From From the Editors

We Won’t Be Erased

Part of MotherShould?’s project is to value the many paths women can now take thanks to:

  • scientific advances in fertility treatments and birth control,
  • laws that protect women’s right to abortion and that allow gay couples to marry and adopt,
  • progressive social mores that make women comfortable choosing to be single moms or choosing not to have children at all, and
  • improved support structures for women dealing with disability and mental health concerns.

Our website includes diverse stories: an Indian woman who with her mom’s blessing defies cultural expectation and chooses not to have children; a lesbian couple who uses a donor to conceive and gives birth to a son with autism and bi-polar disorder; a single mom who fosters three children and manages to adopt two of them; a woman who froze her eggs and became a single mom by choice at 42 years old; a woman who chose to have an abortion and is certain she made the right choice. These stories are beautiful because they are real and complicated and also because they reflect progress. These stories show women choosing the lives they want to live in ways that they could not have 50 years ago.

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency demonstrates that a large part of the population would like to erase these stories and revert back to a single narrative: the heterosexual family with the woman at home taking care of the kids. In various radio interviews Trump paints a picture of his “family values.” In 2005 Trump explains to Howard Stern his approach to fathering: “I mean, I won’t do anything to take care of them. I’ll supply funds and she’ll [Melania] take care of the kids.” On the Opie and Anthony show in 2005 Trump reinforces outdated gender roles in the home when asked if he changes diapers: “There’s a lot of women out there that demand that the husband act like the wife, and you know, there’s a lot of husbands that listen to that.” Essentially, Trump managed to create a pre-feminist era world in his private life.

But, he needed to reach out to female voters after saying that he could grab their pussies without repercussion, so the Trump campaign made a stab at feminism with an advertisement featuring Ivanka, the daughter Donald would date. The first line of the ad has Ivanka declaring,”The most important job any woman can have is being a mother…” So, it’s okay for women to work, as long as they remember that their number one priority is motherhood? Also, women must be moms?

Trump’s election feels like a reprimand to us as women–“know your place,” but the most troubling aspect of this reprimand is that it didn’t just come from white men intent on maintaining their freedom and shoring up their power. The majority of white women (53%) voted for Donald Trump.

It is hard for us to believe that women could vote for Trump after we all heard him with our own ears brag about grabbing women’s pussies. We heard him bully and insult women calling them horse face, fat, ugly… read more here if you want to be further incensed. Not to mention, the small detail of at least 17 women who alleged he assaulted them! Yet, 42% of all women and 53% white women voted for Trump. Our immediate instinct has been to shut out the women we know who voted for Trump, to dismiss them, but where will that get us?

If we want to protect the progress that we’ve made and if we want women to be able to continue to write their own stories when it comes to motherhood, then progressive white women are going to need to understand and connect with white women who voted for Trump. As writers and editors, we believe an important way to achieve this is by sharing stories.

Donald Trump has not assumed the presidency yet so it’s difficult to know how the next four years will affect each of us. Nonetheless, his victory has already begun to change people’s behavior; are you one of those people? We are wondering if Trump’s election has impacted your choice to/not to have children? We want to share your stories of how a Trump presidency could affect your choices: choosing not to have kids, choosing to have an abortion, choosing to use birth control. We want to listen and hear you as you tell your stories about being a person of color, a single mom, an LGBTQ+ individual, a person with disability or mental health concerns, a person who may be affected by the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and/or an immigrant as you consider how a Trump presidency affects your thinking about having kids. Are you a woman who voted for Trump? Your story about choosing or not choosing motherhood–or about having the choice taken away–matters to us, too. Contact us; even if you’ve never thought of yourself as a writer, your story matters, and we’ll work with you to get it heard.

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A Time To Act

If, like we do, you feel deeply disturbed by the 2016 election results, we invite you to join us as we push back. We’re taking action, however small, to ensure that the threat to women, which is also a threat to the LGBTQ+ community, to people of color, to people with disabilities, to immigrants, to people who practice religions other than Christianity–to ensure that the threat to decent, kind behavior is minimized, if not erased.

It’s a big task, but it’s one that warrants taking on. We believe that the little actions add up when we all do them regularly. If you’re as concerned as we at MotherShould? are about, in particular, how a Trump presidency affects our choices, we urge you to take action and to ask your friends and family to take action, too. We’ve created a list of actions focused on the MotherShould? mission:

  1. Select the issues that matter most to you and write or call your elected officials. As former congressional staffer explains, phone calls make an even bigger impact. Consider writing out a script to ensure you make all of the points you intend.
  • Insist that they pressure the Senate Judiciary Committee to vet and vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court Justice nomination. Trump has promised that he would nominate with a view to overturning Roe v. Wade. It is imperative to women’s safety and health and for the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals that we have judges who are willing to separate church and state. You may have heard that Trump is a gay-friendlyish Republican but as Human Rights Watch indicates he opposes nationwide marriage equality (wants it decided by states) and he selected Pence, who is actively anti-gay rights, as his VP.
  • Urge your elected official not to pass any proposed tax plan that would increase the tax burden on single mothers (see this Forbes article). We celebrate women who decide to be Choice Moms, and we want them, as well as women who are single parents not by choice or because of challenging circumstances, to have every economic benefit possible.
  • Urge your elected official to protect Affordable Care Act with a special focus on free birth control.
  1. Donate money to organizations that support women’s right to choose. We take NARAL’s view that choice is not only about abortion; it is about access to birth control, to sex education, and to healthy pregnancies. It is about the right to choose to return to work after childbirth, to having ample maternity leave, to having adequate family leave. We also support Planned Parenthood, which provides excellent healthcare to women and advocates for us.  This article has good ideas for other places to donate.
  1. Share your story. We know this issue is even more complicated that we can articulate. We want to share your stories of how a Trump presidency could affect your choices: choosing not to have kids, choosing to have an abortion, choosing to use birth control. We want to listen and hear you as you tell your stories about being a person of color, an immigrant, a single mom, an LGBTQ+ individual, and/or an immigrant as you consider how a Trump presidency affects your thinking about having kids. Contact us; even if you’ve never thought of yourself as a writer, your story matters, and we’ll work with you to get it heard.

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MotherShould? is One!

One cold afternoon in 2013, we sat in our university’s Writing Center together. Catherine said, almost in passing, how she wished there had been a place where she could have read stories about how other smart women made their decisions about whether or not they wanted to have kids. We commiserated about how little baby ambivalence (what Catherine later coined “bambivalence”) was discussed.

About a year later, another wintery afternoon, we bounced ideas about website names back and forth while we ate lunch we’d fixed together. We represented the two sides of the baby question fence. We represented the complexity of the decision. We represented the desire we share to melt the walls between women who have kids and women who choose not to.

Nine months later, we published our first essay.

MotherShould? is a labor of love. While that sentiment is a cliche, in this case, none seems more accurate. As we’ve grown as editors, and as the site’s readership has grown, our commitment to our mission has, too. We feel privileged that so many women have trusted us with their stories. We hear from our readers how important the stories are to them. MotherShould? is a place where bambivalence is not judged.

We spend a lot of time with every piece we publish. We work with our writers as they “…sit down at a typewriter and open a vein” as Ernest Hemingway once described writing. Writing for MotherShould? isn’t always easy, but nearly all of our writers have called it cathartic, have been buoyed by comments and emails from readers, have felt that by sharing their story, they have come to a richer understanding of their experience. If you have a story you want to share, we invite you to send us a note.

We love everything we publish, and we hope you’ll revisit all of the work here and share it widely. In the meantime, we’d like to highlight a few pieces published in the last year. Thanks for being here with us!

In the Waiting Room by Tara Parmiter

Choosing My Choices and Stuff by Ada Kenney

Have I Got a Deal for You by Nicole Savini

Who Decides by Joyce Hayden

Creativity 2.0 by Leah Gotcsik

How I Learned I Want to be a Mom by Jennifer DiGrazia

Selfish, Careerist, Regretful? Not the Childfree Women I Know

In this season’s House of Cards there’s a memorable scene between first lady and VP candidate, Claire Underwood and the presidential opponent’s wife, Hannah. The two  women are sitting across from one another drinking coffee in the White House residence and although they are on opposing sides, they are finding common ground around gun control and making the role of the first lady meaningful. Hannah manages to soften the normally rigid Claire by telling her she is a role model and that if she wins she’ll make an excellent vice president.

This moment of female bonding is interrupted when Hannah’s son jumps up and loudly asks for a drink. When Claire says that Hannah’s son is cute, Hannah unthinkingly ask Claire if she regrets not having kids. Claire’s stony face makes Hannah immediately apologize for asking a question that she admits is “too personal.” Claire pauses and responds pointedly in between sips of coffee: “do you regret having them?” And the scene ends.

This scene was so striking for a couple reasons:

First, it brings into sharp focus the assumptions our culture has about women who do not have children: they regret it.

It was actually on an episode of Oprah that I first confronted the powerful narrative of “woman pursues a career and regrets her decision not to have kids when it’s too late.” I was so frightened by this possibility that I remember the moment like you remember where you were when someone important died. I was in my late twenties, lying on my faded couch, hungover, in my Brooklyn apartment watching Oprah. I didn’t typically watch Oprah, but it was the comfort food my hangover brain craved. On Oprah’s stage sat a group of sad women in their forties; whether they were or not, I remember them dressed in suits. These women, in pursuit of their careers, missed the baby train, and they were gathered on stage to share their stories of regret. While I don’t remember their individual stories, the emotional weight of their collective regret stuck with me, and ten years later it motivated me to jump off the fence and get pregnant.

While this narrative helped nudge me in the direction that was right for me, for women who do not have kids it can be painful to have people  assume you live in regret. (See Ambivalent and Grieving and My Mother’s Day Wish.)

Second, the moment between Hannah and Claire depicts the divide between women who have children and women who do not. Perplexed by a woman’s choice to remain childfree in a pronatalist world, many mothers don’t really know how to talk to childfree women and as a result we judge, we say things that are unintentionally disparaging, and we ask questions we shouldn’t ask.

My husband and I both cheered at Claire’s response to Hannah, which  was dubbed a “feminist moment” by Bustle Magazine.

But while her response rang feminist, at another level this show is just reinforcing the confining narratives that exist for childfree women. Claire fits into the stereotype of the cold childless woman whose DNA is sequenced for ambition rather than motherhood. Just as there’s the virgin/whore binary, there’s the mother/ice queen.  As if to emphasize how anti-maternal she is, Claire’s character has had not one, not two, but three abortions. Claire is ruthless in her ambition–while she does not commit, she does condone the murder of people who stand in the way of her and her husband’s ascent to the White House.

So established is the stereotype of the selfish childfree woman that Meghan Daum titles her edited collection of essays of thirteen childfree women writers, Shallow, Selfish, and Self-Absorbed to mock the negative stereotype of women who chose careers (in this case creative careers) instead of motherhood. This book shows us that the decision not to have children tends to be responsible rather than selfish. After all, what good does it do a child to have a half-hearted mother? While Daum’s collection turns the selfish stereotype on its head, as a collection of essays by successful women writers, it reinforces a parallel narrative that has emerged: the super successful childfree woman.

This is the story, too, in Hillary Frank’s recent interview of Terry Gross from NPR’s Fresh Air about her decision not to have children on the wonderful podcast the The Longest Shortest Time. Gross explains that she did not have any models for leading a successful career AND having a family, so she decided to pursue a career. She feels that her decision not to have children and pursue her career was a feminist act. I agree. Gross was a maverick.

That said, there was an underlying  if unintentional message in this interview and in Daum’s collection: if you are a woman choosing not to have children then you better be EXTREMELY successful, otherwise, how do you justify your decision? How do you justify your life?

So what roles are available for childfree women?

There’s the spinster and/or cat lady. One of my unmarried childfree friends who LOVES cats actually googled “how many cats can you have before you become a cat lady?” When the answer came back as “three,” she decided not to adopt a third cat.

There’s the successful woman–selfish or not– and she typically dislikes children. Then, there’s the woman who has achieved success but regrets not being a mom.

The stories we tell are powerful. These stories shape us for better or worse  (I had a child and my friend didn’t adopt a third cat), and they shape how we interact with one another. It is always the case that when a group is marginalized or othered, the roles available to individuals in those groups are limited. Acknowledging these limits and checking our assumptions when we interact with people from marginalized groups is a step in the right direction. What else do we need? We need more stories of typical childfree women who are just living their lives.

Sure there are wildly successful childfree career women, and some of them, like Terry Gross, might not want to snuggle babies. Sure there are old, childless women who have houses full of cats. Sure there are women who are consumed with regret for not having kids. But I don’t know these women.

The childfree women I know live rich and meaningful lives. There’s my friend Shoshannah, a metalhead with a black belt in karate, who regularly visits her mother who has had Alzheimer’s for nearly ten years. There’s my friend Melissa, a teacher who adopts and fosters dogs and regularly visits a youth detention center to offer pet therapy. There’s my friend Kerri, STEM teacher of the year and tireless Zumba instructor. There’s my friend Stephanie, writer, editor, bartender, PhD, and trailblazer. There’s my friend Jocelyn, a vegetarian, an animal lover, and  an artful wedding and family photographer whose calming presence enables her to capture genuine moments of connection. There’s my friend and co-editor for MotherShould?, a teacher, writer, knitter, sewer, crafter, perpetual student, and convener of porch nights for a community of friends.

The lives and stories of childfree women I know don’t adhere to the stereotypes yet the narratives persist. Likely, as more and more women make the choice not to have kids, childfree women will be able to just be. And that’s a good thing.

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Friends from First Grade: One Was Always Certain about Kids, the Other Was Not

In this week’s post I interview my friend since first grade about her desire to have children.

My friend Jill and I are a female odd couple: she is a suburban-living Republican* who devotes the time she’s not at work to carting her boys to every sport ever invented, with a special focus on sports that require you to wake up before sunrise and stand in the cold.

I am a Democrat who leans socialist and lives  in the woods in a town without a single stop light or gas station. I don’t watch sports on TV or in stadiums, on fields, or at rinks.

Jill is great with numbers and budgeting; I prefer words and glaze over whenever anyone talks about money.

She is blonde; I am brunette.

She always wanted kids; I never really did.

We’ve been friends since first grade and our friendship was cemented when her family moved across the street from mine when we were 8 years old, and since we want to stay friends, we’ve never sat down to better understand each other’s political beliefs, but we recently started talking about our different stances toward procreating. She has been following this website with great wonder because she is drawn in by the perspectives of women who don’t want kids or who are uncertain because these perspectives are so foreign to her.

In talking with her and her husband recently about her certainty, I heard a story I’d never heard before: after she got engaged, but before she got married she tried to convince her fiance to get pregnant immediately and not wait until after they got married. He refused; their honeymoon plans involved a cruise to Alaska and he didn’t want to be honeymooning with a woman miserable with morning sickness.

Jill got married at 30 so she had plenty of time to get pregnant. So, why was she in such a rush? I sat down with Jill this week in her home and asked her a few questions to get to the bottom of her maternal drive:

CS: When did you know you wanted kids?

Jill: I don’t remember a moment; I’ve just always wanted kids. I knew I wanted a lot of kids but I only had two. The turning point for me was when Brett, my cousin, was born; he is seventeen now. I went up to visit in New Hampshire when he was born. I  stopped going out and I started  driving the two hours there for the weekend. Part of it was that my aunt wanted help, but I started choosing to go there. I was 25 or 26 at the time, when I started going there once or twice a month as opposed to going out.

As soon as Brett came, I knew wanted that.

CS: Why do you think it is that you always wanted kids?

Jill: I have a brother who is ten years younger than I am so essentially I was an only child. I would go to my grandmother’s and all my cousins and aunts and uncles lived so close together, and I would go there and I was part of something. There was always something going on. There was always someone to talk to. And, we would just never sit around, but when I was home I was alone. I like being around people. Even now I don’t like to be alone.

CS: What about the fact that your brother IS so much younger than you, and it was almost like having kids? Or at least you got to see what having kids was like?

Jill: I didn’t raise him but I understood that it was a lot of work. I moved home at 23 for a year; he was thirteen, and it was his freshman year of high school  and I liked it. I took him to practice every day. I took him to school. I liked being part of his life.

CS: So you have maternal instinct?

Jill: I guess. It doesn’t mean I’m doing it well. I just means I wanted to do it.

CS: So you never doubted your certainty?

Jill: Never. I always thought I would have five kids.

CS: What prevented you from having five?

Jill: Money. I think if money wasn’t an issue, if kids were free, I could’ve talked my husband into more.

CS: Do you think you would’ve been happy with five children?

Jill: I do.

CS: I don’t. Not you. ME. ME. You’ve known me for 36 years, why do you think I was so wishy washy about having kids?

Jill: You know what you want, and you do it and with kids you get tied down and you can’t go for what you want. Say you want a degree. If you had kids fifteen years ago, it would’ve been a lot harder to get a degree.

Everything is harder once you have kids. Like travel. And, I think you have so many more things you want. I’ve always wanted to travel but not as much as I wanted kids. I knew I’d be giving that up and I don’t think you wanted to give up the travel.

CS: I don’t even think I got how much giving up there is. Do you think we grew apart when you had kids?

Jill: I don’t think so. Obviously we didn’t talk as much, but we haven’t lived near each other since we were in sixth grade. We can go a long time without talking and then it’s just normal.

CS: I remember being disappointed and sad that I’d never see you and then I would see you Christmas Eve, and you would have to leave early because you had kids. But now I understand it.

Jill: But we’ve definitely kept in touch. I have other friends that I’ve lost touch with and they HAVE kids. We got wrapped up in our own kids.

CS: Do you feel like it’s harder to stay friends with your friends who don’t have kids?

Jill: I do.

CS: We talk about different things now that we both have kids, don’t we?

Jill: It’s a common bond. You get it more. Until you live it, you don’t get it.

CS: Maybe people wouldn’t have kids if you did get it. You used to tell me that I shouldn’t have kids, why?

Jill: I think I worried motherhood would be too boring for you and you’d regret it.  Having kids would hold you back from everything you knew you wanted and had worked so hard for. I was also afraid you’d change and stories about trips to Nicaragua and Thailand would turn into stories about potty training and milestones.  Hanging out with you was always an adventure and if you had kids I would lose that adventure.  We’ve both changed and visiting you is different than pre-Quinn but it’s an adventure for everyone.  We’ve taken the boys to Disney and on a Caribbean cruise but when asked they say their favorite vacation was swimming and hiking in Becket.  Our adventures are now G rated but sharing them with the all of our boys is just as much fun.

CS: It’s true. I love how wonderful your boys are to Quinn: they play with him even though he can’t keep up [he’s 4 years younger than Jill’s youngest], they (and you) make him gifts, and they look out for him. He loves them so much that he talks about them even when he hasn’t seen them for months, and this makes my heart swell.

*In response to me calling her a Republican, Jill wrote me a text that read: “For the record I am a registered independent and have voted both ways. And you think you are the open minded one. 🙂 But leave Republican, it’s better for the story and I lean that way more as I get older.”

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Choosing Under Pressure

From the editors: Shoshannah Flach explores the circumstances of the “terrible and tough choice” she made to end a pregnancy, a choice she does not regret.

I stared at the plastic wand in my hand. It confirmed what I’d suspected for the last week since my reliable period hadn’t arrived and my body had been vaguely “off.”

“fuckfuckFUCK!” I screamed a string of involuntary expletives. Why don’t they show scenes like THIS in those pregnancy test commercials? Surely they are just as common as the couples sharing a moment of joy.

After a few rounds of deep breathing I faced my next hurdle. I had to call my boyfriend and break the news to him.

After a decade of disappointing dating, I was ecstatic to have a boyfriend. When we became a couple I made it clear that I didn’t think that having kids was for me. He acknowledged that he was unlikely to ever be financially stable enough for a family.

A year into the relationship, a romantic getaway weekend led to sloppy contraceptive practices. I absolutely did not want the responsibility of a child now. I’d moved into my own apartment a few months before, right after moving my mother into a care facility where others would be responsible for her advancing Alzheimer’s disease. I needed some freedom. When I told my boyfriend that I thought it was best for me to have an abortion, he was upset, but I didn’t realize how upset.

At my boyfriend’s house—my stomach clenched, expecting an uncomfortable conversation. He handed me a bag with my personal items and a lengthy “Dear Jane” letter explaining why he couldn’t be with a woman who would have an abortion. I was stunned. I implored him to reconsider. He was adamant. Presented with his ultimatum I said I’d consider other options to try and preserve my connection with him.

Was it in my nature to not want kids?

I once asked my dad if he felt like he was missing out on grandchildren. He assured me he didn’t mind, but his follow-up comments surprised me.

“I never thought you’d have children anyway. You never played with dolls. Other girls your age did, but you didn’t like them.”

That rang true. As a child, I was a tomboy with interests in nature and science. My main playmate was a boy with snakes and iguanas as pets. Our games involved Star Wars action figures, Dungeons and Dragons figurines, and (despite my peacenik mom’s strenuous objections) realistic toy firearms.

I became sexually active early in my teen years but fortunately I was as diligent about birth control as I was about maintaining my 4.0 GPA. College was a dating dead zone until I met my first Serious Boyfriend in my third year. He was from a “normal” middle class family with four older siblings—all married with kids. We stayed together for most of my 20s and when friends started to get hitched and have kids I panicked at the idea of following this path and we split up.

My 30s were a time of exploration and acceptance, both in relationships and (mostly) out of them. As I developed my own pursuits and interests, I made friends with a wide variety of women, many of them childless by choice. Some had partners, some did not. Even the women with children were following varied paths. It was easier for me to accept that having kids wasn’t important to me as I saw how important it was for my friends who did want them. Dating was even more frustrating for them as they raced against the reproductive clock.

At 39, faced with this unintended pregnancy, I paced the floor, agonizing over the decision during phone calls with patient and supportive friends. I knew that giving up a child for adoption had emotionally wrecked my mother and others I’d talked with.  Nor did I want to have a baby with a man with dubious capacity for responsibility. I could potentially end up relying on my own extended family for help raising the child—a pattern I did not want to replicate.

Or was it nurture that led me to not want kids?
Despite my maternal grandmother’s oft-stated belief that single mothers were the bane of society, three of her four daughters ended up having kids without establishing family units of their own and stayed at home to raise their kids as single moms.  My mom chose not to marry my father and I was collectively raised by my aunts and grandparents. We eventually moved out, but always lived close by. Two of my aunts raised children in the house at various times, and later on, my older cousin escaped an abusive marriage and relied on the family for supporting her children. While there were wonderful things about being raised by my extended family, the situation had a lot of dysfunctional elements.

When I was 8, my mother got pregnant by a different person than my father and chose to give this baby up for adoption. She was able to maintain limited contact with the child and adoptive family but this decision haunted her forever.

My disinterest in having children could have also stemmed from being my mother’s emotional caregiver. She struggled with depression and other mental health issues, exacerbated by unhealthy romantic relationships. From a young age, I was her emotional support system.

In her late 60s, my mother was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s dementia. My care-giving role became more tangible and pronounced. She had lived with my aunts at my grandparent’s home for the last several years and family conflicts became even more frequent as her disease progressed. I was regularly called in as peacekeeper and her physical care needs increased too. A couple of years after her diagnosis, I was fortunate enough get her into an excellent care facility. For the first time in my life I felt free of worrying about some facet of my mother’s well-being.

A wise friend said, “If you have this baby—either keeping it as a couple or adopting it out—you have to want that for YOU or the baby. It can’t be to somehow save the relationship.” So I made the terrible and tough choice to end the pregnancy and at the same time end a loving relationship that meant so much to me.

The one-two gut punch of loss and grief crushed me, but with hindsight I can see how this dramatic ending might have been necessary to shove me out of a comfortable but potentially unhealthy relationship. I have never regretted my decision. I am grateful every day that I have my own apartment in a city where housing is expensive and the freedom and flexibility to stay involved with my many interests and friends.

I’m sad and frustrated that a healthy partner relationship has been hard to find but I’m grateful that the biological clock component isn’t a factor of that longing. I’m making the most of my choice—embracing new experiences, nurturing existing friendships, and being open to building new relationships too.

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Shoshannah Flach is a San Francisco native who has written film and music reviews, published her own zine, Cat Butt, and more recently, Crosswalk Confidential, stories from the streets of her city. After fifteen years in the marketing department of an environmental nonprofit, she is now poised for new adventures that may or may not include some of her diverse interests in martial arts, air guitar, and playing rock songs on the ukulele.

 

 

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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.

Why MotherShould? When the Decision is Made

Not long after she returned from maternity leave, Catherine mentioned to me her craving, pre-pregnancy, for resources that would have helped her make a decision about having kids. I agreed. Smart women who have, for whatever reason, waited until they are aging primates (my former doctor’s description of me when I talked to her about having kids. I was 35.) to consider or start trying to have kids lacked good resources.

I remembered being in my mid-20s, standing in my Hudson River-town library, feeling as furtive as I had when I’d read Judy Blume’s Forever in sixth grade. I perused the shelves looking for information about not having kids. I don’t mean information about birth control or abortion. I mean information about how to get pushy in-laws to lay off, how to function in a world that, to my eyes, privileges mothers and questions breeding-age women who deliberately don’t have kids.

As Catherine and I continued the conversation about resources for women choosing–or choosing not–to have kids, as well as resources for women on all points of that spectrum, we hatched the idea for a clearinghouse, a place where women could share our sometimes difficult stories sans judgement, sans advice, as a way to provide other women with resources to help them in their own decisions.

I am child free, but there are times I consider myself childless. In my work with MotherShould?, I’ll explore the ever-shifting way I identify, and I’ll also strive to find resources to help all women figuring out how they feel about becoming a parent. To steal from Sylvia Plath, I want us–me and Catherine, you, and all of the MotherShould? community– to melt the wall that all-too-often divides women without kids, for whatever reason, from those with kids.