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.”