Childless aka useless – a notion that needs an abortion

By Nguyen Thi Diem Trang   April 27, 2022 | 04:48 pm PT
Childless aka useless – a notion that needs an abortion
A pregnant woman. Illustration photo by Shutterstock
I was back in my hometown after many years and enjoying a Tet feast when a relative made a tasteless, tactless, thoughtless comment: "Childless women are useless."

I am a married woman in my 30s. Both my husband and I decided not to have children. His family doesn’t seem to mind; at least they show no overt disappointment. They have neither interfered with our decision nor told us about their own expectations. As long as we are safe and happy, they are fine. My family was disappointed at first, but made peace with it, eventually, accepting that it was our life and our decision, which had to be respected.

I’ve been living continents away from home for a long time. Contacts with family in Vietnam are mostly confined to phone calls during Tet (Lunar New Year festival).

So it was a thrill to be back in my hometown and partake of a traditional Tet meal.

Till this woman, a distant relative, spoke her mind.

"You don't want a child or you can't have one? Tell the truth. Do you have a disease? What kind of woman doesn’t want children? Childless women are useless," she said.

I tried to stay calm, but couldn’t hide the anger in my retorts. My father had to step in and restore some calm.

Is this how people think nowadays? That a woman's value lies in her ability to bear offspring? How many times has my family been forced to respond to whether I've given birth or not? My mother has had enough. She now tells people that I have difficulty conceiving.

I understand how people can be nosy in Vietnam. While some chalk it up to "caring too much", others are blatantly insensitive and go to the extent of launching personal attacks with their in-your-face questioning and snide comments.

There are couples who want children as their greatest joy in life; some believe having children strengthens family bonds, and some think they need to have someone to care for them when they become old. All valid reasons, but childless couples have their reasons too, like underlying trauma, saving resources, concerns about overpopulation and risks of war and disease. Some choose to be childless just because.

I agree that families make up society, and that each society expects its members to live by certain traditions and standards. But that is no reason to judge or interfere in the decision of having or not having a child.

It's hard to be a woman in most societies. But the oppression goes too far when a woman unable to bear children are considered "faulty goods." And it goes too far when women like me who choose not to have children, are considered "useless," as if being a baby-making machine is the only role that matters.

Such attitudes have disappeared among many urban populations that have become more open and progressive, but the majority of Vietnamese are still deeply caught up in gender biases.

Discrimination against women seems hard-wired into Eastern cultures over thousand years, normalizing what are actually highly problematic behaviors. I believe it is high time that women are respected as we are – human beings, not just wives or mothers to be. Our society can progress only when women stand side-by-side with men and are not judged by society for their personal decisions.

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