Becoming a mom is both the most magical and overwhelming thing that’s ever happened to me — and yet I don’t recommend it for everyone.
Unfortunately, I see other women get attacked, even on this website, for their choice to be child-free.
When one woman recently published an essay on her reasons for not wanting kids, many commenters lashed out, calling her, among other things, “selfish,” "insecure," and “incredibly self-centered.”
But why should women who don’t want kids be pressured to become mothers?
Being a mom takes everything, and more: infinite self sacrifice, patience, and discipline.
I prayed so hard to be blessed with a family, and I'm grateful that I was, in my early 30s. And yet, I admit that I had no idea what a difficult, exhausting, crazy, undervalued, and relentless job it would be.
I had these deluded ideas about what it would be like: my newborn would nap constantly, while I would write my book proposal, and improve my Spanish. Ha! The reality was humbling. I could barely sit or walk for a month, my nipples were bleeding, and taking a shower was a rare fantasy. It’s mind-boggling how a tiny newborn is able to generate three loads of laundry a day, but trust me, they do.
I didn’t sleep for six months. There was a needy, screaming infant completely dependent on me, and every cell of my body and brain was consumed with keeping her nursed, clean, swaddled, warm, nurtured, and above all: alive. My reward was a profound state of intoxicating love that is ferocious in its intensity.
To me, those remarks about child-free women being “selfish” are just another example of society’s shaming of women when they don't conform to our expected gender roles. We forget that it's a choice to become a mom, not a rite of passage for womanhood.
It sounds funny now, but I remember being shocked when I first heard a girl say she didn't ever want kids of any kind. I didn't realize it was really a choice. I had always wanted to be a mom. When I was growing up in Japan, Germany, and New York, I imagined my adult self living in the country with dozens of adopted kids.
But I see now that as a young woman you're never explicitly told that you don't have to have kids, that there can be other destinies in store for you. You're never told that you can make incredible contributions — as loving aunts and partners, care-taking daughters or mamas to pets. You're never told that it's OK to want to "just" focus on your partner, pets, career, hobbies or simply be free of the responsibility of motherhood.
Whatever a woman’s reasons for being child-free, it's personal and we should respect it.
Child-Free Can Be the Right Choice
For those considering being child-free, here's my unsolicited advice: Go ahead and focus on yourself, enjoy your freedom, and ignore the "selfish" gibes.
You are a complete woman whether you become a mother or not.
Historically, there's been too much erasing of the female self, often as a side effect of motherhood. Holding onto, reinventing, and carving out your sense of self when you're a mother — and your entire being is consumed with caretaking — is challenging, to say the least.
I made time before starting a family to experience different lives, different continents, and develop different versions of myself. My favorite is being a writer and a mother. It’s a beautiful choice, for me. But that doesn't mean it's the only, or the right, choice for every woman.
Photo courtesy of the author