From January 2016

Meet the MotherShould? Book Club

When we conceived MotherShould?, one of our goals, in addition to carving out a space for exploring the complexities of choosing, not choosing, or losing the chance to choose parenthood after the age of 35, was to “melt the walls” between moms and not-moms.We believe that when moms and not-moms come together eager to understand and support each other, we all have richer lives. With that in mind, we’re excited to launch the MotherShould? Book Club.

Here’s how it works.

Each quarter we’ll invite you to read a book that speaks to the MotherShould?’s mission. We’ll provide resources to provoke conversation, and we’ll post questions on our FaceBook page to help get that conversation started. For those of you not on FaceBook, we’ll review the book and include excerpts from the conversations happening around it.

Our first MotherShould? Book Club book is The Mare by Mary Gaitskill. We’ll give you a little time to buy or borrow your copy and read it, with the first resources and questions going up on February 15.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments. Be sure to sign up to get new posts in your email and like our FaceBook page.

Bearing

From the editors: we are delighted to share this piece from poet Jessica Temple. 

 

 

 

 

My favorite part of baking is before:
the batter dripping from the paddle,
or the yeasty dome rising in the metal bowl.

*

Last week my aunt called to tell me
it’s alright that I’m not pregnant.
I started to think maybe it’s not.

*
Once, as warning, grandmother told us about
her first husband – married because they had to.
Miscarried after a fall. Said she’d prayed for it.

*

One of those summers when heat
came early, a goat returned from the woods
with only one newborn. From the bulge

her belly had been, I knew that she
should’ve had two. I found the missing
by smell, just far enough in to stay shaded.

When I came back from shoveling,
it was already just a mound of fur,
wriggling as maggots danced inside.

*

My youngest sister asks me for recipes,
help with grammar. And when her doctor
said the pregnancy wasn’t viable

she called me first, disquieted.
I could not say to her This
is how to lose your baby.

*

Both my sisters now busy themselves
with the making of people. I’ve seen
the work of it, the pulling back

from the edge. One kept it covered
for months – hidden like shirt stays
under starched white trousers.

My nephews will be born
in Indian summer. One
will have dark skin, dark hair.

The other will be fair and
fearless. Both will grow tall.
They will not look like me.

 

JTempleJessica Temple earned her PhD in poetry from Georgia State University. She writes and voices shows for the syndicated poetry college radio program melodically challenged  and teaches at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Her work has recently appeared in Aesthetica; Blast Furnace;Canyon Voices; and Stone, River, Sky: An Anthology of Georgia Poems from Negative Capability Press, among others. Her chapbook, Seamless and Other Legends, is available from Finishing Line Press. Find out more at jessicatemple.com.

 

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Have I Got a Deal For You…

From the Editors:  Nicole Savini, TV producer and mother of an eight-month-old boy writes about being lured into motherhood. Continue the conversation in the comments. 

I was long suspicious of the friend with kids who said things like “You have to have a baby!” mere moments after interrupting me (and my thrilling play-by-play of my latest blind date) to discipline a little one. “No, no, no… I’m on the phone. Put it down. Mama’s on the phone…. Okay, what were you saying? He sounds nice.”  (He did not sound nice, by the way.)  Why did all my parent friends make it their business to get me procreating? Why not let me do me: the cool aunt who buys their kids age inappropriate toys and dry-clean-only sweaters? What stake did they have in it?

It wasn’t until years later, when I was blessed with my own bundle of joy- a bundle whose soul-splitting shrieks only subsided when he was gnawing my nipples raw- that it dawned on me:

Pregnancy is a pyramid scheme.

Here’s how it works: You get pregnant and now you have a kid.  Hooray! But, suddenly, your fun factor plummets. Can’t go out on a whim. No plays, no movies, no parties (at least not the kind that are worth it).  You’ve lost everything you valued before.  But what if- and hear me out on this one- you could sell others on the same lifestyle?  What if, at no personal cost to you, you could decrease everyone else’s fun factor and even potentially raise your own in the process? Sound too good to be true?  It’s been working for centuries!

The more friends you recruit, the better your own life gets.  Sure, they may get screwed- lose money, lose sleep, and gain weight- but if they join, the fewer parties you’ll miss. There are no parties! At least not the kind that are worth it! And now no one is talking about that movie you haven’t seen! Who has time to see movies? And when you throw your 2-year-old’s birthday party, it takes little more than “there will be wine” to lure your parent friends over!  What’s that saying? I think it’s, “misery loves company, as long as that company brings their kids to entertain yours”?

In the dark hours, as I held my new baby, Sam, I wondered what I’d done with my life’s fortune.   I would sit up at night trying to breastfeed (I say trying because I hadn’t read the fine print on that one either: it ain’t easy, ladies) and run through the list of names in my head: Stacey, Sheila, Chrysi, the other Nicole… these are the childfree friends I would call the next day and warn: don’t buy into it!  I’m here to tell you: It’s a scam! It’s too late for me but save yourself!

I looked at people like my sister and other close friends who had encouraged me to get pregnant and thought “did they knowingly do this to me?”  I like to think their intentions were more “try this chocolate cake, it’s delicious” than “try this milk, it’s sour,” but I saw no evidence of it.  My life had taken a turn for the worse and all I could do was stare slack –jawed at the disaster unfolding. I felt doomed.

But about 6 weeks in, I got an unexpected return on investment: a smile.  When Sam’s little face lit up, my buyer’s remorse disappeared.  Don’t get me wrong, it was- it is– still very hard.  But now 6 months later, I love this new version of my life. I don’t feel duped. In fact, I feel lucky. I am exhausted. I am still 15 lbs heavier than before I was pregnant (when I was 10 lbs heavier than I wanted to be), and I haven’t seen a movie or the majority of my friends since Sam was born. I constantly feel like I just can’t catch up with life. But that thing they sold me on, that feeling that is so amazing it is “indescribable”: it’s real. The best way I can explain the feeling is that it’s like the one I used to get when I really liked someone. Whenever I’m coming home from work and I get to see Sam, it feels a lot like it used to feel when I was showing up to a party and I knew “he” would be there. A little giddy. Excited. Oddly energized. Difference is, this “he” explodes with joy when he sees me walk in the room. I can’t say that happened much (ever) before.  And that joy explosion is seriously amazing.  Dare I say, indescribable.

I can’t tell you if you should have kids. And I definitely won’t try to sell you on it.  It’s not like I stand to win a pink Cadillac if you sign up anyway. But I can tell you that I get it now.  Even when I’m the one on the phone saying, “Hold on a sec, he’s pulling my hair and biting my forehead,” I can promise you, I don’t regret a thing.  Come to think of it, I feel like I cashed in on the opportunity of a lifetime.

tia and samNicole Savini is a mom to Sam, wife to Michael, and a Senior Segment Producer to Stephen Colbert at the Late Show.  She has never been involved in a pyramid scheme but she does enjoy a good human pyramid.

 

 

 

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Dear Pope Francis, I’m Not Selfish

From the Editors: Writer and Professor Lisa Whalen shares her response to Pope Francis’s declaration that the decision not to have children is selfish. Continue the conversation in the comments!

I didn’t want a kitten. I made that clear when I began volunteering and fostering for the Animal Humane Society (AHS) years ago. Contrary to predictions by everyone who knew me, I had no problem returning the kittens at the end of their foster period. In fact, I often found myself relieved, even though I’d grown fond of them. I preferred adult cats.

When I agreed to foster a two-month-old stray, Ziggy, and continued saying I didn’t want to adopt a kitten, everyone assumed that it was grief talking, that I’d change my mind. The recent death of my 17-year-old orange tabby sucker-punched me. From the moment he entered my life as a six-year-old, we simply “got” each other. I could predict his moods and movement; I always knew what he was thinking. I often worked from home, so he and I spent most waking hours together. I spoiled him as if he lay at the center of my life. So, yes, I mourned. But that’s not why I remained reluctant to adopt Ziggy.

I knew from experience that kittens are far more like human toddlers than most people would like to acknowledge. They demand 24-hour attention. When they don’t get it, they misbehave. They don’t understand boundaries and don’t care for rules. I knew I didn’t have it in me to give a kitten what he needed long-term, so I avoided adopting one.

My husband, Chad, along with everyone who met Ziggy, grew enamored. Chad wanted to adopt, but since I do the care-taking, he left the decision to me. I watched Chad bid Ziggy a sad farewell the morning I was to return him. Then I caved.

I regretted it. And didn’t. Then did again. Now I ping-pong between amusement, protectiveness, irritation, affection, and anger from hour to hour. I try to work; Ziggy chases my fingers across the keyboard. I wash dishes, he climbs my leg and bites my ears. I set the table, he jumps on my feet and trips me. I lie in bed and he . . . curls up on my chest. I smile at his tiny white paws, his gray stripes that expand and contract with each sleepy breath.

Then he pounces and bites my feet through the bedspread.

I glimpse a fantastic companion hidden beneath his frantic exterior, but it lies at least 18 months in the future. I worry impatience will push me to return him. I wonder if that might be better for him. I’ll wait and see how things go, I decide. Then I’m ashamed. That’s not the kind of pet owner I want to be.

My ambivalence toward keeping Ziggy confirms doubts I’ve long held about my suitability as a parent, which is why I’ve chosen not to have a child in spite of conflicts that decision generates with my Catholic faith. Catholic doctrine contends that sex between married couples must remain open to procreation because God and nature have selected procreation as the purpose of marriage. The Church bans all contraception except natural family planning (i.e., the rhythm method). Since I don’t intend to have a child, I’ve ignored that ban.

From the moment Jorge Mario Bergoglio selected “Francis,” patron saint of animals and the natural environment, as his papal name, I felt a stirring of hope. His choice reflected a focus on compassion for all living beings. It also hinted at a willingness to buck authority and flout rules when conscience demands it, for his namesake defied parental mandates to work in the family business, rejected familial wealth, and spent the majority of his adult life living out a vow of poverty and serving the poor. Perhaps Pope Francis would lead the Vatican away from its obsession with “the letter of the faith”—rule, ritual, and papal infallibility—and toward “the spirit of the faith”: love, service, forgiveness, and inclusion.

My initial hope seemed well-placed. In addition to eschewing the trappings of his office and seeking personal connection with society’s least fortunate at every opportunity, Pope Francis upheld the primacy of conscience, asserting Catholics’ right to do what their inner relationship with God tells them is right, even if that conflicts with Church doctrine. Like his namesake, Pope Francis recognized that practicing selflessness and love sometimes requires breaking rules. I took comfort. He seemed to assert that Church doctrine was not infallible or absolute. Perhaps he and the Church might recognize my decision not to have a child as one based on careful reflection, on a desire to do what was right not only for me, but also for any child I might have as well as for the society that would educate and employ him/her.

I grew even more hopeful when, in February 2015, Pope Francis declared that Catholics need not reproduce “like rabbits”. He urged them to space out children’s births by a few years. I took these comments to mean Pope Francis acknowledged the value of self-awareness and the ability to make individual moral decisions, that he didn’t share his predecessors’ disdain for contraception. I dared think he might change Church doctrine. But two days later, he walked back his initial comments, upholding the ban on contraception.

Worse, Pope Francis claimed that not having children is “a selfish choice”. I disagree. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. My conscience tells me that every child deserves to be raised by a parent who cherishes him/her; who can provide for his/her physical, emotional, and spiritual needs; and who relishes the opportunity to do so. I don’t meet those qualifications. Self-awareness leads me to that conclusion; primacy of conscience tells me that given what I know, to try and fail would be irresponsible, regardless of Church doctrine. Putting the child’s needs ahead of my own desire to leave a part of myself behind after I die is decidedly unselfish. Chad and I risk having no one to care for us when we’re old; therefore, we save aggressively, unselfishly wanting to avoid becoming a burden on the rest of society’s children.

According to Pope Francis, having children is not “an irresponsible choice” because births enrich rather than impoverish; that’s why all Catholic married couples are to have them . That may be true in many cases, but not all. Put bluntly, children are expensive. Many suffer the effects, through no fault of their own, of being born into families or societies who can’t—or won’t—provide for their needs. That seems a more irresponsible choice than using artificial contraception. And testing, measuring, and documenting in an effort to manipulate the body’s reproductive process, as is required for natural family planning, strikes me as anything but “natural.”

Even as Pope Francis urges us to care for our planet by combating climate change, he seems, at best, ambivalent about unchecked reproduction—one of the greatest threats to any ecology. More people consume more resources.

The sole purpose of organizations like the one I volunteer for (the Animal Humane Society) is to improve society by caring for its animals. Animal shelters witness every day how individual animals suffer because of overpopulation. Not enough caretakers exist to meet all animals’ needs, so many end up suffering neglect or living as strays despite having lost natural survival instincts through domestication. At some animal shelters (not AHS), unwanted animals are euthanized due to lack of resources. This is the result of unchecked procreation, not so different from what the Catholic Church seems to advocate.

Research shows the best way to improve animals’ lives is to prevent overpopulation, so many shelters spay/neuter pets before making them available for adoption. I would never advocate such practices for human beings, obviously, but I find it ironic that the Church won’t allow its members to prevent unwanted pregnancies with artificial contraception even as most of humanity agrees preventing unwanted pregnancies is the most humane and effective way to improve animals’ quality of life.

Ziggy dozes on my lap as I write this. I anticipate with a measure of annoyance the fact that he’ll soon wake and begin clawing at my hair, which reaffirms for me two important lessons: 1) I was right not to have children, for their sake as much as mine, and 2) I appreciate these sweet, serene moments all the more, knowing they’ll be rare for quite some time.

Lisa Whalen HeadshotLisa Whalen teaches writing and literature at a Minnesota college and volunteers for the Animal Humane Society. Her writing has been featured in An Introvert in an Extrovert World (Cambridge Scholars), Before and After the Tutorial(Hampton Press), WorkingUSA (Wiley & Sons), and several peer-reviewed journals. She is writing a memoir, currently untitled, set to be complete in 2016.

 

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