Marriage and children are the fundamental principles for life, or at least that’s the argument the traditional archetype of the world holds onto.
As the world and society progresses, these two principles have come to be questioned in many forms. However what stands true is that both are very personal in their inherent nature. To be able to hear an opinion on the matter is quite an intimate discussion. This is precisely the discussion Maxine Trump wants the world to have and shares her personal journey for example. To Kid or Not to Kid, that is very much the question of some women’s lives and Maxine takes us through her personal trials and tribulations in her documentary premiering at DOC NYC on Nov 11th. With an intimate look into her own life and those around her, the discussion becomes a learning opportunity for the public to remember that, though the subject may be a hot button topic; the autonomy of the female body is solely in the hands of the individual.
Coming from a traditional family herself, having children was a common sentiment throughout Maxine’s life. As if it were a natural given in the order of life, first comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage. Sharing glimpses of her life experiences, both career and personal, it’s obvious right from the beginning of the documentary that Maxine had large goals in life that didn’t encompass the same traditional view. Although she found a partner she wanted to share life with and did get married, the thought of having children didn’t naturally cross her mind. Maxine’s story is unique in that she began her journey of questioning in her 40s, to truly understand if never having kids was the permanent future she wants for herself. In her search for some semblance of discussion and understanding of the choice, she comes across Megan, who at a young age can boldy vocalize her intent desire to never have kids. In complete juxtaposition of each other in terms of beginning circumstances, the film through Maxine’s eyes shares the rational and journey of the modern woman’s psyche in a still traditional world. Megan starts her story by sharing that she knew she wanted to be “childfree” in her teens but waited until 25 to truly state her solution: elective sterilization. Throughout the span of three years within the documentary, we see glimpses of Megan’s attempt to sit down with doctors to only be pushed away claiming “she only needs more time”. From one point Megan’s solution seems very drastic until she expresses the health concerns of side effects of most birth control and the lack of a 100% guarantee to avoid unwanted pregnancy. To many it may seem wild when considering the various forms of birth control, however, all these forms come with a growing list of possible side effects. For women with a history of health concerns, these side effects may be more severe and quite frankly are an unfair option for the purpose.
What you see above is only a snippet but watching the full documentary as a young woman, in the beginning, it seemed very dramatic. The production, edit, and final product is seamless and beautifully done however the initial conversation points seemed far fetched. But as the journey unraveled and Maxine brought to light the multitude of examples of women being berated for a personal choice, was truly eye-opening. Coming from a large, somewhat traditional family, the conversation of marriage and kids is a very common one. Seeing Maxine attempt to navigate her own family, being an established successful woman in her 40s, was a point in her journey that caused me more sadness than I expected. As a vocal young adult, I make it a point to express my concerns and thoughts immediately, which includes my family sitting down to hear me express my strong views on marriage and having kids. Bless my parents for always being open to discuss and understand where I’m coming from, but not everyone has this situation. Maxine may not have been dealing with dramatic family dynamics hoping to excommunicate her, however, she was dealing with a dilemma that’s all too familiar in many women’s lives and that is guilt. Pure, unadulterated guilt hitting as hard as possible essentially halting all sense of independent thought. Here’s a woman, aware of herself and goals, coming to a standpoint over an issue that’s only presented as a major dilemma due to the desires of many others. Putting aside a traditional family’s viewpoints, exactly where can one even get proper conversation? Where’s the solace to turn to and hear that the world doesn’t come to an utter end if a woman expresses that they do not want kids? The media, politicians, and published science articles were some of the examples shown in the documentary calling “childfree” women every negative name possible in the books. To deem that a woman is selfish for choosing not to have children continues to fuel the misconceived notion that a woman’s worth solely lies within her womb. Yes, a womb is used to bring in a completely new life to continue the human race. Yes, it’s a phenomenal ability to biologically have, but it is not the only defining quality of a person’s life. There are multiple aspects to think about and it all starts with removing the archaic notion that life is meaningless without marriage and then childbirth. Quite frankly, life is just a journey and it will continue whether you’re married, single, lots of kids, no kids, or just a human with lots of pets. Arguments on this topic always center around some core principles: Financial, Emotional, Physical, and Mental. But let’s really get to the root of what the current state is.
Financial: as the cost of living continues to go up, the cost of having a child has exponentially skyrocketed. An entire market has emerged that continues to create “necessities” for the safe upbringing of a baby costing a parent upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’m only touching on natural childbirth and not even beginning to talk about alternative medical processes to aid in conception.
Emotional: a baby is a growing human that requires emotional nurturing for an entire human lifespan. If a parent is genuinely not invested or ready, a child will not receive the appropriate emotional growth necessary for a balanced life regardless of financial standing.
Physical: there is no one set standard for what 9 months of labor looks like, and the physical effects don’t end with childbirth. Multiple factors, especially physical health, continue to be vital for parents in the process of having and raising kids. Health reasons can begin before this entire notion, some people may be dealing with debilitating physical health concerns that make childbearing a non-feasible option.
Mental: having a child doesn’t end with just 9 months of labor and a delivery. Every day of life changes as every single action of a parent molds and defines the future of a human being. The mental fortitude and readiness of a parent for the unexpected turns of parenthood is essential and if someone can say they aren’t ready, then they’re not.
The documentary realistically shines a light on the still apparent pressure placed on women and the stigma of choosing to not have kids. As we view Maxine’s journey until her final decision, no matter what age or circumstances the viewer is in, it’s all so extremely relatable. Megan wanting to seek a safe medical option for her view of a better life, held back by the personal logic of the medical field. Maxine seeking understanding for a big decision as it’s effects branch out to her family. Every story, anecdote, and historical reference hits close to home, as women around the world have lived or heard their own versions of the same stories. To see this still be questioned in this day and age was at first baffling but then inspiring because the only way to remove micro-aggressions and stigma is to continue to shed a light on an obvious fact. No good will come from forcing someone to have a child, as that impacts two lives in the process. The person to have the only say in such a matter is the individual themselves. We are no longer in a primitive state of fending against nature, or the harsh reality of re-populating after a catastrophic war/disease/unforeseen circumstance. Shakespeare’s quote from Hamlet is iconic, but the question is only shared in pieces: “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them?”. It is a personal journey to evaluate one’s “sea of troubles” and the solution may be to oppose and go against the accepted grain. No matter what, as is highlighted in Maxine’s journey, it’s a personal decision and directly affects one life. Quite frankly at the end of the day, no amount of words can do justice to the overall message: you cannot live your life for the happiness of someone else.