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.