Why MotherShould? Making the Decision

I was taken off guard when my friends started announcing that they were pregnant.  Before they got married off, we discussed guys all the time, in detail, but we didn’t have any conversations about babies. I was not privy to any deliberations. Suddenly, my friends were just pregnant, as if it were a foregone conclusion that after you get married, you procreate and that’s that. It never felt like a foregone conclusion for me, so with each baby shower, I felt more and more frustrated and a little bit angry. Why did the proliferation of babies make me mad? I felt abandoned and left out, but mostly I felt troubled that I didn’t feel any urge to have a child.

The common wisdom is that people who are not sure about whether or not they should have kids, should not have kids. A person, really a woman, needs to really, really want kids to be a mother, preferably from the moment they are little girls. (Fathers, on the other hand, can decide at any moment.) A fence sitter might feel inclined to keep it to herself for fear that revealing her indecisiveness might actually put her in the not-a-mother camp whether or not she’s ready to make that decision. Essentially, indecision tends to equal not ready for motherhood.

In my thirties, I came out of the closet as indecisive and started asking the people around me: why have kids? Here are the answers I got:

  • “Don’t have kids.” –my friend from first grade who has two rambunctious boys. How can she tell me not to have kids if she decided to have two? Is she doubting my ability to mother because of my uncertainty?
  • “You have good boobs, don’t have kids and ruin them. Mine are like half-filled pastry bags now.” –a friend of a friend tells me in complete seriousness. After she doles out this advice, she has a second kid, presumably because here boobs are already ruined.
  • “Your life is full enough that you don’t need to have kids.” —a friend from graduate school. Another friend thinks I can’t hack motherhood?
  • “You really have to have kids, Catherine. Don’t worry. You will like them so much more than you like other people’s kids.” —my cousin who swore she would not have kids so she and her husband could travel the world; she has three.

The advice I got was always short on evidence.

This site is the forum I wanted in my mid-thirties when I was trying to figure out if I wanted to have a kid. I didn’t want advice so much as I wanted a glimpse backstage to see what makes motherhood so challenging and so joyous and how childfree women experienced life in a world where women are expected to be mothers or to at least want to be mothers.

I believe our culture is moving toward making motherhood a choice rather than a foregone conclusion, particularly as more and more women wait until they are over the “high-risk” age of 35 to have their first child or opt not to have children at all, as fertility treatments become more advanced, and as single motherhood by choice becomes more socially acceptable.

Although I’ve made my choice—one and done!—I’m still hungry for the stories, the particulars of what happens backstage, of women who choose from the array of options available to us now.

One comment

  1. Lisa says:

    Catherine, I held off on reading your post (and the rest of the site) until I could dive in without interruption. At long last that time has come, and the wait was worth it. Your piece is so witty and wise; I keep nodding in recognition and reading aloud choice turns of phrase. This forum is exactly the kind of discussion I yearned for when I was in my early 30s and resolutely ambivalent (or maybe v.v.?) about becoming a parent. You are doing the sistahood a great service!

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