There is a lot I want to accomplish in my short time on this planet. Owning and controlling my own pro-woman media conglomerate, procuring the elusive EGOT, and finally getting through all of Gone With the Wind in one sitting are certainly at the top of a lengthy list of future goals. I want to visit every continent, dine with political super powers, and take luxurious vacations along the Mediterranean in my own line of biodegradable swimwear. So where do children fit into this picture, if at all?
It is assumed that women inherently want kids. It is expected that we pop out two or three or eight, in consecutive order, by the time we’re 30. I mean, that’s a huge part of our identity as the child bearers of the world, right? It’s the one thing that we can do that men physically cannot (you know, besides that whole menstruating business). We have this glorious, hymn-inducing, salt-of-the-earth power to produce new life, of course we’re going to have a biological craving to make carbon copies. Right? …Right?
Several studies have recently shown that women are having fewer children, and later in life. There’s also a rising minority of us who are choosing to forgo motherhood all together. In many ways, that decision is the ultimate scarlet letter. You’re actively choosing to not partake in the most sacred aspect of your gender, and no matter how progressive the society, there are obvious questions and concerns that come along with that decision. Motherhood has been an be-all-end-all game for females since the dawning of time. Even though Western women are free to do pretty much whatever we please these days, the question: “So when are you having babies?” is one the modern woman can scarcely ever escape during her short window of fertility. The decade between ages 20 and 30 you could be curing HIV and catching terrorists while simultaneously starring in your own tap dancing Vaudeville act with a hologram of Gene Kelley’s corpse, but you will most certainly still be asked when you plan on throwing in the towel and leaving it all behind to do what it really is that you’re pre-destined for: parenting.
First of all, the decision to become a parent isn’t one that should be taken lightly (just flip to Teen Mom for five minutes for some horrifying examples of what happens when you’re ill-prepared). Raising a child is a lifetime of work and dedication, not to mention money. I am told it can be exponentially rewarding. I am told it’s the greatest source of joy and that you’ll never know — true, heart-stopping love from the moment you hold your own tiny seed of a person in your arms for the first time.
I think motherhood is beautiful. I think motherhood is valid. That’s not the point. The point is that it’s expected, and not in a way that it is for men. Men can live their whole lives as lone wolves, as bachelors without a cause, and no one bats an eyelash. It’s perfectly acceptable for men to choose “career” over “family”, and we in fact see that choice being made all the time. For a woman to act in the same manner she’s considered a broken ice queen obsessed with becoming an alpha in a gender of betas. “Unnatural” is a word that comes to mind.
Personally, I think we’d be a lot better off if we had more women who rejected the mommy instinct. Bring ‘em on. I salute you, childless-by-choice ladies. We’d have women leaders in every business sector. We’d have die-hard career ladies putting in the time to build empires that we should have built centuries ago, but were too oppressed to. We’d have plenty of female role models for the little people the rest of us are making. The trouble with “having it all” is that the idea is ultimately a fallacy. Sure, you can have a career and have children. I’ll probably end up being one of those power mommies who hires a nanny out of necessity in order to preserve her job; I don’t see anything wrong with wanting everything. The problem is, you can’t really have everything. I’m not even at that stage in my life yet and I already know that. If I decide to have children, there’s going to be a chunk of my life — a huge chunk — dedicated to that little fetus that grew inside me for nine months. My career will have to be sacrificed in some ways. I’ll have to take time off when she’s young. I’ll have to skip business dinners to make it to the school play, and dip out early of meetings when she’s sick. I’ll lose sleep and sanity, but hopefully I won’t have to go it alone. My life trajectory will be forever changed — for better or for worse — by my offspring. So it’s no wonder that if women want to be in any position of power that they feel they must choose one life or the other.
As I’m typing this now, sitting in a Starbucks on the Upper East Side, there is an army of strollers and their subsequent mommy commanders in my line of vision. And while these women are well dressed, well fed, and seemingly jovial with their bouncing bundles of joy, their attention rests wholly on that tiny, needy person. Even if these women have flourishing careers and like to dabble in interplanetary neuro-physics in their (limited, I’m sure) downtime, the center of their world is right there, shitting all over itself and crying manically. While motherhood is certainly a valid choice and I obviously would not be here without it, there is something to be said about the shift in responsibility and focus of life that comes with such a weighty decision. Mainly, that you are slave to someone else’s wants, desires, and needs for the next 18 years, at least. You are never again your number one priority.
Written by Chelsea J. Leibow
Follow her blog, Chelsea Twentysomething