on Motherhood and Identity — In defense of a more nuanced stance

This beautiful creature doesn’t need a self-defined identity in order to feel fulfilled. But we do.

The two clashing schools of thought: motherhood is the sole way into a fulfilling existence for any and all women capable of giving birth, the ultimate life goal into which all else merges — vs. motherhood is a society-induced identity for the unimaginative, or otherwise a sense of self-worth for women lacking it. While equally extreme anecdotes can confirm or disprove either point of view, I think both are as divorced from a logical perspective when it comes to assessing the relationship between motherhood and identity in general.

First off, yes: the animal-to-have-evolved-the-ability-of-higher-reasoning that we are will pay tribute to its animal ancestors in all ways our evolutionary biology dictates relevant. This means humans, more specifically the females who carry our species’ young, will have evolved to find maternity rewarding — so as to feel complex incentive to care for our highly dependent offspring and forward the existence of humanity. This, simplistically, is what your sexist uncle refers to as the biological ticking clock.

It is equally true that the higher-reasoning part weighs in heavily on our decisions, which is why the need for contraceptive methods emerged separately from the need to protect ourselves from STDs, as a way of exercising autonomy over our biology. The proverbial pill protects from no STD, but it does allow women agency over their own reproductive system and mating behaviours — a testimony to the triumph of reason over impulse.

Overall, it feels as though people are either degrading parenthood because it’s not for them and it doesn’t fit into their personal life choices, or are making it into the end-all-be-all ultimate duty for anyone on the planet because they themselves lack an identity outside of it.

Motherhood is not the default meaning-of-life for everyone with a uterus

I’m not going to get into why someone might choose to opt out of parenting, or even more specifically why a woman would choose to opt out of motherhood. The reasons behind a woman’s decision not to conceive are, more often than not, highly complex and personal in your average adult subject. Furthermore, the reasons themselves are beyond the scope of this exercise. It’s the conclusions we reach based on that decision alone we’ll be focusing on, rather than the decision itself.

The truth is, motherhood is just not for everyone; it’s not even for everyone who wants it, let alone for anyone who doesn’t. Not having ever existed hurts literally nobody — and how irresponsible it is to enforce a life of unwanted parenting, and a life of feeling unwanted respectively, for the mere sake of a hypothetical individual coming into existence.

If an autonomous, adult woman, who is physically capable of reproducing, decides to exercise her right not to do so, how is anyone to impose the regret-crippled alternative upon either her, or her hypothetical children? Why do we feel the need to condescendingly brush her decision off as ignorance, selfishness, immaturity, or somehow an act of violation or insult over our own choices?

It feels unfair to allow one’s inability to envision a life without motherhood, to invalidate another woman’s difference in choice and lifestyle. Must the inherent sacrifices of motherhood be validated by downplaying another woman’s life choices?

More bluntly put, if humanity in general is to care for babies and their becoming into individuals, we might as well start by ensuring a more reliable future for the legions of orphans living in subhuman conditions allover the world — rather than wasting our breath on unborn children and the women who have decided not to birth them.

Wanna insure a future for a child? Take the 10$ you spent at brunch with Sara trying to persuade her that motherhood has transformed your own particular life and therefor is The Decision for her as well, despite her wanting a career in the marine corps and trying to rationally explain her decision, you take those 10$ and you give it to your local orphanage, instead of wasting Sarah’s time, as well as your own.

It feels violating, patronizing, insulting, and downright out of line when others presume agency over another’s decision regarding something as permanently life-altering and responsibility-charged as motherhood. Your recipient feels reduced to a walking uterus, which, if nothing else, is not doing the point you’re trying to forward marketing favours.

Just like you won’t have much luck turning your child into a passionate reader by using reading as a form of punishment when grounded, but rather by sharing the joys of reading with them and inspiring them to find their own excitement in the practice, you won’t have much luck with persuading someone motherhood is awesome by making them feel reduced to a talking reproductive system.

Instead, try to listen to the woman’s actual concerns or reasons behind said decision, should she decide to share them with you. Not listen-so-you-can-disagree listen, but listen-with-an-open-mind listen. Maybe there are legitimate medical concerns, like serious genetic conditions, in which case it’s downright insensitive to press the issue; maybe her career choices would not allow her to adequately provide attention and care to a child, in which case one has no right to impose the burden of an unfulfilled life on her and her hypothetical child; maybe she’s suffering from chronic illness, whether that’s immediately apparent or not, in which case it’s at the very least uncalled for to make her feel like less of a human being because she doesn’t feel up to the task of motherhood, and irresponsible to try and persuade her to take on more than she feels up for.

Whatever you do, don’t just instantly assume you know better and all women should be mothers or else completely waste their existence, just because motherhood was the right choice in your life.

You’re doing motherhood some serious bad PR by acting like the very possibility of envisioning yourself as a person separately from it, is inconceivable to you. You’d have better luck in marketing by showcasing the ways it has enriched and expanded your identity and your life, rather than the ways motherhood has restricted your identity to itself.

Mothers are not a bunch of patriarchy-brainwashed, conformist dummies, watch your internal dialogue young lady you too came out of your Mum’s vagina

The other extremist school of thought on this is, if you’re a young woman and you either have or want kids, well you’ve been pressured by the patriarchy into fitting a preassigned gender-role, and you should become an Engineer instead, or call me when you’ve gotten your PhD if you’re an engineer already. Which, again, watch that internal discourse young lady, you too came outta you’re Mum’s private parts.

If we board this quite frankly naive train of thought, one should’ve never been born or otherwise owes their existence to a woman who was pressured by society into thinking she wants to have children, thus leading to a life of half-lived potential. Not only is that last one a pretty dumb argument for your female cat currently experiencing the urges and a sad sad tale behind how each individual on the planet came into existence, it’s also just another way of assuming someone else’s choices invalidate your own, unless that someone is somehow inferior to you or brainwashed.

Yes, there is pressure from society to reproduce, especially with more conservative environments. But that doesn’t mean the world is divided between either amazons who resist the societal pressure, and weaklings who submit to it. In between these extreme cases, there are a lot of women who didn’t need a single ounce of convincing, women who wanted to do this willingly all along and would have done so regardless of society’s dominant discourse on the woman’s contributions to society, and absent any sexist remarks on the biological clock from her uncle at the Christmas dinner.

Unless we’re willing to agree that motherhood can be immensely rewarding, then you, me, and everyone else on Earth, were born as a result of missed potential, unfulfilled careers, frustration, and societal coercion.

Now I haven’t met your mother, but mine enjoys a successful career as a cognitive-behavioral therapist, attends events as a public speaker, entertains friends of all ages on weekends, and also really wanted to give birth to me 29 years ago when she found out she was pregnant. While there are instances of unhappy, self-worth lacking mothers out there who feel like they had to sacrifice their careers to conceive, only to later throw poisonous frustration at their offspring, there are a corresponding number of mothers who wanted nothing more in life than to invest their time into educating, nurturing, guiding, and loving a child or more — as well as instances of women such as my mother, who have managed both formal careers and motherhood successfully.

And it’s maybe those precise instances of women downright heroically managing both acclaimed careers and motherhood that push us, ones who feel like we’re physically and mentally incapable of doing both, further down the ego-friendly myth of motherhood as a somehow `lesser path` in life.

If we are to however put our egos to the side for a moment here, there are people who are always going to be better at any certain thing than you are, unless you’re the current world record holder for the thing, in which case well, my bad. So, yes, I cannot manage both motherhood and my career or my chronic illness or my whatever, and there are other women out there, battling seemingly similar circumstances, who can and do manage to integrate motherhood into their lives despite all of that. That gives me no right to feel better about myself by degrading their ability to do so and making it into a weakness rather than a phenomenal strength and blaming it on the patriarchy. It’s not a competition.

As for those women who choose to not pursue complex career paths in favor of motherhood, could it be that they’re just making a different choice when faced with the same decision? Could it be they too felt they could only handle one of the two, and have simply chosen the other?

A note to that one sexist male always vehemently at this conversation

Now I’m not talking about excluding all males from the conversation regarding motherhood solely because of their gender. While not being able to physically give birth does mean you physically cannot fully comprehend the situation by definition, that doesn’t take away your right to an opinion, and that’s not why we’re here.

I’m talking about your obnoxious, women-are-but-a-vehicle-through-which-mankind-is-forwarded, do-you-even-have-a-mother, regardless-of-gender-still-an-asshole, but on top of all that also not even physically into it to begin with, male always vehemently joining the conversation. Joining the conversation, to tell everyone that women are either the vehicle through which our species sets into The Tomorrow, or nothing.

Yes, you are in your legal and moral right to have an opinion on the matter of identity and motherhood. Yes, you are in your legal and moral right to express that opinion, even if said opinion is that a female who has not birthed children has lived in vain. But for the love of reason, nobody outside your family cares.

Seriously, it’s really that simple, unless you’re literally Richard Dawkins here to offer a scientific viewpoint, I don’t care — and lots of women wouldn’t care even if you were. You’re wasting your breath, at times looking stupid while doing it.

A note to the pestering relative who always guilt-trips and pressures their young female family member into motherhood

Just because it’s worked out for you in the 70s, just because your mother pressured you into motherhood and you haven’t looked back with a single second of regret your entire life since, doesn’t mean coercion and lack of access to contraceptive methods is how we decide to have children in the 21st century. The times, they are a changin’.

In 2018, there is a lot to consider before going in for it. A lot. Otherwise, you’re just being irresponsible and immature. Yes, in 2018, it is not immature to think twice about having children, but it is immature to shoot and ask questions later.

Yes, it nevertheless sometimes just happens and people deal with it, often successfully. But that’s their decision to make. You want grandchildren? Well, I’d love to have inherited a nice house by the seaside, with a view. Yet I didn’t, and I’m not here trying to guilt-trip you into blowing your life savings on one, just so I can see my dream come true. I am not making you responsible for my own desires and emotions, which is might I add a mature thing to do.

While I was personally extremely lucky to have been dealt by chance a mostly progressive, supportive family who acknowledges my right over my own reproductive organs, I know of many instances where this is not the case. As the friend and brunch-squad-adviser for some of your pestered, bullied-into-motherhood children, trust me, it’s not doing your relationship any favours.

I know this entire endeavour could be summed-up into just bloody respect one-another's decisions. However, it more often than not isn’t that simple, when faced with the reason-crippling belief that your benevolent motives are reason enough to justify your loudmouthed interference into such a personal, life-changing decision.

Whichever way you’re advocating, you’ve lost me at advocating. You’re basing your discourse off of, most often, personal experience that you’ve confirmed via anecdotal evidence from your environment. The right to an opinion does not make it polite, or even ethical, to assume shit/attempt coercion, regardless of your motives.

What I propose, regardless of which side you’re on, is a little bit of humbleness. Humbleness in the face of the complexity and intimacy of such a life-changing decision. Humbleness in the face of another’s right to agency over their own lives and bodies. Humbleness, in the face of our inherent inability to live inside another’s head and truly understand their story.

As ever, thank you for taking the time to debate with me. If you feel like my train of thought resonates with yours, or if I’ve managed to make you think twice about anything in life, please consider sharing my work with your fellow humans.

Secular thinker with an empathy compulsion. Anxiety-nerd. Certified Crazy Cat Lady.