Early in this new year, I’ve been lucky to have a few library events to talk about Finding Grace. Added to the many interviews and events I’ve had in the six months since the book has been out, I’m not surprised that one of the most common questions I get is about Caroline and her views on motherhood—she didn’t aspire to it. Some readers, express indignation about why Caroline, who was outspoken about motherhood, is often considered the villain in the story. The theme is one I’ve written about in an essay before, but given that today is the 50th anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision, I thought it was worth re-visiting.
When a woman says “Motherhood is not for me” why don’t we accept that? Perhaps she knows herself better than anyone else. And, in a world where that choice is subject to curiosity at best and more likely criticism, a woman brave enough to say that aloud deserves respect not derision.
Clearly, many religious leaders have taken the position on birth control and abortion through the ages that promoted adding children to the world at a pace that was limited only by biology, not human choice.
The narrative bolsters the belief that childless women are not living up to their full potential, but are somehow lesser than women who have children. The stereotype of a woman without children includes the mystery of ‘why’ and is shrouded in questions about health, disposition, and curiosity about past trauma. Everybody rushes to explain this condition, as if it is catchy.
And, it may be catching on. According to research from the Pew Research Center, in 2021 some 44% of non-parents ages 18 to 49 say it is not too or not at all likely that they will have children someday, an increase of 7 percentage points from the 37% who said the same in a 2018 survey.
Recent events may be accelerating the trend to remain childfree. The pandemic and the world’s encroaching threats of climate change and political upheaval have added to the justification. “Why would I bring a child into this mess?”
And now that Roe v Wade has been overturned, women have lost many assumed legal protections resulting in incredible chaos in securing a woman’s reproductive rights across the country. Where is the humanity in shaming those would be parents into a choice that may not be in the best interests of the child, the woman, the couple, the family, and an environmentally challenged world?
It is a woman’s choice to determine her own capacity to become a mother. Nobody else’s. Let her decide, without shame.
What about the woman who feels that she doesn’t have it in her? Whether that assessment is due to her own insight that her professional, athletic or artistic pursuits will take up all of her energy, or because she is not keen on the potential baby fathers in her universe, or because she herself was not mothered well, and worries that she will repeat the cycle. Perhaps she was subjected to abuse that caused such trauma that her overwhelming worry for any potential child would be difficult to overcome. Or, her own health is precarious and taking care of herself is all she can handle. These are just a few of the totally valid reasons not to become a mother.
Birth control methods are not 100% successful in preventing pregnancy. Not every woman is willing to abide by the biology determination—if I am a woman, I need to use my body to usher in the next generation. Unfortunately, this sentiment remains close to the surface in our world today.
But, if a woman knows her mind and her capacities, why don’t we listen? My guess is the unwanted children out there would want us to listen…..
An earlier version of this essay, before Roe v Wade was overturned appeared in the June 1, 2022 edition of Ms Career Girl.https://www.mscareergirl.com/why-dont-we-listen/