Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash
"Oh, do not tell me you're tired!"
My coworker loomed over me, scraping at a Yoplait container with fast jabs as she rattled off all the reasons I, as a non-parent, don't have the right to be tired.
"You don't have kids; you wouldn't know," she leaned into my face and breathed heavily with strawberry-scented breath that heralded unknown terrors. "I'm exhausted. It's a nightmare."
She pointed her spoon at me like it was the Mighty Yoplait Spoon of Truth. "So don't tell me about tired."
Ladies, sit down. We need to have a conversation.
Childless women are allowed to be tired.
That's it. That's the conversation. Life can sometimes be exhausting or painful for everyone for a myriad of reasons, regardless of their parental status.
I don't want to approach this topic like your asshole edgy friend who talks over you with stories about seeing the Chainsmokers with this guy I met on Tinder while giving dumb advice nobody asked for, but here it is: saying childless women are not allowed to be tired or in emotional or physical pain because they don't have children is just as demeaning and dismissive as attacking a new mom for using formula instead of breastfeeding.
I don't need to be a parent to be tired.
I have chronic pain from rheumatoid arthritis and polymyositis. And fibromyalgia, trigeminal neuralgia, and chronic migraines. I'm a choose-your-own-adventure of chronic pain. Sharp zinging pain that makes me gag mid-sentence? Oh, yeah. Weird pain that's half pins and needles, half feeling like I've been dragged behind a clown car at a Juggalo gathering? Fuck yeah, let's schedule that shit for all of Tuesday.
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Sometimes that pain all comes together in one giant middle finger, and I end up unconscious on the couch for 16 hours. This isn't a luxurious kidless snooze; I'm losing consciousness from the pain. Being in constant pain that I can't control or predict is physically and emotionally exhausting. Did I stretch, drink water, eat clean, work out, and meditate today? Yes? Great! Here's a thunderclap of pain down your face for no reason! Welcome to the fun zone, motherfucker!
I've stopped opening up to women I don't know well about my chronic pain after the response became some variant of "you've never been in labor, so you don't know real pain."
Dismissing another woman in pain because they haven't given birth is dangerously TERFy and shitty in general. What's troubling, even in these ultra-woke times, is that so many important women in my life have found subtle or not so subtle ways to tell me that my pain doesn't matter because it didn't produce another human being, that my exhaustion is not valid because it's not related to parenting. And it's not just me.
When I worked in medicine, I heard a nurse tell a young girl who had been hit by a car that the pain of her broken pelvis was nothing compared to labor pain. "If you think this hurts, wait until you have a baby," she said cheerfully. Jesus, lady. Read the room.
I understand why parents in general and moms, in particular, are defensive. Maternity care in the US is atrocious, pregnancy discrimination is a huge problem, and childcare is prohibitively expensive. That sounds exhausting, upsetting, and difficult to navigate.
I have respect for the selflessness that is Mom Tired.
And the utmost respect if you're Mom Tired and Autoimmune Tired or Divorce Tired or Sick Parent Tired, Sick Kid, or Special Needs Kid Tired. That shit is valid, and don't let anybody tell you it isn't. Inversely, stop telling your childless coworker, friend, or family member that their struggles don't matter because they don't have kids or haven't experienced pregnancy or birth.
And to be fair, I didn't even enjoy that Chainsmokers concert, and my husband got super pissed that I went with some guy from Tinder instead of him.
While I don't have kids, I'm not out all night drinking wine with my friends, talking about fascinating adult things, and mocking all you losers at home with rugrats. I'm not reading on a beach after sleeping until noon and then laughing like a Bond villain while I have an opulent pee in complete solitude.
Parenting looks difficult. I wouldn't know, but I will give parents space to vocalize their needs and be seen, heard, validated, and supported. As a woman living with an invisible illness and chronic pain—of which I guarantee you, you know many—all we're asking for is the same thing in return.
And hey, I don't have kids. So come on over and take a nap on my couch if you want, the only Cheerios and drool you'll find on it are mine.