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.
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.