Tagged decisions about children

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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Fearmongering on the Couch: Things My Therapist Told Me About Motherhood (That Maybe Weren’t So Helpful)

I’m sitting on a couch the color of hot dog mustard, three floors up in West Hollywood, glaring at my therapist’s toe cleavage. I’m trying to keep myself from storming out of the office. I’m not a bailer; I’m not a quitter; I haven’t ditched anything since senior year of high school. Well, false—that’s why I’m fighting the impulse to flee my session. I’m toying with bailing on a belief I’ve held my entire life: the ardent belief that I-don’t-want-kids, that I’ll never be a mother.

Like much ardency, my ambivalence about children was nurtured by example. My mother had put a career as a court reporter on hold to raise me and my siblings. “I never saw myself as someone with kids,” she told me recently. But she had had them, three of them. She’d attempted to give us everything and, since everything is unattainable, of course she’d fallen short.

I didn’t want to set myself up for failure, I thought subconsciously, and, consciously I thought I didn’t want to sacrifice my body, and aspirationally I thought I didn’t want to compromise my career and finally I thought I just didn’t really care. Soon, having kids was like deciding what to make for dinner: alternately of monumental importance or so pesky I’d just as well eat popcorn.

Still, I know others—especially medical professionals—aren’t so cavalier about the conception question. That’s why I’m surprised my therapist is so instantly down on the prospect when I broach it in our latest session. Somehow, this topic is so anathema, she’s stringing together more words than she has in any of our previous conversations.

“People don’t think about the possibilities,” she says. “They think it’s going to be this sweet, healthy baby, and you have to prepare yourself. What if you have a baby with autism? What if you have a blind baby?”

I nod, mouth tight. I revisit what I’ve told her so far:

  • My husband for-sure wants a kid; I think I could be happy with a kid.
  • My husband and I believe our lives would be conducive to raising a kid. We’re lucky. We have flexible schedules. Zero debt. A nearby campus where either of us could escape to write.
  • My husband and I do wonder, though, how anyone knows when the time is right. How to study the tea leaves of life and decide to decide …

That’s what I asked her, I think, as she shakes her head: how do people know?

“Would you have child care?” she drills. “Live in or drop off? Would you be able to afford it? Who would take care of the kid if they got sick?”

“We’ve talked about a lot of these things,” I say, frustrated—and concerned. Her business card says she does marriage counseling. What kind of blazes is this woman dragging couples into and how irreversibly burnt do they come out?

I try another tack: optimism and blunt honesty. “I’m afraid about losing my time to write, but I think, realistically, that wouldn’t happen.”

“Well you have to spend some time with the kid,” my therapist says, perhaps operating under the misconception that people without kids don’t think through that hypothetical alternate reality. (I’m sure there are people who’ve never imagined a crib in their living room, but that’s not me.) “Even if it’s with a nanny all day, you’ll see that kid every day, every night, and they’re going to know if you resent them. They’ll be able to tell. And then they’re going to grow up and hate your guts. And your husband’s going to resent you for ruining your relationship with your child.”

Of course I don’t want that, I tell her, but inside I begin to worry. Maybe I’m too demanding a patient, I consider. I want to be furnished with advice, not doomsaying. There’s a worse possibility, too, one that terrifies me: maybe I’m so unfit to be a parent that this scree is my therapist’s not-subtle attempt to communicate BAD IDEA TURN AROUND ABORT MISSION.

“I mean, of course,” I say, when she asks if this is an issue I want to work on. I hear myself flail. “I could see having a family being really nice when the kid is an adult. When we’re older and, you know, we want a connection to youth.”

The noise-machine in the next office burbles quiet.

“What do you think?” I say, finally. “Am I wrong to be considering this?”

“You sound very selfish and cold,” she says flatly. “I don’t think these are reasons to start a family, so yes, I would say you’re wrong. It doesn’t sound like you want to start a family out of love. This just sounds like a cold, calculated decision. We’ve got one more minute.”

I leave the office and postpone my usual call to my husband, the one where I ask if he wants me to bring anything home. I feel riled up and slightly haunted, like I’m dragging around—and selfishly neglecting—the ghost of the baby I could potentially bring into this world. As I head to my car, I glance in the Thai nail salon, where a pregnant woman roosts in a leather pedicure throne. I see two men pushing a stroller. There’s the rest of life, too, shop windows for a marijuana dispensary and an adult bookshop and an oyster bar, but I keep expecting to see my reflection augmented, me plus that ignored ghost infant.

I drive home, very carefully, very slowly, as though there’s human cargo and not dry cleaning in the backseat.

It takes me two hours to tell my husband what I’ve heard from my therapist. We’re at the kitchen table.

“Your therapist hardly knows you,” my husband says, when I’m too upset to eat dinner. When I say I’m too selfish to deserve to live; that I just want to quit life.

“She’s a professional,” I say. “She’s using her objective judgment.” I don’t really believe her, but I’ve been obsessing about her judgment—YOU ARE SELFISH. Maybe this is how it would feel to truly want a child, I think, to move from minute to minute thinking BABY BABY BABY. I wonder if there will ever be a time when I brood over sweet potato fries thinking, YOU ARE A MOTHER.

“Isn’t she supposed to be supportive?” he says. “Why isn’t she pointing out all the ways that having a family could improve your life? It’s not just a chore, you know. Plenty of people will tell you that their children bring them unquantifiable joy.”

I concede. I think about how my therapist would read this situation: she’d think my husband is trying to get me to change my mind definitively about having kids. Wrong. She’s wrong, too, about what it means to critically examine all aspects of a choice as life-changing as whether or not to begin a family. It’s difficult enough to move beyond ambivalence—no one needs a megaphone for their self-doubt. But I see that the dangerous thing about an ardent belief or a conviction is how it locks you into a position; it forces you to become a quitter instead of someone who evolves.

The next day, I call my therapist’s office and cancel all future appointments. I would’ve done the same thing, my mother says when I tell her. Sure, I’m no more decided about children than I was twenty-four hours ago, but one thing is certain: I am ready to embrace the thrills and mysteries of what it might mean to be a quitter.

JoAnna Novak is the author of I Must Have You, a novel, and Noirmania, a book-length poem, forthcoming in 2018. Her creative nonfiction has appeared widely, in publications including The New York Times, Salon, Runner’s World, Lit Hub, Catapult, and The Rumpus. She is a founding editor of Tammy, an independent chapbook press and literary journal. 

 

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Mourning a Miscarriage After an Unwanted Pregnancy

There was something about my period that wasn’t right. Having an IUD, it was usually much lighter than this. My womb felt emptier than usual. It didn’t take long to realize what was happening. After a few moments of denial, I finally allowed myself to accept that I was having a miscarriage.

I was in my senior year of college, two weeks away from my 22nd birthday, and I was alone. Having suffered from depression since childhood, I struggled with what was happening. I was glad to not be pregnant, but realizing what I had lost hurt. I cried for my unborn child. I wasn’t certain if I ever wanted a child, and I certainly didn’t want one my senior year , but I still grieved for this unborn child.

Something in me decided it was a boy, and I was sorry for the life he would never live. I told him it was probably best, as I wouldn’t be able to provide a good life for a child. I was young, still in school, and only working seasonally. Even if I had given him up for adoption, I worried that he have a poor quality of life: I had read that the mother’s emotions during pregnancy have an affect on the child’s personality, and I probably would have spent those 9 months feeling extremely depressed. That coupled with the high chance he would inherit my depression made me fear he would feel miserable for much of his life.

I skipped the rest of my classes that day, barely able to leave my bed, arguing with myself that I shouldn’t be so distraught about this. I wasn’t even sure I wanted children. But there was something in that emptiness that made me yearn to be a mother.

When I told my boyfriend what had happened, he apologized for my having to go through the miscarriage, but also pointed out that it didn’t feel like a loss of a child. He reminded me of his mother who, before he was born, had a miscarriage. His parents had been trying for a child, but never considered themselves parents to that child.

“My mom has always seen herself as a mother of two, not three,” he said.

We were sitting in his parked car in the driveway of his parents’ house, silent for a moment. I wondered if his mother had felt the way I was feeling now. She had wanted the child, so she must have mourned it. The miscarriage was still fresh in my mind, but his mother’s miscarriage had happened over 25 years prior and before he was born.

He stepped out of the car and I waited for a moment, wondering if it was worth pointing out that my experience of loss was still valid.

I felt petty for being as upset as I was, seeing as we didn’t want the child anyway. I thought of the women who are struggling to get pregnant and resented myself for having, if only for a moment, been pregnant despite using the most effective birth control available.

Still, I resolved that this was more my miscarriage than it was ours. He didn’t experience it or have the same attachment to our would-be child. The child hadn’t been within him.

Now, it all seems like a strange dream I had a long time ago. Though it feels as if it’s part of the distant past, I try not to completely detach from it. It was an important moment in time that taught me a lot about myself. I realized I’d be okay with having an abortion because it’d be best for all involved. I was also able to give motherhood more contemplation.

I don’t know if my yearning to be a mother was a feeling I could trust or if it was actually a case of me wanting something I couldn’t have. The yearning was strong but, I’m still not sure if I want to ever be a parent but, for a moment, I was one. I loved my child, I mourned my child, but I knew this was better for him. If I ever have a child, it will be when I can give them the happy life they deserve.

Emily Demone is the pseudonym of a New England based writer and, like so many in her peer group, social media manager. She loves nature and the outdoors, but prefers watching it through a window as she cuddles on the couch with her four dogs. She tries her best to navigate the chaos that is being a 20-something in the early 21st-century and wants to let everything happen as it may, but spends most of her time trying to guess what the future has in store.

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Queer, Disabled, and Childfree

In Portland in 1998 I felt my back clench and ache. I couldn’t focus on the words in my art history book. Phrases kept racing through my head with that same image of bulging. Expanding. Blowing up. I took a pregnancy test the day before and found out I was pregnant.

That same day, there was a series of urgent raps on the door. I scrambled to pull it open. My boyfriend Kelvin leaned in. His eyes on the floor. He stepped inside.

I reached for him. Pressed my face to his shoulder, shaking.

He grabbed me around the waist. Held me. Not speaking. I couldn’t either. I could feel objections. Frustration. Panic. I couldn’t articulate them. I just wanted to fall into his body and close my eyes.

“This is such a cliché, I know,” Kelvin said. “But I can’t help feeling like I’m ruining your life.”

“No, I don’t care.” I said. “I have no maternal instinct, I never have. I have no will to nurture. I want the thing to fucking die and leave me alone.

At the age of 22 I got an abortion so that I could finish my thesis and graduate. My ambition outstripped my maternal instinct as became usual. Kelvin broke up with me immediately afterwards, not unexpectedly.

At the age of 40, I still do not want children but it’s even more complicated than it was in college. As a queer widow disabled by several chronic mental illnesses and forced to survive on the charity of SSDI and my parents, child-rearing is not a responsible choice. I may not have passed completely out of the window of fertility, yet I am eager for menopause to seal the deal.

My Schizoaffective Disorder, a rare co-occurring blend of Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia matched with PTSD and anxiety is genetically inherited. I am on Disability. I cannot work ever again. Schizoaffective Disorder has a very high probability of being genetically passed on to any child I would have.

I do not want to bring another person into this world who would suffer as I have suffered. I have struggled with addiction, alcoholism, poverty, and mental illness. I feel like consigning my spawn to a life of homelessness on inadequate government benefits because I couldn’t be bothered to handle my birth control would be terminally irresponsible. I have a gynecologist in my phone who would perform the abortion if my IUD ever did fail. I am protecting my imaginary future child from a cruel world. I am protecting society from my child. I am trying to make responsible choices.

Like any story, there are a few ways to frame my story. Given my circumstances I believe I am making a responsible choice but maybe I’ve just chosen not to have kids because I don’t really like children unless I’m related to them. Their messiness, screams, crying and unpredictability irritate me. I prefer to see children from the safe distance of Facebook. Far away and quiet.

Others will tell my story, my choice to end a pregnancy, as a story of selfishness. I have been vilified on Twitter for being willing to use the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion. I am aware that some in the comments section may criticize my way of thinking. But do you want your tax dollars taking care of my spawn? On seeing an online photograph of a 1948 mother put her children up for sale, I shuddered in recognition. Children are very expensive, and I can’t earn my own money. The reality of my mental illness is cruel, no matter what pretty illusions I like to tell myself about being an artist.

The other way to tell my story is that I simply could not have children. With the limitations of my mental illness there are only so many things I can achieve. As a disabled woman I have fewer spoons, to quote spoon theory. A spoon is a unit of time and energy that it takes to do something. Disabled people have fewer spoons then non disabled people. So I put my spoons towards writing and art and cut out everything else that befits a normal life in order to have the bohemian life that I want.

There was a time, though, that I let the thought of motherhood enter my mind. I married a wonderful woman in 2011. We happily lived together for three years before tying the knot slightly before it was even legal. Prop 8 brides. Lesbian homesteading in Echo Park. We contemplated children but as two vain gamines, neither of us actually wanted to get pregnant. With me on SSDI and her working at a bookstore, we couldn’t really afford it either.

Watching San Francisco queer punk writer Michelle Tea’s struggle with artificial insemination online I wondered what lesbian parenting would be like. Our cat wore a pink sweater that read, “I have two mommies.” Yet conceiving is more difficult than kitten adoption. I see Instagram images now of an old girlfriend who just had a baby with her partner. Their family is adorable. I see that it is possible. I missed my chance.

My wife committed suicide in 2012. When she died I gave up on marriage. I will never marry again. I will never have children. I have a Paraguard IUD that will last until menopause. I will never have a traditional normal life, yet I am rapturously happy doing what I love all of the time.

I see my story as a story of acceptance. I sit alone in my Hollywood apartment with my cat typing into the void of the Internet. I am content to die this way in 40-50 years having done more of the same.

I accept my limitations. I hope to have a happier more fulfilling life as a result of this acceptance. As I learned in AA, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” I accept my childfree life. I am learning to flourish within it.

Andrea Lambert wrote Jet Set Desolate, Lorazepam & the Valley of Skin and the chapbook G(u)ilt. Her work appears in 3:AM Magazine, The Fanzine, Entropy, Queer Mental Health, HTMLGiant, Five:2:One Magazine and ENCLAVE. Anthologies: Haunting Muses, Writing  the Walls Down, Off the Rocks Volume #16, and The L.A. Telephone Book Vol. 1, 2011-2012. Her website is andreaklambert.com.

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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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If You Knew You’d Get Divorced, Would You Still Have Kids?

If you’d asked me twenty years ago, whether or not I’d have children, the answer would have been an emphatic of course! From as far back as I can remember, I knew that I wanted to have children. Not just one or two, either– I wanted eight of them, preferably all boys. I inherited my love of children from my mom, who never missed an opportunity to hold a baby, squeeze those little sausage legs, or play peek-a-boo while waiting in the check-out line at the grocery store. She was one of 18 children, from a big Italian family, and I always knew I wanted a big family of my own one day.

To say that I love children is like saying fish love the ocean. As a teen, I spent most of my spare time helping out on the play-yard with the kindergarteners, volunteering at the Y teaching children with special needs how to swim, babysitting on weekends (often without pay), and working as a camp counselor. In college, I taught preschool and babysat on weekends. After finishing my BA, I went to grad school to study child development, got my teaching credential, then taught Kindergarten for two years. Children were a part of every facet of my life.

When I was almost thirty, my husband and I decided to have children. We’d been married for three years. We came to this decision with much intention, partly because he was a programmer, and always considered all the consequences before he entered into anything. Some of the factors we considered were: whether we were financially stable, what we could offer children, whether we could afford to have me stay home until they were in Kindergarten. As much as I thought we were making a well-informed decision, I realize now that we hadn’t considered what should have been the most obvious question: would we still want to have children if we had to go it alone?

We are conditioned from early childhood to imagine the perfect family scenario– mom, dad, 2.2 kids, a dog, a white-picket fence. My version of this was that I’d be a stay-at-home mom , my husband would be involved and attentive to our family, and we’d have my doting Italian mother (Nonna to my kids) only two miles away. I’d had fantasies about pregnancy, too– that glow, that gorgeous round belly, people helping with my groceries. It wasn’t long, though, before reality caught up to fantasy in a dark alley and gave it the good beating it deserved.

The disillusionment began somewhere around the sixth week of pregnancy. I came to understand the misnomer of morning sickness, which was not relegated merely to mornings. No– it lasted all day, every day; and whereas for most people, morning sickness subsided after the first trimester, for me lasted five long months. I managed to gain 60 lbs with my first pregnancy and 58 lbs with the next. And that pregnant glow? Ha! What I experienced was more a putrid shade of green. Looking back, I suppose this was the first indication that perhaps having children was not going to be what I had imagined. But I got through the pregnancy, and after nine months of feeling like a bloated cow, I gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl.

Those first few days were as magical as everyone says; all I wanted to do was gaze into my baby’s eyes and hold her close. Then a couple of weeks in, those magical days were replaced by anxious nights, filled with completely irrational thoughts. I was convinced that my precious daughter would get into drugs or have unprotected sex. Even after those initial anxieties subsided, I could never have anticipated all the worries that would accompany having children. In the rolodex of my mind, I filled card after card with every new worry inherent to parenting. But, despite the worries, I enjoyed being a mom. For me, the benefits far outweighed the costs.

I was fortunate enough to have been able to stay home until my daughters were six and four. I’d planned to stay home until they were both in school, but as it turned out, my husband was not happy being married. I think marriage and parenting took a tremendous toll on him. In February of 2006, when divorce was imminent, I took a job as a preschool director in a small school that offered a lot of flexibility. By December, the girls and I found ourselves in our new house without their father, a maze of boxes looming in the living room. Over time, and with my mom’s help, we settled into our new life.

My mom, who lived only two miles away, was a tremendous help. She watched the girls if I needed to run to the store or if I had a meeting. She’d make sure my freezer was stocked with minestrone and sauce. In many ways, having my mom was better than having a husband; she was more helpful and I never felt I had to walk on eggshells with her. But less than two years into my divorce, we learned that my mom had Stage IV colon cancer. The oncologist gave her 6-12 months. The surgeons performed an aggressive resection of her colon and liver. She came to stay with me for a few months while she recovered. The surgeon felt confident that he’d gotten all the cancer, and for a couple of years, it looked as if she might defy the odds. Then, after almost two years of being cancer free, she got the news that her cancer had come back. It was, hands down, the hardest time in my life. On top of being a single mom, I took on the job of being her caretaker. She stayed with us while she recovered from an aggressive surgery, and again at the end when she was housebound and on a morphine drip. I wouldn’t have traded that time with her, but it added another element of challenge to parenting. Somehow, though, I made it through.

If you asked me today if I had to do it all again, would I have kids, there would be no definitive response, rather a long, uncomfortable pause followed by an incredibly uncertain I’m not sure. I have to stop here and qualify this by saying that I have two of the best kids I’ve ever known. If they were not my own kids and I met them at a gathering, I’d be instantly drawn to each of them, and would seek them out as friends. But, here’s the thing– if I had to do it again, what I would change is the mindset I had going into having children. I genuinely thought I was making an informed decision, but the questions I considered barely scratched the surface. I couldn’t possibly have planned for the curveballs that life throws, nor could I have fully appreciated the fact that mothering is relentless. Sleep is scarce, and not just in the early years. As I write, it’s 3:30am. My 14-year-old daughter woke me because she has a fever. Even when I feel I have nothing left to give, somehow I find a way to give some more. And I don’t begrudge doing any of it for my children.

No doubt, I was naive in imagining a perfect little family. In my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined what it would mean to put my own life and creative pursuits on hold for a good ten to twelve years, let alone to do so selflessly, without harboring resentment. When my husband and I thought about having children, despite the fact that we were well aware that roughly 50% of marriages end in divorce, we didn’t consider the real possibility that we might end up divorced, and we most certainly didn’t consider the scenario of parenting without a partner. This was an oversight with consequential repercussions, for us as parents, as well as for our children. Even with the most thoughtful consideration and planning, there are always unforeseen circumstances. I know this to be true with just about everything in life. So why did I think parenting would be any different? I guess it goes back to the house, the white picket fence, the American dream, that mythical perfect family. I wanted it so badly. I tried so hard to create it, to shield my children from every pain and hardship. It took a long while for me to realize that the pain and hardship are essential to developing compassion.

I guess if I could impart a bit of advice to someone on the fence about having children, it would be to ask yourself, in complete honesty: Are you willing and able to parent your children alone, and still live a happy and fulfilled life? The answer does not have to be yes.

dimartino-headshotAnna DiMartino is a writer, artist, teacher, and mother. Her writing has appeared in Whale Road Review, Silver Birch Press: Learning to Ride, Atlanta Review (Spring, 2016), The Cancer Poetry Project 2A Year in Ink, Volume 6 (San Diego Writers, Ink Anthology); Serving House Journal: Issues 8, 10 and 12, Steve Kowit: This Unspeakably Marvelous Life, and is forthcoming in Lake Effect. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University and leads a read and critique group for Writer’s Ink. Visit her website at www.annaodimartino.com.

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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.

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

I Choose My Husband Again, and Again, Despite Our Childlessness

From the Editors: Writer Sylvie Beauvais explores the complexity of remaining with a beloved partner who does not share a desire to parent.

In June, I went sea kayaking in a bio-luminescent bay in Puerto Rico with my husband. We shared a two-seater kayak: he sat in the front of the boat and I sat in the back. There were other couples in other boats. As the sun set, we navigated the mangrove in the near total dark guided by the tiny amber lights at the sterns and bows, marking our group of boats. This seemed like the ultimate metaphor for marriage—navigating by faith, in the dark, with partial information, but with the support of a chosen companion.

Neither of us had ever been in a sea kayak. In the dark. In a bay. Surrounded by other uncertain boaters. All of us in couple formation. As sometimes happens in group settings, it was remarkably easy to make snap judgments about the other couples navigating the waters and their way of paddling together.

I could see couples with power struggles—one partner dominating. There were couples that couldn’t coordinate their paddling, their boats getting stuck in the low hanging mangrove trees. There was one boat where the man ignored his resigned wife’s cries and the directions of our guides, speeding ahead, somewhat out of control, constantly ramming other boats. Some boats moved slowly, but worked well together.

What my husband couldn’t see was that our paddling strokes were even and perfectly synced, that we were moving in harmony better than any other couple sharing a boat in our group. We both have broad shoulders, and now I realized our arms were the same length, so our paddles reached the water at the same time. We were moving quickly and efficiently, harmoniously, and he didn’t know. Another metaphor for marriage: each partner has different information about why the couple works or doesn’t work.

Ours is a childless marriage. My husband set this boundary to our relationship. What follows are my struggles. My husband is a private man which I will do my best to honor here.

At four a.m. in Washington DC, our first sleepless night in a friend’s guest room, I turn to my husband and want to ask him a question I have never previously envisioned through all our conversations about children.

“Honey, I have a hard question to ask you and you don’t have to answer right now.”

“I’m not in the best mood.” We have spent several uncomfortable hours tossing and turning in a strange bed.

I know my timing’s not great, “Okay, I won’t ask.”

My husband is patient with me, he breathes in and then exhales. He says, “You can ask.”

“If you knew I wanted children, why did you stay?”

I’m turned towards him in bed and he is looking up at the ceiling. His face is in shadow. My arm is draped over his chest. He says nothing for a few breaths, thinking. I consider what I know about us. I answer for him, “I think the short answer is that we love each other.”

He turns towards me and says “Yes, and I guess I felt it was your decision to make, whether to stay or go.”

In the moment I feel the sadness he must have felt, not knowing what I would choose. But this exchange also reminds me how inconceivable the choice to go has always seemed–how once my heart opened to this beautiful partner, it felt impossible to go. I lay in the bed a little sad, but also feeling the wholeness of my love: how large and generous the experience of loving him makes me feel.

After a moment of silence, he turns to me, looks at me and says, “That’s a nice hat.” I’m wearing my sleep mask on my forehead.

I answer, “It’s the required fashion accessory for sleepless nights.”

He says, “It’s true, I have noticed the actors wearing it in all the ads for sleepless nights.”

We laugh together and the sadness fades, and all I can feel is his chest hair tickling my forearm as he breathes and his warm leg along mine. In the moment what I feel is the certainty that I am in love, and it suffices; it feels vast. After I write about this exchange, I share the text with him and we cry together, holding each other tenderly.

We have had many conversations over many years. When I met him he was ambivalent and I was neutral to positive on children; I was a little unsure. My desire for children always hinged on finding a partner who was enthusiastic about the idea. Forcing someone ambivalent to have children is to me ethically repugnant and deeply unfair to both partner and imaginary child.

In our years together, I kept hoping his ambivalence would resolve and the vastness of our love would answer his questions and make him curious. No one moment felt like the decisive moment where the conversation about children ended. I stayed a little blindly hopeful and he was steadfast. During all that time in conversation, our love grew. As our love grew, we also got older. Thirty-eight when we met, I am now 44, closer to 45, and from a fertility standpoint the question is essentially moot. I never wanted the path of medical intervention for procreation. In the heat of our discussions after I had moved in, when I was 40 or 41, I tried to imagine leaving, finding a new partner, falling in love and trying to get pregnant. I thought that this path would be a time consuming gamble: by the time New Partner might be ready to commit to parenting, my fertility would be unsure. And then, as today, letting go of this love was inconceivable. Love is partly timing.

When I found myself praying to Aphrodite for a partner seven years ago when I was 37, I did not know that I would receive exactly what I asked for: the love of my life. Our childlessness is the most difficult choice I have ever made. I am deeply in love and also frequently (but bearably) in pain wishing our relationship could encompass parenting. It is a delicate, excruciating tension. I embrace the joy and fulfillment of being partnered with someone I deeply respect, truly enjoy, and with whom I share ecstasy, intellectual stimulation, and travel. We continue our conversation. The person who causes me the most existential tension (my loving husband who doesn’t want kids) is the person who comforts me through my tears and helps me laugh. Despite its sorrows, the mantle of our love sometimes feels magical, both protective and reparative.

The choice to stay, to love, to share my life with this person is made anew with varying frequency. I make the choice again and again, knowingly, in regret and in celebration. My husband’s definition of parenting is narrower than mine. I would parent by any means possible, fostering included. I do not require a biological offspring where he would. This gives me more options and I have considered them. Yet, I do not leave and go find a divorcee with children so I can step-mom.

The choices I embrace are to be my spouse’s partner, and to spend time with all the young mothers in my circle. Living with children in my life, but not my children, sometimes renews my grief but also gives me the joy of children’s company. I previously spent some time as a child therapist, so for a childless woman I am unusually comfortable around kids, and enjoy their humor, curiosity, and tenderness. Parents often notice, and frequently remark upon, my ease with children. Each comment tugs at the old familiar twinge in my heart. Then I go about the business of enjoying the moment and being present with the children. This weekend I was introduced to Ever After High characters by an enthusiastic six year old. She wanted me to help her find the evil queen’s lost shoe. At the end of each day with children, I go home with my husband. I enjoy the quiet. I might shed some tears. But I get a sound night sleep.

I’m not sure how all of this will play out in the end, the subtle wear and tear on my marriage. But I also feel writing this essay has helped me heal my heart, say what needed to be said, look clear eyed at the past, how I made the choices that brought me to this moment.

I keep rowing in the dark watching my husband’s graceful movements–so grateful for his presence. Sometimes, the grief is small, light as a feather, and sometimes it is a tornado. The tornadoes have been fewer lately. Writing helps. Feather or tornado, I love my husband and continue to be nourished by the wonder of this primary relationship.

Sylvie Beabeauvaisuvais lives in Philadelphia. She is a writer and psychotherapist who writes fiction, personal essays and reflections on social work.  She received her Master of Liberal Arts and her Master of Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania. She blogs about life, travel, and writing at www.sylviewrites.com, and likes to post to instagram.