The Story We’re Not Telling About Motherhood


My twenties felt like a fertile countdown.

I believe this to be the culprit of thy uterus clock. You know, the one that ticks inside of every woman like the alligator in Peter Pan promising human’s life incubator will one day shrivel up like a used sponge if we wait too long to find a man. By our thirties, we’re supposed to have children and if we don’t, we will want to die because that’s it, our time has run out. No one will want to be around us because we’re childless! Men can have babies until they are seventy-three; Charlie Chaplin did (sited from the When Harry Met Sally movie I’m watching as I type). But we women…we women have the uterus clock.

So, the world tells women how to be a certain way. Grow up, start working, get married, have kids. In other words: grow up, not feel like you’ve grown up, get a job, get another job, quit, get another job, date horrible men, date some good men, become heartbroken about those men, find a good one, spend $20,000 on a wedding, cry a lot, try to have babies. And do it all quick! You only have two decades until your good eggs will sky-rocket out of your ears and you’ll never be able to contribute to society! You will be humiliated and alone!

I want to have children. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. My most intense daydreams about pregnancy started taking a new shape in my late twenties. How did I know my body was switching gears? My pregnancy dreams used to be nightmares. In them, my own mother is excruciatingly ashamed, not at my body, but at my irresponsibility. In these dreams the pregnancy is my fault, the father nonexistent. Now, at thirty-one, my pregnancy dreams are exquisitely maternal, unjudged, and full. In them, I notice my belly, swollen like a globe, and I find it fulfilling – hitting every edge.

In the contrary, I hate being asked about having children. Pregnancy feels quite private to me, the timeline of it – and I never know what to say when someone asks me “So, you’re engaged. You know what’s next! When’s the baby coming!?” First of all, that’s rude. And, I don’t know why, but a giant part of me thinks I have all of this time on my hands. I’ve never considered a biological clock and when I start to think about how the time is ticking away; I get a little nervous. I’m selfish. I’ve come to love my life without children and I wonder how it will be possible to take care of a child when sometimes, I find it quite difficult to take care of myself. I understand this is something maternal magic eventually grinds into selflessness but in the interim, I’m reveling in selfishness. I have plans. I have things I want to do. Sometimes, they don’t involve children. And you know what, I can stay in this pattern as long as I want. I love my passion projects and career and fear losing the freedom to change my mind about them whenever I need to. Not to mention, I’m leaving out a huge chunk of women with fertility issues and multiple other reasons they may not be having kids. “When are you getting pregnant” is such a lazy question. 

Which brings me to a conversation I had recently. It was with another woman, whom I love. We were talking about children. I think it started because we were discussing the pain of a miscarriage, how nobody talks about the guilt of them. Which brought us to the additional guilt of having professional priorities that took time away from raising a family; I remember her saying something like, “it’s not fair to your children to try and *break the glass ceiling* while raising a family.” And then my brain exploded and I have no idea how I am typing this piece.

This is something that angers me to my bitter core. The idea that women are put onto this planet to get married, make babies, think secondarily to their professional life, and focus on raising children in pristine condition, front and center. And to top it off, they’re expected to answer to their family members, friends, colleagues as to when their specific planned date as to when they plan to have a family – and quit everything else to raise one. When I first started writing this article, I thought I was being indifferent. But, you know what? I’m being honest. The fact that I feel guilt with lack of understanding my desire for children, is unfair. I’m allowed to be selfish. Selfish is not unkind, nor is it egotistical.

I read recently, in the book Forget Having It All, How America Messed Up Motherhood – And How to Fix It, a story about a mother of three, confessing in a letter: “I wish I had remained child-free. I was influenced by ideological factors that it was “natural” and “normal” for a woman to have and want children; therefore unnatural and abnormal to not want them. I realize now that I’m not and have never been maternal; it would have been far better for me to have remained childless. Will it ever be permissible for women to say, ‘I don’t want children, don’t feel maternal, and feel great about it?”

Tough. That was tough to read. We need to do so much better supporting this kind of dialogue with women. The kind of dialogue that doesn’t think women are “smug and selfish” for wanting to be a working mother, or not a mother at all. The kind of dialogue that doesn’t believe “intensive mothering” is crucial, centering the mother as the caregiver; the core lavishing energy of the household. The kind of dialogue that doesn’t backlash women making progress and feeling confident – without the constraints (yes, I said constraints!) of having a toddler by her side.

Do not get me wrong, I think it’s f*cking beautiful when women want to be mothers. And want to be passionately. I know many that point their lives towards children and a family right away and THAT IS DAMN OKAY. I love hearing their stories. Pregnant women are also insanely beautiful humans and their journey to bring life into this world is a selfless showcase of love. However, the opposite spectrum of women’s desires needs to be supported too.

Women can choose to go against what they’ve been told to chase. No one should have to squeeze into one shape. That’s purely a disservice. We want the world to be more acceptable of people bolder in their identities, the ones that choose to go against what the grain is.

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Brittany Chaffee is an avid storyteller, professional empath, and author. On the daily, she gets paid to strategize and create content for brands. Off work hours, it’s all about a well-lit place, warm bread, and good company. She lives in St.Paul with her 80-year-old cat, Butch. Read more about her latest book, Borderline, and go hug your mother.

 

 

  • For a woman at her age, the fact that she’s -just realizing- the double-standards for women says a lot more about the author’s sheltered reality than it does about society at large. The dark side of this kind of shallow Twitter-feminism drivel is that we’ve decided to applaud every pseudo-activist white person that’s finally realized structural oppression.

    • Thank you for your comment! I appreciate the candid response. I wish I could have gotten the chance and courage to write something like this at a younger age! And, I could write a book about this, specifically structural oppression (there’s not nearly enough space on a blog to write about all of those details). In fact, I’m reading a great book that covers all of those important conversations right now. It’s noted within the article. It’s a great read if you need one!

  • The essay concludes with the sentence: “We want the world to be more acceptable of people bolder in their identities, the ones that choose to go against what the grain is”. By definition, “acceptable” references accordance with an existing norm. For me personally, it conjures up the same troubled feelings I have when I hear the term “tolerance” or “tolerate” used in discussion of human or systemic differences; it’s not enough to move the needle and, at its foundation, it is based on the act of one group “permitting” another to establish their own meaning and way of being in the world. If I understand the overarching premise of the essay, I think it might have been better stated as “We want the world to be more ACCEPTING of people bolder in their identities, the ones that choose to go against what the grain is”, indicating a broader validation of a new normal. I’m not trying to be an editorial jerk (although I know I sound like one), but I think this difference truly affects the meaning of what is being said here in a way that matters.

  • i really love this. as someone in their young thirties who has finally decided i definitely do not want children, i find it incredibly frustrating to answer the question “why not?” when women who choose to have children are not asked “why?”

    • Yes, exactly! I’m happy you found a way to relate to this article – I feel like there is such a big conversation around motherhood we’re not even talking about – that we totally should be! Thank you so much for reading!

  • Another great post! We need room for more frank discussions around this topic. I’m currently pregnant. I struggle with how people are making assumptions regarding my partner’s future role in parenting vs. mine. I feel guilty that, while I’m very excited to have this child, I’ve never had this deep, all-encompassing desire to be a mother (and that won’t make me a bad mother). Regarding the comment above, I think it’s important to remember that building empathy and understanding is a process. We are all on different journeys and come to realizations at different times in our lives. We don’t know what we don’t know, and we gain the courage to express ourselves at different rates.

    • You are the very best for this comment. Thank you for the support and sharing your story. It shows so much strength and honesty to come face-to-face with a truth we all can share with one another, because we really don’t know what everyone else is going through. Sending you all the compassion and warmth. <3 <3

  • I loved this article because this subject has been close to my heart for over a decade. I’m in my young 30’s and have been in a long term relationship for almost 15 years. I’ve been asked the kid question more than any other question…and I think I lead a pretty interesting life, ask me anything! I hope we as a society can get to a point where we stop asking woman “lazy” questions and allow them to be fully realized humans, regardless if they procreate or not.

    • Thank you so much! You’re so right! The kid question pops up all the time and I feel like it’s such a lazy expectation for women. There’s so much more we can do – and we might be going through something SUPER personal in regards to children. Men never get asked that question! I appreciate you reading and supporting. Stay strong out there!

  • I don’t disagree with what you wrote, and I remember feeling the same way before I had a kid (now another one on the way). What is frustrating now as a mother, is that the kids really are an all-consuming part of my life. It’s not society or my family telling me that I can’t have a career or do it all – it’s that there are not. enough. hours. in the day. I’ve made choices that I never thought I would, putting career and other personal goals on hold to keep my kid from getting repeatedly sick at daycare (which costs too much in the US) or hiring someone else, which I could not afford, to pick her up and get her ready for bed each night. My husband and I used to both be able to just work late, or travel for work, or pursue our careers with abandon – and those things are logistically not possible anymore, not for both of us at the same time. So when I see articles like this – especially from women who are not yet mothers, who can’t possibly know what it’s like over here on the other side – I feel your anguish about it, but I’m writing to say it’s not a huge choice that we have. If you have a kid, someone needs to take care of it, and it’s you or someone you can afford to pay, or maybe your family wants to do it for free, but mine sure does not. Mothers don’t just throw in the towel – we cry about it and feel terrible about our failures and lost career opportunities, but there are small human beings we need to take care of, and time and money. Employer expectations (see: Millennial burnout) made it so, so difficult for my partner and I both to pursue the careers we dreamed of. My boss found someone else who could work 60 hours a week. My husband left a job with great upward mobility so he could see his daughter for 30 minutes a night before bedtime, instead of missing it every single week night. And we are privileged to be able to make these changes, even though our childless friends were probably horrified and thought we just gave up or whatever. I recommend Shonda Rhimes’ book if you haven’t yet – she’s got great things to say about this struggle and balance, and points out that she does it with a LOT of hired help – which most people can’t afford. I don’t know how to fix this, but I wrote to say that it’s not all some societal expectation that we give up other parts of our life – it’s something that happens because you are suddenly a full-time caretaker (or need to work enough to afford to hire one).

  • Late to this post. We also need to open to the reality that we change, things change. I was actively, vehemently anti-kid until I was 40. Then I lost the family members closest to me. I now have a 4 year old. People were shocked I was having a kid. I had a full adulthood child-free and career obsessed, now I am having a second experience. It was easy for me. I didn’t do any IVF etc and I was OK if I didn’t get pregnant, I just opened the door. I’m trying to give my kid a more independent childhood, more like we had in the 1970s/80s. It’s a lot of work, I can’t work they way I once did. But realized a lot of the work and intensity didn’t give me what I thought it did. It was theater. Be open to the experiences and changing. Don’t believe any of the bullshit – that you should or should not do, feel, want, adhere to anything – listen to your higher self. What you realize when people die is, 93% of the things we obsess about mean very, very little.

    • Thank you for your note! This is so inspiring to me. I could write in LENGTH about motherhood and change. We evolve and want different things as life moves forward and it’s beautiful to hear about these evolutions. I’m so sorry about the loss you’ve experienced but happy to hear about your little one. Obsessing is pointless, of course, but writing and telling our stories is so important. There is certainly a difference.