The Motherhood Revolution

Two friends, Josie and Cynthia, recently announced their pregnancies. I was terrifically excited for both of them. When Josie told me, I leaped from my seat, clapped like a trained seal who had been hitting the bottle right before show time at Sea World and screeched so abruptly she looked a bit terrified before thanking me for my exuberant congratulations. When Cynthia announced her impending baby among a group of friends, I broke into my own special version of the Vesta Williams’ love anthem of the 1990s, Congratulations. When I had finished serenading her, I suggested our group start organizing itself to caravan to her baby shower on Long Island.

Josie and Cynthia have known me for quite some years so they should not have been at all surprised by my inability to withhold unrestrained, undignified enthusiasm and off key, heart-felt singing. However, both ladies were a bit taken aback by my excitement when they told me they’d be furthering the human species by ejecting an infant from their special places.

I have written many times about the assumptions people make about women like me – women in their childbearing years who have expressed a life-long disinterest in motherhood. One need only skim the many posts on this blog where I have shared stories of my students who just assign an imaginary baby to my life even though I have never spoken of having one, boyfriends who grudgingly break up with me when they realize that not even my love for them magically erases my disinterest in giving birth to and raising children and well meaning friends who have been dismissing my choice since I was old enough to voice it by patting me on the head and gently chiding: “Oh, you’ll change your mind one day.”

Perhaps the most perplexing assumption of late is that since I do not desire children of my own that I somehow do not like children. Or more so, I am unable to acknowledge the beauty inherent in bringing a child into this world and making its successful transition into adulthood top priority. When I sang to her, Cynthia actually asked me, “But I thought you didn’t want kids?” Admittedly, she threw out that comment in mock response to the line in Congratulations where Vesta croons to her former lover on his wedding day: “I thought it would have been me.” However, the look on her and Josie’s faces when I seemed genuinely excited for them revealed that bewildering assumption: But, if you don’t value motherhood for yourself, you can not be this happy that I am becoming a mother.

I don’t know why this seems confusing to parents. Non parents who respect the sacrifices parents make to rear their children. A woman who makes the choice not to mother saluting one who does. I’d like to think that the growing number of women who are simply saying “No, thanks” to motherhood understand the biological pull for many of our peers to say, “Absolutely Yes” to it. I’d also like to think that non-parents are thoughtful and logical enough to know that a world where NO ONE procreates is a bit problematic. For those of us who spend our fertile years religiously committed to birth control, there logically needs to be just as many (if not, more) who feel called to parenthood. And why wouldn’t we child-free adults who are living the life we feel fits us so naturally be excited for our friends who, by taking on children, truly believe that they have now grown into the life that fits them perfectly?

If anything, my excitement for my pregnant friends is heightened because of my choice not to have children. There is something about today’s women choosing to mother that feels more like an actual choice than when women married and had children generations ago. This realization came to me when I went to see Nina Davenport’s documentary, First Comes Love. In it, Davenport chronicles her (and several of her friends’) journey to have a baby in their early 40s. Since Davenport and her friends are over 40, they rely on costly fertility treatments and the sperm of male friends to realize their dreams of motherhood. At one point in the film, Davenport has the camera trained on the mother of her close friend. It is an uncomfortable moment as this woman’s 42 year old daughter has just come out of the bathroom to reveal a negative sign on her pregnancy test.

“It seemed so much easier in your day,” Davenport sighs. “You guys met the right man, had kids without all of these procedures and that was that.” She then asks, “Which way do you think is better – what you guys did or the way me and your daughter have to do it?”

Without blinking, the mother said: “I think your way is better. If I had to do it over again, I would live my life like you girls have.”

As if her subject misunderstood the question, Davenport probes the woman further. “But, even with all the loneliness and all the uncertainty? I mean your daughter has tried AGAIN and has been disappointed AGAIN.”

The woman does not change her answer. She goes on to explain that she was 20 when she had her daughter. She knew little about herself or even her husband. “You girls own yourselves more. When you decide to have a baby, you already know so much more about who you are and who you are not…well, I think that might have been a good way for me to do it, too.”

THIS is why I am genuinely happy for and proud of my friends who bring children into the world. In the 21st century when women have rightfully earned the luxury of owning themselves, many not only choose to lease out a great portion to children, but some of them fight like hell just to have what for their mothers, was really not a choice. The older mother in Davenport’s film articulated something few talk about when reflecting whimsically on those “good old days.” Motherhood was not something that many women necessarily chose. At least not in the way that my two friends have and certainly not in the way that Davenport and her friends have. Like marriage, motherhood seemed to be this thing that happened to our mothers. Many of them enjoyed mothering and those who didn’t, made the best out of it. However, when the societal expectation is that a girl barely in her 20s takes on motherhood are women authentically choosing motherhood or merely following the mandate to do so?

In 2013, western society has kindly loosened the motherhood mandate yet Josie and Cynthia STILL chose it. I would have to be a blind fool not to recognize that simply making the conscious choice to mother is just as revolutionary as my choice to pass on it. The ability to genuinely choose what does or does not happen in your womb is where the revolution truly lies.

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