Last night, I dreamt Lisa and I finally scored tickets to the Oprah show. I bought a new dress, flew to Chicago, and chatted excitedly with the women seated around me before the show began, trying to figure out why we were there. Was it the “Favorite Things”? Were we “Women Who Rock”? Several minutes into Oprah’s opening, it dawned on me that a hideous mistake had been made. From my seat in the second row, I looked over my shoulder and locked eyes with Lisa, who was a few rows back. We were there for the early taping of the “Mother’s Day” special.
The assistant producers apparently had googled “mother” to find guests, but did scant research to further qualify us. At least the two of us. I prayed there weren’t other women suffering through this like we were. The theme of the whole show was women getting up to congratulate each other for being wonderful mothers, to celebrate how special they were, to cry and laugh and share stories about their beautiful children. I was in hell. And I was stuck in the middle of the row. There was no graceful exit, so I choked back hot tears and stayed put.
I considered calling over a staffer to explain the mistake so that maybe I could make a statement, contribute something to the show, but I couldn’t imagine sharing my experience of being a childfree woman with a more unreceptive audience. Then, the assistants came out to hand every guest a Mother’s Day bouquet. I passed mine along. So did Lisa. If I’ve learned nothing else from years of watching Oprah’s show and reading her magazine, it was that I need to live my truth, and my truth was that I was not going to suck it up, accept the flowers, and pretend to be a mother just to fit in and make nice for everyone else.
I watched with my heart in my stomach as the staffers grouped together on the side, scanning the audience, trying to determine which two guests didn’t yet have their bouquets. I overheard one say that this would ruin the audience shot at the end, that every guest HAD to hold her bouquet. I tried to sit lower in my seat. I hoped my neighbor wouldn’t rat me out. The stress of it all finally woke me up.
As far as nightmares go, this isn’t the worst one I’ve have. But two hours later, as I sit writing at my desk, I’m still shaking. I am childfree by chance and circumstance, and I’ve been in situations where I’ve been stuck in a group of mothers and felt the need to play along. I’ve also been in situations where it’s been okay to speak my truth and have it heard. I don’t know why I had this particular dream scenario at this time, and I’m pondering its significance. I think, maybe, the message is that I need to better acknowledge and celebrate the beauty of my own life and the unique roles I play. I think, maybe, I need to go out and buy myself a beautiful bouquet.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She takes issue with the idea that society still largely considers childfree women anomalies.