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.
The cult of the child weighs heavily upon women. The modern woman must be a mother, an employee, and a friend all at once. Preferably thin. And you have to admit, that’s a lot to ask. On top of that, women do 80 per cent of the housework. When school lets out, you mostly see women there; the same at parents’ night, or at the pediatrician’s when a kid has bronchitis or chickenpox. For many women, motherhood means getting home early at night to look after the kids, missing those important meetings that are held after 7 p.m. (they are always held after 7 p.m.), turning down or not even applying for jobs that are more interesting but too time consuming.
CORINNE MAIER (2009). No kid. 40 good reasons NOT to have children. pp. 104-105. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.
The child began to make his presence known… My beautiful marble body became distended, cracked and deformed… Walking along the shore, I sometimes felt an excess of strength and vigor, and I told myself at times that this small creature would be mine; only mine;… but on other days… I felt like some poor animal in a trap…. Between hope and despair, I often thought of the adventures of my youth, in my errant comings and goings, in my discoveries of art, and all of it was but an ancient prologue, lost in the mist which would end when the wait for a child began; the masterpiece that any humble fieldworker could produce… I became prisoner to all types of terrors. Vainly, I told myself that all women have children. It was a natural thing, and yet I was afraid. Afraid of what? Certainly not death nor suffering. I was afraid of something unknown. My beautiful body became more and more deformed before my very eyes. Where were my graceful, nymph-like forms? Where was my ambition, my fame? Frequently, despite myself, I felt miserable and defeated. The fight against life, that giant, was unfair; but then I thought of the child that was to be born and all my sadness faded. Cruel hours of waiting in the night. How dear do we pay for the glory of motherhood!….
Translated from: ISADORA DUNCAN. Mi vida.