I read an article earlier this week about women who regret having children. I’ve also just read an article by a woman who is childfree. The thing that struck me as the common theme in the two pieces was ambivalence. You can be a mother and be unsure of the rightness of your choice, just as you can choose to be child-free and sometimes be uncertain. There are no absolutes on either side – apart from the child itself presented as either a burdensome presence or an ever present absence.
The world doesn’t deal in nuance in complexities though, particularly not online, and particularly not when it comes to a person’s reproductive choices. There is little room for the mother who loves her children with all her being, but would give anything to regain the freedoms of her childfree self. Neither is there room for the woman who has chosen a childfree life to sometimes experience pangs of regret or longing. Are we are all one of these women, at some point?
(As an explanatory aside here, I’m talking explicitly in this post about reproductive choices in their most basic form – quite literally whether a person chooses parenthood or not, as this is the content of the two articles I’m referencing. The only matter on which there is no room for ambivalence is a person’s right to make their own reproductive choices.)
In her piece, I Am Childfree But I Am Mostly Human Brittany Brolley writes,
What I can claim is that I’ve always been a bit jealous of both women with children and women without.
Yes : I am envious of women who take motherhood in their stride without the accompanying angst and guilt that seems to charactise modern day motherhood (does she exist?). Likewise I am envious of the freedom of the childfree. This is because what binds us is our womanhood – we are connected through our life experiences as women, without the need of a child at our core. We do not exist only in relation to our reproductive capabilities, or the presence of a child.
Brolley writes about the guilt she feels at not always being able to fully embrace her childfree status. Maternal guilt is oft written about. Is guilt an inevitable consequence of womanhood? Guilty for not wanting for kids, for having them, for wanting time away from them, guilty for not being happy about not wanting them?? It is both ludicrous and harmful. If a situation and its exact opposite can both induce feelings of guilt, then clearly the expectations which are thrown at us are entirely arbitrary and unattainable.
In her piece, ‘Anyone shocked by women who regret motherhood isn’t listening,’ Amy Gray writes,
When a woman tells you she regrets becoming a mother, she’s not telling you she dislikes her children. She’s telling you she dislikes the job.
Women who speak openly about their ambivalence towards motherhood are often demonised as monsters who loathe their children and presumed to be suffering with some kind of mental illness. Given the strains of modern day parenting , it shouldn’t be surprising ( as Gray points out) that few mothers can talk about their experiences in only rose tinted terms.
Mothers are suffering because of the way motherhood works in today’s society, even though they have been pedalled the myth that it should be their ultimate goal. Women who are childfree are made to feel less than, because they have not fulfilled their duty. Not only this but, as Brolley writes, they have to be just the right amount of happy with their choice: too much and they are heartless child hating harridans, not enough and ‘ why don’t you just have a baby already?’
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. We know this already. Reproductive choice should be granted the same freedom of ambivalence as other choices. Sometimes I wish I had only one child, sometimes I long for a third. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with joy and contentment when I look at my children, sometimes I feel suffocated and constrained.
To paraphrase Brolley, I am a mother, but I am mostly human.