure, as in “Breeder Hips” Note: Women were the only ones I knew who seemed to use this term, so if it’s sexist blame them.

    Those of us familiar with your work thing of you as anything but just a breeder.

    Thanks for sharing a real thing this morning. 😉

  2. Please don’t let others’ comments make you any less of the spectacular human that you are. Chalk the insensitivity up to “general ass-hattery” and revel in your beautiful children and husband who loves you. The world can only drag you down if you let it. Let’s rise above and sow goodness and happiness in the world. Start by hugging your kids. 🙂

  3. John and LMK, first off, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

    I think what bothers me so much about the use of “breeder” these days is that a) it is used mostly by women to describe other women and b) is shows how comfortable society is with denigrating others based on criteria that is short-sighted or mean-spirited. Why aren’t men called “breeders” too? Why do women tear down other women when so much of society is doing such a good job of it all by itself? Don’t women have enough body-hatred as it is?

    I suppose I’m sensitive to this because I have three kids and not the more politically correct “zero population growth” family of only 2 children. It makes me want to say to folks, “Meet my kids. Get to know them and see the many things they offer this world. Now tell me which one deserves to die simply because there are three of them.” I know that isn’t the actual premise of folks using the term “breeder” but the attitude is still there – that some women have too many kids than what is good for all of us.

    I’ll be quiet now…think I might spike my afternoon coffee with some kahlua and pretend I’m in a much more tranquil locale. 🙂

  4. There are always those people who think they lift themselves up by bringing others down. Ignore them. They aren’t worth your worry. Being a mother is an important profession but look at all the other things you do, this blog for one.
    From another breeder, writer and mother.

  5. I was actually thinking about the amount of careers you are currently juggling: writer (published), Education director including teacher at church, Youth Group leader, comedian, and what else have I forgotten???

  6. What Stephanie above said. Who cares what people who have to label others in order to make themselves fee superior think, anyway? A great big raspberry to them. :-p

  7. Kristina, you are a very accomplished, intelligent, and remarkable woman. However, it is difficult for women to not be bruised by what others think and say about us. Take heart in the fact that things ARE improving–slowly but surely because women like yourself “say it like it is.” Thanks.

  8. Any remark that sums up a whole group of people with one word that denigrates some element of their nature is more of a reflection on the one saying it. Narrow-mindedness and self-loathing may be elements of their own nature. Sorry, but that’s how I feel.

    God bless people who have children freely, willingly, and wrap them up in love, security, and celebration for who they are. As for women who have some time mid-day while their kids are in school, hallelujah! Just had a parent stop in after school today and offer her help, including walking with us on local field trips, something I love to do with my class. Her daughter happens to be brilliant, friendly, helpful and well-rounded. No accident, I’m sure.

    I also love your layers of revelation, too, Kristina. Reminded me of that Pastor Neimoller saying about, “First they came for the Jews…” in a distant way. Probably we need to just call people on their judgements right out of the box. Even if we say something benign, like “I certainly don’t feel that way.” “That doesn’t seem fair.”

  9. Finally got around to poking at this, in most military circles (and thus my vernacular) a “breeder” doesn’t apply to just a female (usually it applies specifically to a male, or more often to the family unit), and does not denote a positive or negative tone. It simply means you have kids (though it may often be used as an explanation for why someone isn’t out having fun or might try to get off work more “Jim can’t come drinking, he’s a breeder and the wife’s out of town.”). For me it means more along the lines of Not being able to be selfish/have fun because they have other responsibilities (IE, kids). As for people who use the term in a derogatory way, they should probably recall their parents were breeders too.

    –Jak

  10. They say children are a gift. But whoever they is failed to explain children aren’t gifts in the wrapping-paper-covering-a-huge-box-of-chocolates sort of way. It took me about one second as a new parent to realize life with kids isn’t a Johnson & Johnson bubble bath commercial. It’s more like a full contact sport. The only gift is what you learn by getting knocked around.

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