On Motherhood (from someone who is absolutely not a mother)

by Bradders: Nasty Woman
Opinion

Yerma at the Young Vic is a powerful, beautiful, devastating portrayal of what it is to be denied the very thing you want most in the world. Of how your body can literally betray you. And of the emotional darkness that we can inflict on those we claim to love. Watching Billie Piper visibly disintegrate (physically and psychologically) over the course of just over an-hour-and-a-half left me in no doubt that she was deserving of her best actress Olivier. I was so emotionally drained – just from being in the audience – that it was absolutely necessary to inhale an entire pizza as soon as the show was over. She’s come a long way since, Because we want to!, has our Bill.

But this is not a review of Yerma.

If anything, this is a review of me… and my choices… and how I feel about them.

Unlike Yerma, I am not desperate for motherhood. I literally cannot imagine how it must feel to be torn apart by anguish over your inability to conceive. Quite the opposite: I see a baby and I feel… nothing. My womb does not ache. My ovaries don’t explode. My breasts don’t become heavy with the unexpressed milk from years of redundant fecundity. No. If anything, I feel mildly perturbed. Threatened, even.

What is this *thing* that is so dependent, so demanding, so genuinely parasitic? Yes, I have the potential to grow a hybrid of myself and a partner in an organ that’s currently housing its third IUD, but that doesn’t mean that I want to. I have never wanted to. If you had asked 12-year-old me how many children she wanted when she grew up, she would have given you the same answer that 31-year-old me does now: “none”, and also, “fuck off”.

Biological Destiny

I have always railed against the idea that I have a biological destiny to fulfil, because seriously, what sort of medieval patriarchal bullshit is that? The notion that the most important thing I can or will ever do is give birth is genuinely offensive to me. It tells me that I am nothing more than a place-holder – that I have less value than my potential/theoretical offspring. And as a result, I have become scared – truly and genuinely scared – of the idea of becoming a mother. Because to me, it would feel like a punishment: a painful and bloody end to my freedom, and a permanent relegation of my own hopes and ambitions.

Am I over-reacting? Probably. Is that a healthy way to view motherhood? Absolutely not. Do I judge other people for having children? In my darker moments, sometimes. Am I aware that this makes me a massive fucking hypocrite? YES.

I have many friends who have become mothers, and I see them being incredible and selfless and endlessly patient every day. I am so impressed by their ability to put another life before their own – to be nurturing and exhausted and constantly scrutinised for every parenting decision they make and STILL push forward every day with strength and dignity. These women are fucking heroes. And yet…

And yet I can’t help but wonder whether it’s what they really wanted. Deep down. In the moments when the children are asleep and they lie open-eyed in the dark, exhausted but unable to switch off, and think back to the days before nappies and tantrums and crayon-covered walls… Is this what they imagined for themselves? Is this how they saw their futures? Is this what they wanted?

Is this what you really want?

I suppose my real question is this: do women in our society embrace motherhood because we genuinely want to, or because we are told – almost from the moment we’re born and from every conceivable source – that this is what we’re supposed to do? That this is what we’re supposed to want?

As someone who doesn’t appear to have a maternal bone in her body, I am genuinely interested in the answer to this question. Because if I’m wrong, and virtually every other woman out there has an innate, visceral need for and love of children, then maybe I am the problem here. Maybe there is something deficient in me.

But I can’t believe that I’m alone.

I recognise that much of the work to be done here is mine. I’ve internalised such a negative view of motherhood that I sometimes judge other women harshly for wanting something I cannot understand, and that’s not fair. I think some deep self-examination is in order. And who knows? Maybe I will change my mind one day. But I do ask that we stop assuming that anyone who identifies as a woman must also want to be a mother. I ask that we trust women who want to get their tubes cut to know their own minds and bodies. I ask that we stop defining childrearing as a female job, and hold fathers to the same standard that we hold mothers (and celebrate their roles as nurturers).

But most importantly, I ask that Clearblue and Pampers stop being so fucking presumptuous in their ‘targeted advertising’ on Youtube. You’re not making me broody; you’re making me want to throw my laptop out the window.

By ‘The Oatmeal’
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About Bradders 9 Articles
Bradders is a London-based actor, podcaster, and bad vegetarian. Her life's mission is to siphon off the roles traditionally played by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Felicity Jones; dismantle the imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist, ableist, hetero-patriarchy; and seduce Alexander Skarsgard (but not necessarily in that order). Hobbies include: wine, Pilates, being a feminasty kill-joy, and more wine. For more information, please listen to the Queens of the Hungle podcast, which Bradders co-presents with fellow New Establishment writer, Georgie Morrell. www.queensofthehungle.com

6 Comments

  1. Hi Sarah, I can honestly say that I loved and still love being a mother. I admit to missing some freedom that I had, but now as my daughter is not much younger than you I have that freedom. I would quite happily go back to those days of tiredness and dependence. I even enjoyed looking after other children and I am interested in their lives. I would not condem those who do not want children, but I do ask you to spare a thought for those who want to experience motherhood and for various reasons cannot. We all have a right to live the life we choose. Same sex relationships also yearn to be parents so it is not exclusively a female role. The world is large and made of many different opinions but barefoot and pregnant is not one that I applaud.

    • Of course. And as I said, the experience of desperately wanting a child, but not being able to conceive (as with Yerma), is not an experience that I can directly relate to, but that absolutely doesn’t mean that I can’t empathise. A lack of desire in one aspect of my life doesn’t mean that I don’t care when others are going through heartbreak. And yes, I am aware of the hypocrisy of my attitude towards judgement from others, versus my tendency to judge others. I know where this comes from, but that doesn’t make it ok.

  2. I totally respect your disinterest in parenthood. I think it’s just as natural as my life-long overwhelming desire to become a mum, and the fact that we are all different is great. I’ve struggled with fertility problems (plus being in a same-sex relationship which of course has its own fertility issues) for several years and am now pregnant with twins (we are wholeheartedly delighted but dear God, pregnancy sucks big time!!) but can I also agree with you wholeheartedly about those f***ing targeted ads on Youtube. I cannot tell you just how many times I’ve had to shut down Youtube over the past 4 years, not watching whatever I was going to, because of those pernicious adverts. Like someone twisting a knife in me, every time.

    I also think that society’s expectations of women in same-sex relationships wanting children can be different from those they they have of those in heterosexual relationships. I hope that with the advent of same-sex marriage that is perhaps changing, but I’ve been asked so many inappropriate (to my mind) questions over the years about my wish to procreate, or not – not just the EXACT hows and whens (strangers at weddings, casual acquaintances, not merely good friends) but also the stifled surprise that I should want children at all when I have ‘chosen’ to be with a woman and not a man – as if it’s an appropriate question to ask over a glass of fizz at a wedding reception, whether I want children or not. None of their bloody business, and no more appropriate that presuming that because I have a certain set of body parts and chromosomes in my cis-female case, that I should be dying to procreate asap! Of course, I may or may not have wanted children (as it was I always desperately have done) but being in a relationship with a woman or a man is an irrelevant aspect of that desire.

    • Thank you for your comment, Rebecca, and congratulations on the twins! I hope the pregnancy starts to suck less / you don’t have too much longer left to go!

      Yes, the same-sex relationship element must add a whole other level of assumptions and inappropriate judgements, and thank you so much for talking about it. I agree with you – I hope that we’re moving towards a point where hetero stops being the normative, and everyone just accepts and respects one another’s choices, but I suspect that we’re quite some way off yet. I’m sorry that you’re having to deal with all that bullshit.

      Good luck, and don’t let the bastards grind you down!

  3. We are all different Sarah, but I wouldn’t judge anyone for their choice, whether they want to be parents or not. The choice is entirely yours and yours alone! I have always felt a deep ‘need’ to be a Mum (as if you didn’t guess!) and have always been what is deemed to be maternal and that expands beyond my birth family. The broodiness never left me all through my childbearing years. Now, I am happy to be a Grandmother to 10 beautiful children. I think everyone has the right to their own decision about whether they want to be parents or not and they should not be judged or pressured by society. Sometimes I think it is a much harder decision to choose not to be a parent! Xxx

    • You may well be right! I certainly feel that my choice (as things currently stand – who knows if the way I feel will change?) is “not the norm”, or at least raises an eyebrow amongst certain people who feel like they have a stake in what I do with my uterus. (I have genuinely had someone say, “Whatever, you’ll have them”, when I told them I didn’t want kids). It is a choice that feels like it has to be constantly justified, which is tiring, and frustrating. But clearly I’m in no way alone, which is comforting.

      As I said to Lesley, my issues with judgement are what I’m trying to work on, because I know it’s not fair, but I’m glad that people are talking about it. It’s been a really enlightening couple of days!

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