Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Motherhood requires immense sacrifice from women. We are morally obligated to allow our children to feed from us and sometimes, sicken our bodies for nine months. Once our children arrive in the world, we cease all functional living to nourish and coo over them for six to nine weeks — or more. For the next 18 to 21 years, mothers bear the brunt of the rearing. We raise, foster, teach, discipline, and prepare our kids for the cruel world awaiting them.
Most women sacrifice their peace of mind to provide; their clothes might not be the latest designer digs, but their children are usually well-dressed and well-mannered. Date nights are replaced with parent-teacher conferences. Afternoons are spent teaching ABCs and instilling values and principles that will remain with their children long after they’ve reached puberty. Moms protect their children against those that wish them harm and plan vacations to Disney World, even when they would prefer to spend two weeks in the Bahamas instead.
Being a mother is one of the most challenging roles women assume and we are expected to accept sacrifices without complaint. Through media discourse as well as overall societal assumption, women are taught that mothering emerges instinctively. Singing sensation and new mother Beyonce Knowles-Carter reaffirmed the magical development of maternal instincts on “Oprah’s Next Chapter” while recounting how she bonded with Blue during the birthing process.
“My story did not feel complete and I didn’t know why” she told Winfrey. “There are so many connections in the film that I didn’t realize until I gave birth. Everything just completely connected and I said now I know who I am. I wasn’t complete before my daughter.”
As the media perpetuates Knowles-Carter and other superstars as ideal mothers, those who don’t automatically develop maternal wiles are forgotten, left to stumble through the wilderness of child-rearing without external support.
One of these mothers is Isabella Dutton. The 57-year-old mother of two wrote a controversial piece for the Daily Mail explaining why she resents having children. Dutton writes:
“It was not that I seethed each day with resentment toward my children; more that I felt oppressed by my constant responsibility for them. Young children prevent you from being spontaneous; every outing becomes an expedition. If you take your job as a parent seriously, you always put their needs before your own.
"Having children consigns you to an endless existence of shelling out financially and emotionally, with little or no return. It puts a terrible strain on your marriage and is perennially exhausting. And your job is never done.”
Sutton’s essay may read to some as calculating and devoid of emotion, but it is a realistic exploration of the flip-side of the motherhood coin. Raising children is not the ideal sold to women through situational comedies and movies.
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Nicole Verdes, a graduate student at Cal State University, San Marcos, offers this: “There is something about “choosing” not to become a mother that is tied to this ideology of motherhood as a feminine imperative. It’s as if choosing not to have children is choosing not to be feminine, and a woman choosing not to be feminine is a tough pill for people to swallow.”
A “childless” social phenomenon is emerging as women realize that their lives are complete without giving birth. Sociologist Dr. Catherine Hakim, a professor at the London School of Economics, explored childless women in Canada and found there is a positive shift in how women view the choice not to bear kids.
“An early study in Canada years ago found roughly half of all the women who were childless in their 40s actually chose to be that way from a very early age,” she said. Many of the women she’s interviewed were hesitant to embrace their preference because of “social pressure.” This can be attributed to the assumption that motherhood is an inherent trait in all women. I would’ve inherited my mother’s wiles, if that were the case.
My Wonder Woman mom was married with two children before 21. She deferred her dreams to cultivate ours and worked long, thankless hours to provide us with unforgettable Christmases and birthdays. My mom is amazing. She always knows what remedy to use to cure our sickness, and still prepares meals that make me salivate. Even now, I can count on her for a wise word, or a reminder that I can’t force my will in life.
I thought maternal instincts were natural and I would develop them in due time. Well, I’m 23, an aunt of three, and it still hasn’t happened. I can’t change a diaper, cut vegetables, or twist pigtails. Couple this lack of skills with the rise of postpartum depression in women, and the hundreds of children that are reported missing every year, and it’s easy to see why I have little intentions of shouldering the responsibilities of parenthood in the near future.
It is essential to separate motherhood from womanhood in order to remove the assumption that childless ambitions are equivalent to inferiority. Sociologist Julia McQuillan agrees. “Rather than assume that women without children are missing something, society should benefit from valuing a variety of paths for adult women to have satisfying lives,” she said.
Women without children are adequate. Their presence is enough. Author Kelly Flynn is childless due to a ruptured appendix that impacted her ability to give birth. She penned a beautiful essay for The New York Times about how not having children factors into her social life.
“The feeling of being an outsider is most keen when I am with a group of women. I am an oddity,” she writes. “The ones with children cannot imagine a life without. The unasked question hangs in the air: 'You don’t have children because —?' The implication is that if I chose a life without children, I am cold. If I can’t have children, I am to be pitied.”
Women without children are not cold and deserve support and love — not empathy. The baby blues are real and will persist until society disavows mothering from womanhood.
This post was authored by Evette Dionne.