Many presume that motherhood should naturally follow marriage (sometimes even precede it). Whatever society’s thoughts are about when it happens, the prevailing public opinion is that a woman (with an ambitious career or as a happy housewife) should at some point give birth. You’ve probably been on the receiving end of the questions or you’ve heard your girlfriend or wife be endlessly interrogated: “When are you going to finally settle down? Now that you’re married, when can we expect some little ones? What are you waiting on?” And then there’s the unwanted advice: “If you drink more water, that’ll help you get pregnant faster. You know, when me and Ray-Nathan were trying, he used to hold me upside down against the wall in a handstand. Put some blessed oil on your headboard!”
The expectations around motherhood can become intrusive and personal quickly.
Sure, we’re empathetic when women have reproductive challenges on the pathway to motherhood. Science even boasts that there are some medical advancements that will eventually make motherhood possible for women at any age. But there’s a certain judgement when a woman makes a conscious decision not to experience motherhood, even if she makes this choice with her partner. She becomes a traitor of humanity for trading her perceived womanly “duty” for something considered to be selfish. A woman choosing not to become a mother is often thought to be unacceptable, and the burden is wholly on her.
I read an article recently called “Mind Your Own Womb,” and the entire premise was that you never know a mother’s (or would-be-mother’s) background and encouraged the reader not to pass judgement. I thought that the scenarios the article offered were spot on, but took note that it completely left out women who choose not to become mothers. Are women invisible if they choose to forego motherhood? Does it lessen their validity as human beings? Obviously not, but women are constantly being judged around their choices regarding their own bodies.
Being a black mother in America is daunting. If we look at statistics and behavior, a black mother is more likely to have to deal with her child having a negative (and sometimes fatal) interaction with police, the criminal justice system or some rogue vigilante. I remember waking up the morning after the Michael Brown verdict thinking, “Black mothers in America give birth to possible mourning with the creation of each child.” And it’s not just criminality that black children will face, it’s respectability politics in school, preparing them for the idea that their very existence is criminal. This might not be the only reason a woman chooses to forego motherhood, but I’m sure it’s certainly a consideration when planning for the future.
Affording children is becoming an almost insurmountable task. As the cost of living rises disproportionately to the median wage, it’s difficult to take care of one’s self, much less be financially responsible for a little person. Parents are finding it challenging to give their children the best or to even keep them properly engaged and safe during the summer months. I’ve often thought about how experiencing poverty in my childhood has allowed me to be more grateful for the things I have, to stretch a small amount of money over a long period of time when necessary and to shop frugally, if need be. I’ve also thought about the ways in which it negatively affected me, such as being reckless when receiving (what I perceived was) a large lump sum of money to compensate for previous scarcity or buying things I don’t necessarily need because I want to feel as though I have something. I’m sure that if my mother had the choice, I wouldn’t have experienced poverty at all.
Finally, there’s the elephant in the room. There’s no dark, looming reason. She just doesn’t want kids, and doesn’t foresee motherhood as a part of her life.
The question of whether a woman becomes a mother or not is totally up to her and her partner. Is motherhood one of the most challenging jobs in the world? Yes. Does it deserve recognition when done well? Yes. Do women who choose not to become mothers create things, achieve things, and overcome things that are also challenging and also deserve recognition. YES. The bottom line is that America might not be (and might have never been) a prime environment to bring a child into. If a woman decides that it’s not for her, we should respect that and move on.