Tagged childfree by choice

MotherShould? Reading List

We’re launching a new feature on MotherShould?: a round up of articles we believe you’ll find worthy of reading. Co-editor Beverly Army Williams compiled today’s reading list.

As a double-income no-kids woman, I’ve been fortunate in having little push-back about my being childfree from family and friends, though strangers have been less understanding. Lesson learned? Stay surrounded by people who don’t feel compelled to poke their nose in my business. Laura Barcella’s article in The Washington Post makes it clear that I am not alone in being stigmatized for my choice. In all fairness I confess to a little judgement of parents on my end, and I appreciated JoAnna Novak’s Today’s Parent article in which she reflects her own judgements. Among the common unsolicited comments I’ve heard is that I’ll regret the choice later in life. Well, I’m getting to the later-in-life stage, and other than some grieving around holidays and baseball games, I align with the women interviewed in Self in not lingering in regret. One of my husband’s (an environmental analyst) reasons for not wanting kids is to have a smaller impact on the environment. Who knew that our decision creates a bigger impact on the economy? Read on, and feel free to share articles that help you make sense of being on the fence.

The Washington Post writer Laura Barcella responds to a study examining stigmatization of voluntarily childfree women (and men) in Americans are having fewer kids. But child-free people are still stigmatized.

Recent MotherShould? essayist JoAnna Novak examines her shifting judgement of parents in her Today’s Parent article Parents, I’m judging you (and I’m sorry, mostly)  .

Wondering what childfree women think about their choices later in life? Take a look at Self‘s article 10 Women Look Back on Living Childfree by Choice .

Adina Solomon covers Adults who opt to have kids cause ripple effect in US housing market in The Washington Post.

 

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45 Makes Me Regret Not Having Kids

On January 21, I looked around me at the Hartford, CT Women’s March Rally, and I felt regret, deep like a splinter from an un-planed board. I was there with my friend Sarah and her 12-year-old daughter Ella. It occurred to me that by not having children, I deprived myself of the opportunity to raise humans who would be thoughtful, critical, committed citizens. Of course, the beliefs of parents do not always become the beliefs of their children, yet I was struck by the lost opportunity of passing on values that I believe are the very ones that make America great: tolerance, questioning authority, willingness to stand up for not only one’s own rights, but more importantly, the rights of the marginalized. Despite my regret, the number of children at the rally heartened me.

After the rally, Sarah and I exchanged emails about how and why she included Ella that day. Sarah wrote about bringing her daughter and son with her every time she votes, as well as family discussions about current events, politics and community. For her, it is vital that her kids understand the responsibility that goes along with their privilege.

While Sarah’s husband and son decided to forgo the rally, in part to avoid the overstimulation of the event, Ella decided, after much conversation, that she wanted to participate. Sarah did encourage her, sharing with me, “I told her that this would be a significant day for American women. I didn’t want her to miss out on the chance to be a part of such a special day. Ultimately, I hope that my daughter saw that there are things that we can not sit idle and accept.”

As we drove to Hartford, I got to see Sarah’s strategies for raising an active citizen. Ella, pussyhat proudly perched on her head, encouraged me as I knit as fast as I could to finish one for myself. Sarah made a point of reminding us that we should be prepared in case the media asked to interview us. She encouraged Ella to practice what she would say about why she was at the rally. I was impressed by her enthusiastic, smart answers about human rights and immigration issues. Clearly, making posters with her family, hanging out as her mom churned out pussyhats, and months of post-election conversations impacted Ella’s views. I could see that Ella had a sense of the rally being more than a new experience; she understood the protest she was about to voice.

About a month later, I asked Sarah what affect she felt the rally had on her daughter. She wrote, “It certainly normalized protest as a reasonable reaction to policy we find objectionable. She is also thoughtful about articulating the ideas that upset her and why. Ella got to see you, me, her grandparents, her ballet teacher, a friend and her mom among many other people in our community at the rally because there are ideologies that need protesting. Long term it remains to be seen if this creates an inner sense of civic responsibility, but I think it will.”

In the weeks since 45 has taken office–weeks that feel like decades–I’ve vacillated between relief that I don’t have children who will inherit this mess, and the same regret I felt at the rally. I feel encouraged, though, that there are legions of parents who are woke, and even more young people positioned to stay woke. And I see that my role in the lives of the young people I know is to be yet another adult who is unafraid to use her privilege and raise her voice in protest.

But what about my sisters who are on the fence about having kids? How is this administration shaping their decisions?

MotherShould? writer Ada Kenney weighed in, saying, “45 and the current Congress haven’t necessarily changed my plans about motherhood. Rather, they’ve heightened my ambivalence. I didn’t want to get an IUD before the inauguration as so many women did because I only have so many (if any) fertile years left, and seems like a waste to get it for just a year or so. But I also don’t want to raise a child alone with less of a social safety net than we currently have, and unless I meet The One really soon, that may be my only path toward motherhood.

“I have considered fostering or adoption before, and I fear those systems will be weakened in the next few years, so maybe I will do that. It would be a better move than having a baby in the face of the threat of nuclear war.”

In a recent episode of The Longest Shortest Time, Hillary Frank hosts a roundtable during which, among other topics, two lesbian couples examine the question of how 45’s administration affects their thinking about having children. Even within one couple, the partners’ views cover a wide range: eager to raise radical children vs. afraid to bring a child into the world where the parents (Black, queer) feel hatred around them.

How about you? Has the new administration muddied or clarified the decision for you?

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The Childfree Choice: An Interview with The Baby Matrix author Laura Carroll

MS: We appreciate your focus on teaching people to actually reflect on whether or not to have children rather than just do it because it’s what people do! In the The Baby Matrix you talk about getting people to actually assess whether or not they will make good parents and you discuss Ellen Peck and William Granzi’s The Parent Test which examines an individual’s aptitude for parenting. Did you take The Parent Test? What did it reveal to you?

Laura: While doing research for The Baby Matrix, I was delighted to discover Peck and Granzi’s book. I had not seen a book like this before. It was developed by a collection of experts, from Planned Parenthood leaders, doctors, ob/gyns, marriage and family counselors, sex educators, child psychiatrists and professors. Six detailed questionnaires go into “components of capability” for couples to ask themselves:

1) Expectations: What expectations do we have about parenthood? How realistic are they?

2) Resources: How do our resources measure up to the generally accepted requirements for the job of parenthood?

3) Skills: Do we have the needed skills for the job of parenthood? If not, how can they be developed?

4) Motivations: How strongly and for what reasons do we want to enter the process of parenting?

5) Traits: How well do we match the personal characteristics of happy, successful parents?

6) Interests: How sincere are our interests in all the elements of parenthood?

I completed all of the questionnaires, mostly to get a full sense of the assessment from a research standpoint. On a personal note, it confirmed what I have known since I was a teen – that I was not interested in having parenthood be the central focus of my adult life. Although this book was published some time ago (late 70s), I clearly saw how it remains very relevant today as a resource for making best decisions regarding parenthood. I have referred this book to many people in the midst of the parenthood decision and those feeling ambivalent, and it has helped them greatly.

MS: Now that there are websites such as Scary Mommy that expose the messiness of childbirth, parenting, etc. do you think that it’s still “taboo to talk about the negatives, such as the agonies that can be present at childbirth, the tragedy of death of the mother and/or the baby in childbirth or the drudgery and challenges of raising children” or have things changed when it comes to how we discuss parenthood?

Laura: What you quote from The Baby Matrix refers to early feminist Leta Hollingsworth’s 1916 paper about myths, or “social devices” that were needed to emphasize the positives of parenthood and encourage pregnancy. Talking about the negatives is less taboo now than in her time. Today we hear more about how many parents may not like a lot about the day-day-day process of parenting, but that the overall experience of parenthood is worth it.

There is one area that still seems less acceptable to talk about – regret. We may see more talk about this than in times past, but motherhood regret remains generally frowned upon. Why? Because pronatalist beliefs tell us that we are supposed to want to have children and experience it as the most fulfilling thing in our lives. When it turns out that this is not true, it is going against strong societal norms.

Israeli sociologist Orna Donath has done some interesting research in this area, and has a new book out based on it titled, Regretting Motherhood. An interesting thing happened when she began speaking to the media about it. In an interview I did with her she talks about how the debate about regretting motherhood shifts quickly to a debate about maternal ambivalence.

Donath has had to stress how they are not the same. In her words, “There are mothers who experience ambivalent feelings but do not regret becoming mothers, and there are mothers who regret becoming mothers and are not ambivalent about motherhood. In other words, regret does not deal with the question, ‘How can I become at ease with motherhood?’ but with the experience that ‘Becoming a mother was a mistake.’” Talking about ambivalence is easier – and more acceptable than candid admissions and experiences of regret.

MS: I see your book as feminist–you are working to normalize a woman’s decision not to have children. There’s also a powerful contingent of feminists, including Hillary Clinton, fighting for better paid maternity leave and affordable childcare.  In The Baby Matrix you note that one of the ways that our society is pronatalist is that fact that there are maternity and paternity leave policies. “While parents can take this time to care for their new baby, those with no children (yet or by choice) don’t get that time. All of these types of benefits favor and reward those who choose to reproduce, not those who do not.” What would this more equitable system like? How do you think both versions of feminism can co-exist?

Laura: To me, at its core, feminism is about equality and equal treatment. Maternity and paternity leave policies are inequitable because they favor one group of employees who have made a particular choice in their personal lives. This does not mean I am against leave policies where employees can take time off when a new baby arrives. I am all for it! Allowing new parents this time is a very important thing. But putting parenthood at the center of leave policies means not treating all employees equally.

This is why I am a proponent of PTO – or paid time off policies, where employees can use this time for a variety of purposes, one of which can be parental leave. The good news is we are seeing more PTO policies these days, and I hope that this continues to increase. Equitable leave policies don’t favor those who choose to make parenthood part of their personal lives, and don’t encourage any life choice or lifestyle in one’s personal life. Part of creating a work environment that treats employees equally also means creating a culture and policies in which there is no ‘punishment’ stemming from one’s reproductive choices, and this can relate to employees with children and without them.

MS: You had me nodding my head when you were talking about creating a curriculum that educates people to critically reflect on the decision to or not to have children, but when you started talking about revoking the rights of severely “unfit” individuals to have kids by requiring that they temporarily use long term birth control like an IUD (intrauterine device) for women or RISUG (totally “reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance”–two injections in the scrotum) for men, you started to lose me. This proposal makes me think of eugenics–the intentional cleansing of what are considered bad genes. Do you worry about the misuse of power in a system where people can have their right to reproduce revoked?

Laura: In The Baby Matrix I talk about the heavy prices society pays for subscribing to the idea that it’s everyone’s right to have children, regardless of whether people are emotionally, financially, or psychologically ready to have them. Too many children, the parents themselves, and society are harmed as a result of this unquestioned right.

Our society severely lacks ways to prevent severely unfit parents from harming children and society. In the spirit of igniting a discussion about ways to address these harms, in the book I broach this idea – What if those who show severe levels of unfitness as parents, such as recurring child alimony non-payment; physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; parental substance abuse; neglect; abandonment or homicide, could be required to temporarily lose their right to reproduce. Severely unfit mothers and fathers would not lose this right forever – but just until they are deemed out of the severely unfit classification.

The logic here is even in a democratic society like ours, rights are taken away when people harm others. We do this in our legal and prison system. The same could happen for severely unfit parents. I don’t see this idea as moving toward as eugenics, which is more about improving the genetic quality of the human population. And like all policies, it would need to be clear in its intent, which is not sterilization, but one that temporarily takes away a reproductive right as a punitive measure to deal with parents who have harmed or are harming their children.

In the book, which is written as more a manifesto, I present this idea as a way to spur further discourse on it as well as other ideas to solve this problem. One thing I do know is it’s a big problem that will need bold ideas to try and solve. I also contend that it will mean shifting from a pronatalist mindset that says anyone has the right to have children to one that treats parenthood more as a ‘privileged’ right.

MS: We appreciate how you unpack the argument that people should have kids so that said kids will take care of their parents when old age hits. You argue that people should plan for old age, not just financially, but also by creating networks. Can you talk about how you’ve prepared for “elderhood”?

Laura: Sure!

  1. My husband and I have long-term financial targets and are implementing our plan to get there for when we are old.
  2. We have and continue to build a support network of dear friends who are like family, godchildren, and other younger people we are close to in our lives.
  3. We have a home in a central location that will be close to health care services, community services and community-based networks. If we decide to change homes upon our elderhood years, this is will be a key component in the selection of our home’s location.

Also in play – dear girlfriends and I have started to seriously discuss how we want to live if/when we end up as widows. We seriously talk about living arrangements, from sharing a home to thinking bigger – developing a great business idea for the kind of elder developments and communities we’d love to see – even possibly create!

MS: You make a few arguments in The Baby Matrix that probably aggravate some people. For example, one argument against bringing more people into the world is that it is bad for our planet–it strains our already strained resources, so if people are going to choose to have kids, you argue, they should adopt or just have one. How have people you know who have more than one child reacted to this argument? Has it impacted any of your relationships with family or friends?

Laura: I put forth a ‘one or none’ biological child advice based on what many population experts encourage. If a person wants to raise more children, experts also advise taking children in need of loving homes. This not only means looking at the problems we have with our current adoption system, but how we as a society think about adoption. Society purports “bio is best” and that adoption is the “last resort” after all else fails. We’re at a point where we need to loosen our value on biological over adoptive children to do the right thing for the planet and those already on it.

When I think of those closest to me, either they have no children, one biological child, or two biological plus adopted children. For those who have more than one biological child, at the time they had them what was being touted more was ‘replacement’ – meaning a couple who each replaced themselves should have no more than two biological children. I would say they acted on what they knew at the time.

This was true for me as well; from reading the experts, for awhile I too thought two biological children per couple or less was best. Researching The Baby Matrix and subsequently serving as editor on the book on overpopulation, Man Swarm: How Overpopulation is Killing the Wild World really opened my eyes to how having one or no biological children is so important to population reduction and stabilization, which today’s world desperately needs.

For the most part my friends are very open to the issue. One friend (a mom) chose Man Swarm for her book club and invited me to come speak when they met to discuss it. The group was a collection of mothers and not, and we had a lively discussion about how to best educate today’s kids on reproductive ethics in a time when we are losing so much of the natural world as a result of too many humans.

MS: For your first book you interviewed couples who did not have children to educate people about happily married couples without children by choice. That book was published sixteen years ago. What kind of progress do you think we have made since the publication of Families of Two?  

Laura: I am pleased to say lots of progress has been made. Shortly after its release, being interviewed on network television to talk about Families of Two and that the segment treated the childfree in a curious and positive way was groundbreaking. It also sparked the topic being talked about more in print, radio and television media. At that time, the internet was very new. As it expanded, the childfree demographic really began to move out of the tributaries of society. Websites, blogs and online print media have fueled an explosion of information and education about opting out of parenthood. And in the last decade or so we’ve seen more research on people with no children than ever before.

I have also seen three positive trends. First, we have chipped away at some of the myths surrounding not having children. With some years of childfree voices hammering on inaccurate assumptions, we’ve nicked away at stubborn myths like those with no children by choice are selfish and that having children is “the” key to fulfillment in one’s adult life.

While there has been online pitting of parents against non-parents, we’re seeing less of it today. As cyberculture developed, it often promoted combative tones and oppositional communication, and when it comes to those violating the parenthood norm, this has been no exception. In the case of parents and non-parents, this kind of online communication has only served to judge and separate both camps. These days online there seems to be less adversarial banter and judging of others’ reproductive choices, and more about mutual understanding of both camps.

Overall, from tracking it for the last 16 years, I see the childfree choice gaining more levels of acceptance with each generation. I am dedicated to reaching a time when the choice not to reproduce is recognized as just as worthy and legitimate as the choice to reproduce. It is a matter of reproductive justice, and society reaching full reproductive freedom. We’re not there yet, but as of 2016, we’ve certainly notched closer to this end.

Laura Carroll is the author of Families of Two: Interviews with Happily Married Couples without Children by Choice, which received international recognition and paved the way for her to become an expert and leading voice on the childfree choice. For the last 16 years, she has tracked and researched the childfree. Laura is also the author of The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds from Outmoded Thinking About Parenthood & Reproduction Will Create a Better World.

In addition to writing nonfiction, Laura is a seasoned editor and communications consultant. She has been featured on ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS morning shows, a variety of radio talk shows, U.S. and Canadian public radio, print/digital media, including Fortune, The Wall Street Journal and New York Magazine to discuss social science topics. Find Laura at lauracarroll.com.

Depression or a Child?

Sheri McCord explores how long-term mental illness has impacted her decision-making around motherhood. 

It was the early 90s, Kurt Cobain was on MTV Unplugged, and I was a teenager. I was hospitalized for overdosing on medication for the first of two times in my life. I met someone while in the hospital who was living with postpartum depression. I watched her sob as her husband yelled at her in front of us, patients. He was an Alan Thicke look-alike, and she was diminutive, brunette, and fragile—a scared bird with hollow bones. Alan was questioning her, “Why did you do this to us? Why? Can’t you even give an answer? Why?” He stood there over her, holding both of their sons, one clearly the latest baby, and the other about two-years old. While she sat hunched at a table, he seemed to lord the now-crying babies over her while continuing to badger. She could not hold her littlest one, and I thought that she might have wanted to, but she just couldn’t. He could not understand, and her continuous crying infuriated him. It was the kind of quiet sobbing we do when we don’t want to attract attention.

Ten years later, when I considered having children, I remembered this woman, and I imagined myself in this same state.

Postpartum depression is only one of the reasons why I am afraid to have children.  

Depression is in my genes. Born in 1927 and brought up during the Great Depression, my dad had all the qualities of someone extremely depressed while also being paranoid and anxious and an alcoholic. He was explosively violent oftentimes to my mom and half-siblings and verbally abusive to us all. Children were to be seen and not heard, so in one of his lectures, he told a very stoic, steely eleven-year-old me that I “wouldn’t make nothing of myself” because I’d “have a baby in eighth grade and have to drop out.” This “pep talk” eventually drove me to do well in school. But he didn’t believe in “book learnin’” or psychology for that matter. Therapy was never brought up in our house, even when I began to throw books around my room in anger and sleep all day and night.  

I eventually did get therapy. I’ve been prescribed every drug on the planet for depression and anxiety as well as snapping a rubber band on my wrist when I had negative thoughts. Eventually, I realized the rubber band method was actually punishing myself.

My psychiatrists finally figured out my medicine, and I acknowledge the tremendous time and patience of trial-and-error for both patient and physician that takes place to find a suitable cocktail. After a few years, I plateau, and then I usually need to find something else. That trial-and-error period is frightening since I do not know how I will respond to the new drugs, or if I will be pulled into a deep depression with no getting out of bed. This uncertainty contributes to my reluctance to have a child.

My mom first saw a difference in me at eleven during menarche. The joy was sucked out of me, she said. I used to be such a happy child. From then on, I was a worrier. Suicidal thoughts have run through my mind since I was 17. They still occur today but they’re more like those annoying pop-up ads on the web; they stick around for a few seconds until I click “off” and then I’m back to whatever I was doing.  

Though I’m not suicidal, living with depression has kept me from attending class or work when I had no energy to get out of bed. I have been bed-bound for weeks at a time and unable to focus, read, or remember what I did day-to-day. A panic attack once sent me to the campus counseling center because I was so worried about the discussion in my Chaucer class. Most of the time, I am just trying to make it, much less form a complex thought about Middle Age poetry.  But I still managed to get through three degree programs and earn a Ph.D.

Some might look at me and wonder if I just didn’t choose school or a career over children, but I can tell you it is much more than that. Depression can be all-consuming. Depression is selfish, taking away time, motivation, and energy. Many of my relationships, and one marriage, have failed because of depression, anxiety, or a combo.

Sometimes the pressure to have a child is too much but how am I supposed to raise a baby when I feel like that baby is constantly me? I’m always monitoring my mood, and more specifically, my anxiety and level of energy. I was and still am raising myself. I know I am living with depression and anxiety and who knows what else, and I just can’t see bringing another human being into my world.

head-shot_mccord-1Sheri McCord writes creative nonfiction, studies seventeenth-century literature, and continues to research literature, medicine, and early modern perceptions of the body. She began her teaching career in 2001 and graduated with a Ph.D. in English in 2010. She has taught across the St. Louis, Missouri, area and currently is a writing consultant at Saint Louis University writing center.

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Suddenly Uncertain: How My Post-divorce Love Makes Me Reconsider Motherhood

Adamantly childfree her whole life, this week’s writer finds herself considering motherhood at the age of 37. 

I was a lifelong “I never want kids, ever” person until divorce at 35 nudged me into some unexpected indecision.  I didn’t think I’d ever be considering children, especially at this age.  I also didn’t know I’d find the type of relationship that I have now, which has revealed how incredibly different one pairing of people can feel from another.  Being with a new partner for the first time in 15 years suddenly revealed possibilities and emotions I never imagined having.

When I was married, I felt secure in my decision to remain childless.  I had someone bound to me by the commitment of marriage who felt the same way, at least at the time, and was relatively fine with it.  Sure, I felt some pressure from society (and maybe a tiny bit from his mother), but most of my closest friends and family knew better than to question me on my decision.  I felt generally accepted; my husband and I were a united front, for the most part.  When I no longer had the partnership of a marriage to lean on, to hide in, I was suddenly exposed.  I was well aware that the possibility of meeting many different kinds of partners was out there:  among them, men who would want children, who would expect them.  Men who would judge me and reject me for not wanting them. I saw my lack of desire for children as a major strike against me.  For the first time in my adult life, I felt afraid to be myself.

The whole landscape changes when you become a single person again.  Lots of people who heard about my divorce would say “Oh, it’s so good that you didn’t have any children.”  Really?  Because it was totally different when I was married and everyone wanted to know why I didn’t have any.  That left me to consider what was so fortunate about not having children with my ex husband.  Was that concern over kids being caught in a nasty or dramatic split?  Maybe it was because then I could make a clean break, and I wouldn’t have to deal with my ex again.  Whatever the reason, those statements and all related discussions stopped as my identity as a single person settled in.  It was as if not having a family was now a foregone conclusion and wasn’t worth talking about anymore.  I guess I’d blown my chance…at something I didn’t even want to begin with.

It’s hard to say what exactly put the current uncertainty over having children into me.  Divorce is hard and terrible because you lose a lot, even when it’s relatively amicable.  You lose future, love, security, money.  I lost a lot of those things, but the scariest thing I lost was time.  If this had happened to me five years ago, I could’ve had a chance to relax and think for a minute.  It takes time to meet someone, and know them and love them.  The relationship I have with my current partner is so different from anything I’d known before.  I can only describe it as a deeper connection, sort of a stronger emotional engagement.  Loving someone and being loved in that way soothed just enough of my fears about the commitment of having a child with another person that I ended up on the fence when I thought my mind had been made up for as long as I’d been alive.

That deeper connection, plus the insight I’ve gained by going through a divorce, has made me uncomfortable with absolutes and that’s where the fence comes in. It seems fair to be honest that I’m not eager to have children, or that I don’t see it is a necessary life goal.  It doesn’t seem appropriate right now to say no to a partner unequivocally.  Sure, I would be most comfortable with someone who knew they didn’t want children, because I think deep down, I don’t really either.  But how can I say I never want something when I don’t even know yet where this relationship will take me?

We’ve got friends who are around the same age, even a year or two older, who recently had their first babies and seem really happy.  My partner sees it too, and I secretly overanalyze his responses to every online picture and status update.  He’s happy when people have babies, like a normal person.  When I hear about people having babies, it’s riddled with anxiety, like it somehow holds a mirror up to some dysfunctional or broken part of me.  It’s not something we talk about a lot, and I realize that’s counter to my earlier description of a deep connection.  Now, I’m approaching 37 and realizing that there isn’t much more time to think about this before it becomes a decision I can’t reverse.  Maturity and hindsight have ensured that my days of rushing into things are over, but rushing is quickly feeling like the only solution.

lyon

Mina Lyon is the pseudonym of a New Englander with incurable wanderlust.  She loves national parks, dirt roads, maple syrup, and solitude.  She is pretty sure she wants to get into bicycle touring and has her whole life ahead of her.

Let’s Be Friends Part 2: Childfree Woman Loves Mom Friends and their Kids

A thing that made me sad: getting ditched by a friend I’d had for about five years because I’m childfree. It didn’t happen right away, and trust me, I understand that life post-kids is hectic. After the baby arrived, I’d visit with easily reheated meals, a little chocolate, and arms happy to hold the baby while my friend showered. As the weather warmed, I’d join in jaunts to push the baby in her stroller around town, take in the air.

But then something shifted. My friend put together her wish list for the friend she wanted to make. This new friend would have a baby the same age. She’d share the same interest, like the same kinds of food. And she’d want to have a second baby at around the same time my friend would. Before long, it was nearly impossible to make plans together. She found her gal pal soul mate. And it wasn’t me.

What hurt was not her need for new mom friends. Of course, it makes sense for a new mom to crave a kindred friend, someone to share ideas, worries, and lack-of-sleep complaints with. It’s important for women to develop friendships that will help them feel strong and capable in their unrehearsable new role. As the childfree friend, though, it felt awful to realize that what had once been valued in our relationship no longer was and that her focus had shifted entirely to her mom friends.

I miss our friendship, now a courteous acquaintanceship. I especially miss it because, despite my being childfree, I have several deep, wonderful friendships with women who chose to have kids. It can be challenging, both for the childfree woman and the new mom, to maintain a friendship across the baby fence, but, at least speaking from the childfree perspective, it is absolutely worth the extra effort it may take. (read the reverse perspective here) The added bonus of these relationships? Now I’m fortunate to have friendships with their kids, too.

I wouldn’t say the role I have is that of an auntie, though being an auntie is one of my favorite identities. Instead, I’ve developed intergenerational friendships, which are vital for wellbeing and strong community.

Sarah and I became friends after she joined a knitting group I attended. Her quick wit, savvy understanding of human nature, and deeply caring yet no-nonsense personality won me over. If I’d had a younger sister, Sarah’s the woman I would want to be that sister. Before long, our friendship developed to include her whole family. When I had a recent loss, her husband made beautiful, labor-intensive food to bring comfort. She’s one of my only friends with kids who has asked me to watch her kids when she’s needed someone to step in for an hour.

All too often, I think women with kids don’t ask their childfree friends to help out with childcare because, well, a variety of reasons….maybe they don’t want to impose, or maybe they assume being childfree means disliking children, or maybe they’re not sure their childfree friends will know what to do with the kids.

One of the reasons I value my friendship with Sarah is that she makes none of those assumptions. She asked, making it clear that my saying no wouldn’t be a problem. And because she asked, I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon playing games with her kids, getting to know them better, and letting them get to know me better.

Now my husband and I look forward to our annual New Year’s hike, which the kids join us on. We laugh at videos of the kids telling jokes, feel pride when we see her son play piano with true musicality and feeling, look forward to her daughter’s ballet performances. We’re not family, yet we get to participate in the kids’ lives as if we are. As they grow older, I hope we can continue to enjoy our friendship, continue to model how much friendship matters. This is important because strong social networks can lead to healthier, longer lives.

A few weeks ago I visited another friend who is a new mom. She and her son had been out of the area for a couple of months, and I had not seen him since he was a newborn. She handed him to me to hold, talked about work, answered my questions about his development-the thing with being childfree is I don’t really know when babies start meeting their marks-sitting, crawling, teeth, etc. She treated me like her friend, as she always has. And she welcomed me into this new part of her life as though there was no question I’d want to be there. And I do.

I know parents are more than parents. They are people with ideas, opinions, lives beyond their children, and I want to know those parts of them, too. While I enjoy time and activities with my friends and their kids, I also believe the time sans kids is vital. Friendships are complicated, beautiful relationships, and one of the things a childfree friend offers to a woman with kids is the reminder of who else she is, who else she has been, who else she will be.

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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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My Mother’s Day Wish: Being Childfree Accepted as a Cultural Norm

It was Mother’s Day, 2003. On the Sundays when I was at home, I attended the Episcopalian church where I was trying to rebuild my faith and connect to a spiritual community as I had as a kid. I was newly separated, working as an adjunct professor at a prison college program in the evenings after my full-time grant-writing job was finished.

Ushers walked through the sanctuary with flat florist boxes filled with carnations, as the priest, Mother Claire, invited all of the mothers to accept one. I sat in my usual aisle seat, distracting myself with the Book of Common Prayer during this part. When an usher stopped, I shook my head to indicate I was not a mom.

Instead of the moment passing unnoticed, Mother Claire strode over, took a carnation, and thrust it at me.

“But you do mother,” she said. “You are a teacher. You mother your students. You deserve this.”

I was too embarrassed by the attention she drew to me to refuse. The priest had counseled me when my marriage started to dissolve, and she knew that I had been poised to shift my thinking and try to have kids. Her insistence felt like salt in the wound of my failures made more upsetting because I have never believed teaching to be a form of mothering. I took the flower, put it down next to me. Later I shredded the petals, threw them on the ground.

There are so many ways for humans to hurt each other, so many ways for women to undermine each other. This moment seems petty to me when I’m in full buck-up-I’m-a-stoic-New-Englander mode. Other times, though, it enrages me. Once in awhile, it saddens me.

I’ve never been clutched by the all-consuming need to have children; during the times I have wanted them, the prospect was like considering a long-term adventure, one that I felt more confident about with my new husband as my partner in parenting. Ultimately, my husband and I decided not to have children. Even though we consciously came to this decision together, I grieved for months. Once the possibility of motherhood was foreclosed, Mother’s Day went from being neutral to being charged, as it had been that day in church. The year we decided to not become parents, I could not even bear to go to the grocery store for fear of being stung by an innocent cashier wishing me what I would never have. Every time I have to respond to someone that I do not, in fact, have kids–whether I am grieving the decision or not–I am reminded that I am not the norm.

I delight in fixing a festive brunch for my mother and mother-in-law to celebrate them on Mother’s Day. Most years, I can keep my focus on the women most responsible for the life I have now. Most years, I can smile when a cashier says “Happy Mother’s Day.”

Even during those times, though, I chafe at the cultural norm that means a woman of a certain age is assumed to be a mother. A common reaction to my being childfree is pity. Mother Claire’s insistence that I take a flower upset me not only because it felt like betrayal of my trust; her pity was as unwanted as the flower. When a friend who had been trying to conceive shared the good news that she was pregnant, I could see her concern as she told me. She wanted to be kind, to be sensitive, but those well-meant feelings translated into pity, which was far worse than my feeling a moment of remorse that I would never have such news to share. Her pity made my sincere good wishes ring hollow.

I’m an anomaly, though the tide is shifting. By choosing not to have kids, I have chosen, unwittingly, to leave myself open to unsought opinions, bromides, observations, and advice offered, usually, by women who have had kids. Little thought is given to whether I might have wanted kids and couldn’t or if I might have lost a pregnancy or if I weighed the trajectories, considered what I know about myself, and made a decision that allows me to be the human, the woman I want to be.

Let’s start with Mother Claire’s comment that as a teacher, I am a mother. I suppose, seen through the triple goddesses as a lens, a teacher can nurture, and as a childfree woman who seeks knowledge as we–some of us who have been called selfish for pursuing our educations–teachers do, I should accept that title. But I work with young people a few hours a week, sixteen weeks a semester. I’m not guiding their lives. I’m not imbuing them with my core values. I’m teaching revision strategies and passion for communication at best. I would never claim to understand the bond of a mother to her child based on the relationships I have with even the dearest of my students.

When I asked a group of childfree women to tell me what kinds of comments they had heard, one of the common ones, and one I have been told myself, was this: you’ll never know love until you look in your newborn’s eyes. Take your own variation on it.

It’s hard to respond to a statement like that when you aren’t a mom. Maybe I won’t know what love is, or I won’t understand real love, or I won’t ever feel deep love. Since I won’t be a mom, I can’t argue. I can, though, consider what I believe love is, and I can determine if I have felt such a thing for another and from another.

When I was a girl, I once asked my mom how you know you love someone. My mom is not a person who waxes eloquent on such things–I come by my stoic-New-Englander persona honestly. But that day, as we sat at the kitchen table, she patted the two hand towels in front of her. See, every day my mom washed my dad’s hair in the kitchen sink and then washed her own. The towels would wrap their heads until they dried their hair.

“Every day, I put out the towels, and I put the nicer one on top for daddy to use,” my mom said. “And every day, when my hands are wet and I grab a towel for him, he’s moved the shabbier one to the top so I’ll have the nicer one. That’s how you know you love someone.”

That daily moment between my parents echoes what the founder of Mother’s Day in the United States wanted to celebrate. Ann Jarvis’s intent was to honor the sacrifices a mother makes for her child. Ultimately, it is this willingness to help another person be their best, to give them our own best, that makes me believe I do know what love is, even without a child.

I am not opposed to Mother’s Day. The shift I long for is not simple. It isn’t that I want people to avoid the sentiment of celebrating mothers as a way to avoid hurting women who aren’t mothers. True, I, and many of my childfree friends, have often been made to feel uncomfortable, like something apart, something not normal because of our choices. Rather, I long for a shift where the decision to not have children is considered as valid as the decision to have children.

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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.

kiss-kats-profilecrop1

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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“Natural” vs. “Unnatural” Women: Motherhood as Woman’s Duty

From the editors: Dr. Shoba Sharad Rajgopal explores cultural expectations of motherhood she faced and resisted with the support of her mother (pictured with the author). 

I do not have children of my own, and, in fact, prefer the company of the young of other mammals, such as puppies and kittens. That may not sound unusual out here in the U.S, but it was seen as extremely odd when I was a young woman growing up in India, as most countries from the developing world tend to be extremely supportive of women as mothers, and dismissive of those women who are “barren,” and either unable, or unwilling, to produce offspring.

It is a far cry from the sane attitude of some other animal species such as elephants, where the role played by “aunt” elephants are as critical for the wellbeing of the herd as those of the mothers.

The good side of traditional societies is that no eyebrows are raised if a woman decides to discreetly feed her infant in a public place, and women there are adept at doing so. Here on the contrary, it is astonishing to see the brouhaha over this very natural act of a mother. Society appears to have forgotten that the function of the mammary glands are not to titillate the male species, but to feed the infants of the species.

But the bad side of traditional societies is that women are expected to yearn to become mothers from the time they are little girls. They are gifted little dolls for this very purpose, which they proceed to treat as their own infants. This is of course, a worldwide phenomenon and not just specific to my culture. However, what is specific to my original culture is the obsession that families have with parenthood. The pressure placed upon young couples by the husband’s parents is astonishing. From outwardly innocuous remarks like the jocular “Any good news? “ (accompanied by a knowing smile) to the more obvious and semi reproachful query, “When shall we hear the patter of little feet?”

In fact, young couples are pressured to feel that it is their duty to provide children / grandchildren for the aging parents and grandparents. This attitude leads to immense psychological pressure upon couples who are unable to perform their duty and produce offspring upon request. And of course it is expected in most communities, regardless of religion, class or caste, that the first born be a boy.

No doubt all these attitudes led to a reaction on my part as a rebellious young woman not to have children of my own, or rather, biological offspring. Any man I chose to spend time with would therefore be regaled with this decision. Small wonder then that most took to the hills. After all, who would want a wife who was not just an “uppity woman,” but “an unnatural” one, to boot?!

I recall the very hurtful comments made by a close male friend back in the days when my biological clock was supposed to be ticking: “You are an unnatural woman!”

I managed to cover up my feelings of hurt with a sharp quip, “And you, being a man, know what it feels like to be a woman?!”

But deep inside, I was hurt, very hurt. At weak moments I even asked myself, was it somehow strange of me as a woman not to feel this apparent universal urge to produce offspring? Did it even, in some way, make me a bad woman? When I came upon Simone de Beauvoir’s ruminations on the societal construction of womanhood I began to feel much better about my decision. But how many women of my generation back then had access to such literature in the first place? Most have access only to the sexist dictats of Manusmriti, the infamous Codes of Manu, the Lawgiver of ancient India, which were enforced by society in general, through the entire extended family, teachers, astrologers, the works!

In my case a casual visit to the family astrologer ended in disaster when the man concerned pronounced judgment upon my decision to stay single with a sneering accusation,”how selfish of you! You do not care for the suffering of your aging parents!”

My polite response that the parents concerned were not suffering but in fact were quite content to let me make my own decisions was met with horror. What kind of woman would behave this selfish? And how dare I wait so long and refuse all these offers of (arranged) marriage that had come my way? A sure sign of great arrogance! As to the lax attitude of my parents, no doubt this poor upbringing had contributed to my willful behavior.

As the years went by and I focused on my career and took up what appeared to be a permanent abode on the proverbial shelf, my mother stopped collecting items for my “Hope Chest,” (Or trunk, if you will, where jewelry, crockery and sundry other items would be collected by mothers for their daughter’s marital homes). The aforementioned “Hope Chest” became the family joke as “The Hopeless Chest!” Any conversation about my getting married or having a child was long dropped, to my great relief.

My mother even reassured me once, when I was in my late 30s with a pithy comment: “Marriage is not the be-all and end-all of life, my dear!”

It is only now, looking back on it, that I realize what an unusual woman she was of her generation, or even of generations to come, to possess such an unorthodox attitude towards life. For women in traditional South Asian society are usually led to believe that it is their bounden duty to get married and then produce children, preferably male.

I did eventually fall in love with a man who I went on to marry, once I had finished graduate school in the U.S. But we chose not to have children, partly because both of us travelled a lot, and rearing children under those circumstances would prove difficult, and partly because we were not eager to become parents. I am fortunate to have been born into a liberal and supportive family where a woman’s life is not equated to motherhood, but it is not the norm in my society even today.

However, I will add this caveat: I have discovered that society’s expectation of women is not that different even in the “modern, progressive West,” and not just in the developing world. Let us not forget that it is not just in Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s USSR that women were forced into motherhood, to produce good Aryan babies for God and the nation. That was the case in the U.S too, where, forget abortion, even contraception was banned right into the second half of the 20th century. The position of many world religions too has been that woman’s duty is to become a mother, and produce as many offspring as possible at that.

We do live in a brave new world where women are not forced into motherhood, overtly, that is. But what about the covert message of the mainstream media? Indeed, as numerous television serials and Hollywood films continue to show, women who are content with their careers and other pastimes rather than yearning for motherhood are portrayed as unnatural (yes, that word again!) Yet, somehow the most unnatural woman is redeemed eventually when she goes ahead and births a child. Although there is little support for either the mother or the child once she has gone ahead and had it, with working mothers reporting huge levels of stress trying to juggle work and home without much access to childcare in most jobs. But that is a different story.

Women who have abortions are still represented in a negative light in Hollywood films in this day and age. Candice Bergen’s Murphy Brown may have incurred Dan Quayle’s wrath in the 1990s, for being a single mother. But she was a mother nevertheless, not a woman who had resolved to remain childless, and, moreover, a content childless woman at that. Even films that masquerade as progressive such as the Indie film Juno (2007) have a dark side when they enforce the hegemonic view that woman’s natural calling is to be a mother. And God forbid that a popular television series show a woman reject the role of motherhood and get an abortion.

We may seem to have come a long way since the dark days of The Feminine Mystique (1963), when Betty Friedan wrote of the oppressive standards that women were expected to uphold within American society. Women in this part of the world today can do anything, take up any profession, be whatever they want to be. And yet, as our television serials never cease to remind us, the one thing we deeply yearn for, regardless of all our outward posturing, is to be mothers. Small wonder, then, that women who have postpartum depression or parental ambivalence even years later feel abandoned by society, as they are made to feel they are not “normal.” Because, isn’t it “normal” to feel complete as a woman only when one has become a mother?

Perhaps East and West are not so different after all…

Shoba Dr. Shoba Sharad Rajgopal x received her Ph.D. in Media Studies from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Spring 2003. She moved to the East coast to take up a position as the Coordinator of the then Women’s Studies Program at Westfield State University and is currently in charge of the Women and Gender Studies Minor in the Department of Ethnic & Gender Studies, where she teaches courses that focus on gender issues and religious extremism in South Asia. She has worked with colleagues across campus and helped develop an Asian Studies Minor at the university. Dr Rajgopal traveled widely across Asia and Europe in her previous avatar as a broadcast journalist and reported for the Indian networks and for CNN International from various international locations.