On the first of what was to be a four day personal development course for women, one of the attendees (let's call her Jane) dared to speak the unspeakable. Hush descended so fast over the room that Usain Bolt might've felt inclined to give it a standing ovation once he finally caught up. To this day I'm convinced that even if a pin had dropped half a world away in some remote Chinese province I would've heard it in the ensuing silence.
The other women appeared stunned by Jane's confession. Many exchanged discomfited glances - seemingly undecided about whether to be shocked, appalled or just plain baffled - so their faces finally settled for conveying all three. As expressions go they were pretty priceless. But in true British fashion folk were quick to remember their manners. The silence lifted and stiff upper lips loosened. Good-natured chatter about jobs, dreams and our respective reasons for coming together in sisterly solidarity followed.
Admittedly, the response to Jane's declaration wasn't female camaraderie's finest hour, and all these years later I can still remember that to her credit she (Jane) defiantly held her own. Her crime? To utter the words: "I don't want children."
Every so often I find myself thinking about Jane and the events of that unforgettable morning. The story of Holly Brockwell - the 30-year-old who is adamant she doesn't want kids and has fought for, and recently won, the right to be sterilised - has led me to once again wonder about Jane, namely if her wish to be childless has remained steadfast.
The truth is there are many more Jane's and Holly Brockwell's out there, women for whom having babies holds about as much appeal as wading up a literal s**t creek without a boat or paddle. For these ladies, life is not defined by the children they have or will have. Nor is their identity determined by motherhood or the domesticity associated with it.
There are men who feel exactly the same way, of course. Yet their "childless and proud" assertion fails to meet with similar outcries of outrage. Why?
I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps because the choice women make interferes with one of the most sacred of universal conventions. After all, we ought to want to be mothers. Give birth, nurture and love unconditionally. Provide men with heirs to thrones. Secure the survival of future generations. Opt not to play ball, disregard these gender expectations and long-standing "norms", and I suppose the natural reaction of people who simply can't fathom why is intimidation, hostility or outright vitriol.
Something Ms. Brockwell is undoubtedly accustomed to these days.
For my part, I do want little chicas and chicos (my own and adopted). Not to satisfy expectations or to offer a man heirs to his throne, but purely because I want them. Whilst I never pretend to understand my female friends' choice not to have children - just as they never pretend to understand my desire to have them - I do believe that if a woman truly doesn't want to be a mother and is guarding herself against pregnancy, surely that's the best thing for all concerned: the woman, society and the yet-to-be conceived child?
Some (myself included) question what if one day a woman awakes and regrets her decision. I recently read one forthright reply: "I'll adopt!" I'm pleased she is so sure. Not everyone is. For years a friend has been unwavering in her conviction that she doesn't want to be a mother. It recently transpired that she will struggle (medically) and possibly never conceive the very children she never wanted. Panic suddenly set in and my friend has since acknowledged that she may want babies after all. It's been both painful and fascinating to observe the transformation in her outlook, and I think it's this experience which has rendered me extremely uncomfortable with the near finality of female sterilisation. But regardless of how uneasy I may be with the notion of a woman opting to be sterilised to avoid falling pregnant, I'd never dream of waging war on her - online or otherwise. What right would I have to do such a thing?
So perhaps whatever side of the baby fence we find ourselves the best way forward isn't as complicated as it might first appear. I would suggest that it's not necessary to understand the other side. Rather, simply respect that we all have a right to choose a side - whether it be to have or not to have.