On Motherhood (by someone who is absolutely not a mother)
Yerma at the Young Vic was 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 about Yerma.
This is about 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 32-year-old me does now: “none”, and also, “fuck off”.
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 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. Now, show me a pregnancy test advert where the prospective mother pisses on a stick and breathes a sigh of relief when it turns out that she’s ‘not pregnant’, and we might be getting somewhere…
Article by Sarah Bradnum