That is the question?
Sadly, for a lot of us, that is the question but it is not a choice. Instead it is a possibility that is thrust upon us by circumstance. And when faced with two incredibly distinct possibilities–neither of which is within your control–it is really hard to see either very clearly.
I know that my fear of NOT being a mother caused me to deeply skew my perceptions of both. My own biggest regret was not being able to approach either path with any kind of clarity. My mother’s story of struggle and loss, our shared menstruation issues and my own anxious mind kept me from understanding what being a mother, or not being a mother, might mean for me.
I consider myself lucky: I achieved the future I so longed for. I am living my dream of being a mother. And yet standing here, on the other side, I see so clearly how misguided my expectations were, in both the ways I expected motherhood to solve all my problems and how I assumed a life without children was not, for me, worth living.
Now, from my place of privilege, I see quite clearly that neither perception was even remotely accurate. Motherhood is not the panacea I dressed it up to be (with enthusiastic support from our culture, let’s not forget) and living childfree is not the meaningless existence I feared. Motherhood is hard. It ravages relationships and tears down self-perceptions. It makes us question ourselves and our abilities. And worst of all, our society presents an image of saintly motherhood that no woman could ever hope to attain. It’s almost like motherhood is a constant practice in failing to meet expectations, both your own and society’s.
And I’m not saying that women who are not mothers don’t face similar, or even symmetrical, challenges, but I do feel that motherhood creates a lens through which our own failings (specifically as a mother) are amplified.
When I was struggling to get pregnant, and especially after my ectopic pregnancy, I could not fathom living childfree. The possibility was a death sentence. I was sure it would destroy me. In my anxious despair I never once allowed myself to consider it in any kind of rational way. It was absolutely the most devastating possibility.
And then I had my daughter and something awoke inside of me and I realized more clearly what I wanted TO DO with my life and it became clear that motherhood was only a part of that; I was suddenly sure I could have found happiness and fulfillment without being a mother.
Of course, it’s easy to recognize you could possibly live without something when you already have it. I honestly don’t know how or when, or even if, I would have come to that realization if living childfree had been forced upon me. Surely it would have taken years, possibly even decades. A lot of myself would have been lost in the struggle to come to terms with my life. I know from the way I viewed our struggle, from the paths I was willing to take to achieve motherhood that I would not have accepted that fate easily or gracefully, or maybe even at all. Maybe the only way I could have come to terms with the reality that a childfree life could be meaningful and fulfilling, was by having children. A paradox to be sure.
And yet, not a surprising one. When motherhood is presented as a panacea, as the be all, end all position of power and influence a woman can attain, it’s not surprising that women struggle with the possibility of living childfree. We have almost no understanding of what that means, of what that life provides. All our descriptions of living childfree our couched in the ways it is NOT like having children.
Oh you can sleep in. You can travel. You are not tied down. You have choices and freedoms that parents don’t have.
This is the way we describe a childfree existence, only as the antithesis of an existence with kids. Just by describing it that way, of only describing it in terms of what it is NOT, we make it that living childfree is not the natural or logical choice, that it is less than.
The reality is most women don’t even think much about why they want to parent. It is just assumed that they will and so they do. This societal assumption is so engrained, so insidious, people are writing books about it. Why Have Kids? is a discussion of not only the societal pressure to have children but the absurd pedestal on which we have placed motherhood and mothers. It looks at how damaging it can be for women who don’t want to be mothers to end up in that role, and how harshly we judge those who admit to not wanting it. I am only half way through the book but the discussion has been thoroughly thought provoking as it challenges preconceived ideas about how we view motherhood and women in general.
And these are discussion we need to be having. It benefits no one to assume women will be mothers, that motherhood is the only way women can lead a fulfilling, meaningful life. There are so many ways for women to be nurturing, creative, loving, contributing members of society. In a world where costs soar and resources dwindle, having children should not be a forgone conclusion. We need to have more resources, more role models, more positive examples for young girls becoming women. We need to talk about how hard motherhood can be, we need to dispel the myth that all women are biologically inclined to have children, we need to make clear that there is happiness to be found on both sides of the divide, so that we can bridge that divide or possibly even, one day, fill it. We need to start seeing each other as women, not as mothers and non-mothers, but as sources of divine femininity. Because all women are divine, whether they mother or not.