If Motherhood Scares The Shit Out Of You, Read On

Illustrated by Isabel Castillo.

Welcome to Mothership: Parenting stories you actually want to read, whether you're thinking kids or not, from egg-freezing to taking home baby and beyond. Because motherhood is a big if — not when — and it's time we talked about it that way.

The “you do you” ethos of Gen Z has officially won out. Just think about it — you can be a brand if you want, or embrace the feminism of being unlikable. Choose your pronoun. Get married. Or maybe don't. Practice radical self-love or body neutrality. And the same goes for motherhood: There are Tiger Moms and Montessori moms. Co-sleeping moms and cry-it-out moms. Adoptive, foster, and step moms, and of course dads.

While we could argue there are limitless choices of how to parent, the expectation of becoming a parent remains a societal sticking point — babies, as cute as they are, divide us into the haves and the have nots. And we at Refinery29’s newly debuted Mothership want to change that: Motherhood is a big IF, after all, not a when. It's time we talked about it that way.

Among us are women who have kids and who don’t; who are parenting accidentally or still puzzling over whether to try. Some have miscarried — literally between our walls — or struggled to conceive for a decade. So while some parents debate the minutiae of motherhood, seeking control over what is ultimately totally beyond it, we want to talk about what else is going on...like, really going on.

Illustrated by Isabel Castillo.

In 2016, Refinery29 polled over 3,000 women ages 18 to 49 in cities across the U.S. and U.K. to find out where having their first child landed on a list of important life goals. It was number 16 out of 20 — behind setting financial goals (No. 1), buying a home (No. 9), having fun (No. 14), and travel (No. 15). Does that mean these women are opting out of motherhood? Probably not. (Pew Center analysis of data from the National Center for Health Statistics says there are more than 16 million millennial moms in the U.S.) But it does reveal that while what it means to be a parent — or a self-possessed and successful woman — has evolved and expanded over the years, the stories portraying these milestones and expectations have been sluggish to keep up. So it’s hard to envision what being a mom will even look like before we’re faced with a first smear of meconium. (Baby’s first poop! And now you know.)

Source: R29 Her Brain on Digital, 2016.

We know you. We know you have so many pursuits vying for your time and attention, and having kids is not just expected anymore. Your value isn’t entirely wrapped up in if, when, and how you parent. You’re putting money in the bank to finance the future you want and putting eggs in the bank to take the pressure out of dating. But still: Women who don’t want to have children are told they’ll change their minds someday. The stats bear out that these conversations will come up, and we want to keep having them — but without all the expecting.

Because when we prize one woman’s lifestyle as #goals, we are telling ourselves and others that anything less, that doing things differently, is to have failed. We’re sorting one another into these identity groups based on breast or bottle, C-section or “natural,” working or staying home, childless, childfree, child-averse, meanwhile forgetting we’re still just people continuing to be who we are, before, during, after, and to the left of having kids. And, importantly, that some of us are on a path going in a completely different direction.

Source: R29 Her Brain on Digital, 2016.

If I may sound like a total mom for a moment: You stop that right now. That’s enough! And that’s why Refinery29 is joining this conversation: to change it; to make space for adoption, surrogacy, for leaning in and opting out; for single and LGBTQ parenting, for staying home, for pregnancy losses and terminations, and the ways this can all complicate partnerships rather than always sweetening them. To explore why there’s so much genetic testing; the prevalence and yet somehow, still, silence around fertility fears and struggles, postpartum depression, and abortion. In the hopes of really talking about our choices, and listening, too.

We want to move beyond the labels to the lives beneath, unearthing the true stories you deserve to have access to while charting your own course. Whether or not you want kids, you’re probably curious what sex after childbirth is really like. Or what egg-freezing is all about. And how much this is all going to cost you. (A lot.)

So take what you want and leave the rest. Like a buffet, only instead of weird Jell-o flavors and sad mixed lettuces, you can choose your own adventure through adulthood. It’s what you’ve been doing all along, only now with the same license to live once you have kids or don’t.

This is Mothership. Come aboard.

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