A woman (and, to a lesser degree, a man) or a couple without children are always regarded as an anomaly; they generate conflict. Of all the outlandish things… not having kids and daring to defy the social norm?! These individuals find themselves having to constantly explain why they don’t have children, although no one would ever ask a mother why she does have them (and demand valid reasons as response), even if she happens to be the most infantile and irresponsible woman ever. On the other hand, a woman who is voluntarily non-reproductive has little chance of escaping the lamentations of her parents (she is denying them the chance to be grandparents), the incomprehension of her friends (who want her to do the same thing they did) and the hostility of society and the State – natural proponents of procreation, by definition – that have many very subtle ways to make you pay for not having fulfilled your duty. It requires an iron will and a lot of character to laugh in the face of all this pressure and, moreover, to bear a certain degree of stigmatization.
Translated from: ELISABETH BADINTER. La mujer y la madre. Publisher: La esfera de los libros, 22.
Choice implies prior understanding of motives and consequences. Bringing a child into the world is a long-term commitment that requires that he or she be a priority. Of all the decisions that a human being faces in life, this is the one that generates the most radical change. Prudence would, therefore, have one think twice about it and ask themselves very seriously just what their altruistic capacity is and how much gratification they wish to derive from it. (….) In reality, Reason has little to do with the decision to procreate and is probably more involved in the decision to not have children. Aside from the Unconscious, which weighs just as much on both sides of the scale, it should be added in the balance that the majority of parents have no idea as to why they had children. (…) And thus the temptation to cite some instinct as the overriding factor. At the end of the day, the decision to have children stems more from the affective and the normative than from any rational understanding of the advantages and disadvantages.
Translated from: ELISABETH BADINTER. La mujer y la madre. Publisher: La esfera de los libros, 20,21,22.
Professional baby-lovers all hammer the same thing into us: nursing your baby is fabulous. ‘Breast is best,’ as they say. (…) When I told the maternity ward staff that there was absolutely no question of my nursing my baby, the attendant looked at me disapprovingly and told me that this was Not Good. A month later, the gynecologist accused me of ‘refusing to connect’ with the baby. The noose is tightening on those unworthy women who bottle-feed. Next they’ll be pointing the finger at us in public.
Because to bottle-feed a baby is to be guilty of something. It’s a crime against nature. (…) But what kind of ‘natural’ are we talking about, in fact? Our daily food, our clothes, cellphones, airplanes, UV tanning, are these natural?
CORINNE MAIER (2009). No kid. 40 good reasons NOT to have children. pp. 22-23. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.
In our culture, motherhood is the culmination of womanhood: BEING A MOTHER MEANS BEING A WOMAN. (…) Women are socially conditioned to embrace motherhood as the maximum expression of their femineity. It, supposedly, is the path that a woman must follow if she is to live her life to the fullest. Women are assigned a mission: to have children. Women are taught a stereotyped role in life and are trained to play it, trained to grow up and become wives, mothers, housekeepers. A woman’s future is anatomically determined. Growing as an individual towards the future means having children and raising them. This biological destiny is hallowed by society; being a mother is an identity that carries social prestige and signifies, on a much deeper level, the capacity to love, to make sacrifices, to give oneself up entirely to another. “A mother is the most sacred of all things.”, “there’s nothing like a mother’s love”, “a mother’s love is unconditional”, “A mother comes first.” But, despite this reverence towards the mother figure, mothers must also bear the burden of the negatives: the frustrations, insecurities, fears and failures of their children. All the merit might be hers, but all the blame is as well. She will shoulder all the responsibility, receive all the criticism, suffer the punishment and be cruelly shunned by a society that is merciless to women who do not fulfill their mission according to what is expected of them.
Translated from: BLANCA VALLADARES. “Revisión teórica sobre los mitos de la maternidad”. Publisher: Revista de Ciencias Sociales. Universidad de Costa Rica. nº 65, 1994. pp.67-68.
Wanting to reproduce yourself at any cost is to aspire to the pinnacle of banality. I’ll admit that there is a certain amount of security in behaving like everyone else and acting just like your neighbour. To be ‘accepted’ in today’s society means having a job, a baby, or both. Sign up, and then sign up again. The decision not to have a child is taken as an indication of such procreative bitterness that it defies comprehension. Reproductively obsessed people are expected to undergo fertility treatment with the determination og Olympic athletes. And with, it must be said, the complicity of doctors who find themselves a bit uneasy -who wouldn’t be, working with a science that is always one step behind?
The craze for having children is so widespread these days that it has become a big business and is growing fast. Every day, ova, sperm, and babies are for sale, all over the world. Wombs are for rent, with a nine month lease. Specialty clinics are popping up planetwide; the price varies according to the ‘value’ of the product: white babies cost more than black ones. In the United States, ova from a Columbia University student are worth more than those from a Harvard student. This ‘baby business’ is less advanced in Europe, and doesn’t yet exist in France at all, at least officially: the State here, set up to safeguard our ‘welfare’ and our morality, is on the lookout.
‘A child for everyone and everyone for a child’ has given rise to all kinds of debate, all of it both tiresome and ridiculous. Choose sides, comrade; it’s hard to tell which is worse, but easy to see that both are stupid.
On my left there’s the so-called right to a child. This has become such a sacred trust, you almost expect it to turn up in the preamble to the Constitution. ‘The child’ has become so indispensable, so miraculous, that everyone must exercise their right to it. But what about the right not to have a child, on the other side? To whom we would grant this right is unknown, but I suspect that the most industrious are going to find someone. I mean, take me: I no longer have parents; they’re dead. Am I going to demand the ‘right to have parents’? Stage a hunger strike until some court or other decides to give me a new set (being unable to give me back the old ones, since science has not yet figured out how to bring the dead back to life)? No, let’s be sensible: a child is neither a right nor a necessity -it’s simply…a possibility.
CORINNE MAIER (2009). No kid. 40 good reasons NOT to have children. pp. 17-18. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.
Regret and motherhood are two words that never seem to appear in the same sentence. At least not out loud. No one chooses their parents just like no one chooses their children, but women are forbidden to think – or to feel or to say – that having children might have been a mistake. When it comes to motherhood, common sense would dictate that those who have any regrets are the ones who didn’t experience it; not the ones who did. A woman who openly admits that – like Bartleby — she wishes she wouldn’t have, is the antithesis of one of the most firmly rooted cultural pretexts of all times: the myth of the maternal instinct. Culturally speaking, a woman who regrets having become a mother places herself in a void: after all, amongst the acceptable versions of mothers, there are no “mothers like that”. And if there are mothers like that (after all, anything is possible, even witches), they aren’t “really mothers”.
Despite numerous change in women’s status and social positioning, motherhood continues to be a highly valued event in a woman’s biography that – for the sake of convention if not conviction – it’s best that she not skip: if the desire to have children is absent, one should have them “just in case” (or to make someone else happy) lest one end up regretting it later, when the biological clock ticks its last and it’s too late. However, despite the social mandate that pressures women into feeling that they have an “obligation” to become mothers, motherly love is not a universal nor even an automatic behavior: it can manifest itself or not; appear and then disappear; be strong or weak, and be felt for some of one’s children but not for all of them. But really now, if a woman doesn’t feel crowned by the glory of motherhood or she doesn’t get all of the satisfaction out of it that she expected, is it so hard to understand? Not at all. What is infrequent, however, is that it be discussed. In our culture, women are not allowed to say that they made a mistake by becoming mothers. They aren’t even allowed to say that, although they don’t regret the experience by any means, they did experience some of its negative aspects, without said comments being regarded as a lack of “moral fortitude” or a personal failure on the woman’s part. Children generate very strong feelings and love is one of them, but feelings of affection are not the only ones they provoke. I have friends who, in no uncertain terms, have stated over dinner that when they first saw their own slippery newborns they felt repulsion instead of tenderness. But, for women, the narrative about maternal instinct and maternal love “from the very first moment” is so ingrained in the mind that stating the contrary means renouncing that prestigious, symbolic place that women are immediately elevated to when they mimic the social language associated with “good mothers”. These are the things that mothers never tell us.”
«One day in December, I was at café with a friend. My fortieth birthday was looming, and I was feeling down about it, and taking stock -having already taken a few drinks.
‘I’m off track’, I said to my friend. ‘I started my analysis ten years too late. I’m sick of dinners out with all these high-society types. I’ve never known how to grab destiny by the forelock (yes, I realize that destiny now has a Mohawk). My kids are driving me nuts…’
‘Listen’, she said. ‘I’ts one thing to doubt your whole life at this point, but you’re not serious about regretting having kids!’
‘I’m totally serious. If it weren’t for them, I’d be travelling around the world with all the money I’ve made from my books. Instead, I’m stuck at home, serving meals, getting up at seven o’clock in the morning every day of the week to help them with their homework and run the washing machine. All that fot these kids who treat me like I’m their slave. Yes, some days, I’m sorry to say, I really regret it, and I’m not afraid to say it. When they were born, I was young and in love -and, of course, ruled by hormones. If I had to do it all over again, to tell you the truth, I’m not sure that I would’.
She was shocked. There are some things that a mère de famille -the mother of a family- just doesn’t say, or she risks being seen as a monster. The party line is, ‘I’m proud of my children: if there is one thing I do not regret, it’s becoming a parent’.».
CORINNE MAIER (2009). No kid. 40 good reasons NOT to have children. pp. 3-4. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.
What makes a ‘good mother is something that other people decide. The chorus. The look of approval or of reproach. The people who always know what and what not to do. What’s good, useful and prudent. The ones who say ‘it’s natural, that’s the way it is’: you have to be patient, go with the flow, feel tenderness, dedicate yourself fully. If you feel like you’re falling apart, it’s because you’re just not cut out for it. If you feel like you’re drowning, you lack sufficient maturity. If you can’t get pregnant, you just have to accept it, give up on the idea, stop insisting: apparently, you’re not built to be a mother. If you never wanted to have children, that’s because, beneath it all, something is not the way it should be.
Translated from: CONCITA DE GREGORIO (2011). Una madre lo sabe. p. 15. Publisher: Valencia: TàndemEdicions.
Most of us don’t really know why we have children. Some say that we have the ones that God sends us. In a world where a child dies from hunger every five seconds, saying that God sends us children is terribly incoherent. Other people say that we have children because they are the security and the bliss that makes a house a home, although there are more infidelities and divorces than happy marriages. There are a lot of people who consider their children as a means to avoid being alone, or a chance to fulfill frustrated dreams that they themselves had. In essence, why we have children is a question that no one, or very few people, can answer without incurring in selfishness or incoherence.
ARTURO ARCHILA, psicólogo.