Is it normal to be a woman and not want to be a mother? In our societies, motherhood often remains an unavoidable step to be a fulfilled woman. As a result of social changes, more and more women are asserting their non-motherhood desire, arousing many prejudices and misunderstandings.
What does motherhood mean?
Do we take time to think about the meaning of motherhood? Motherhood is defined as ‘a state or experience of having or raising a child. Giving birth to and raising a child is an example of motherhood’. However, it may encourage a narrow definition of motherhood and do not put motherhood into different perspectives.
Tsippora, a 29-year old Parisian, never wanted to be a mom. She experienced her motherhood by being an old sister. As the eldest of five siblings, her birthright conferred on her many responsibilities and through the birthright, Tsippora lived her motherhood to the fullest. ‘Motherhood is not just about being a mom, it does include all the questions raised around motherhood’. Tsippora considers motherhood as connections created by love, affection, and transmission. The no desire for being a mom went through the breaking of a taboo but still spark controversy. Tsippora could only find a few personal stories so she decided to create a podcast called Tant que je serai noire. Her podcast highlights different perspectives and experiences on the desire of motherhood and non-motherhood among African descent women in France. Those experiences and perspectives lack of visibility as the focus is mostly on Black American women.
The fertility rate in decline in Western countries
Since a few decades, the fertility rate decreases in many western countries. In the United Kingdom according to The Guardian, ‘657,076 babies were born in England and Wales in 2018 – down 3.2% on 2017, and nearly 10% on 2012’ . From 2007 to 2017, the fertility rate steadily decreased in the United States, going from 2.22 to 1.77.
The U.S birth rate keeps declining for many reasons as employment uncertainty, career considerations and more recently, climate change. ‘More than a third of U.S. citizens aged 18 to 44 felt couples should consider climate issues when choosing whether to have children, according to an online survey of more than 1,000 people for Business Insider website in March’.
In addition to socio-economic factors, the desire for no motherhood is also the result of personal experiences. Persistent prejudice suggests the voluntary childlessness is due to an unhappy and traumatic childhood.
As for Tsippora, since she was young, she knew she would not like to be a mom. She let her mother know, but her mother thought Tsippora would over time change her mind. As years passed, Tsippora did not change her mind and her choice for no motherhood became decisive, to her mom’s great displeasure. The social pressure on women in the Senegalese culture, to have children is high. The question of whether to have kids or not, couldn’t even pop into somebody’s head.
It’s not always easy to be a mom
The motherhood narrative lacks wide-ranging perspectives by not raising many issues as for instance mothering burnout. Burnout doesn’t just happen at work, but also as a mother. Mothering burnout occurs when you’re looking to be the perfect mother. The sacred role of the mother in our societies pushes this desire for perfection. Difficult times come through mom’s burn out, but also when regrets are overwhelming, as we don’t feel up to it, due to pressure or frustration, full of reasons that can lead to this feeling. Regret is linked to the past, to omitted or unfulfilled actions that leave us with a lot of bitterness. Can we really regret motherhood?
Regretting motherhood, the breaking of a taboo?
Sociologist Orna Donath’s study, “Regretting motherhood: A Socio-political Analysis,” published in 2015, loosens people’s tongues by interviewing Israeli women aged 25 to 75 from all social classes. The study had had a major impact in Germany, by raging debate. The study will be followed by the publication of her essay “Regretting Motherhood: A Study “, in 2017. In this essay, regret and motherhood are clearly separated to understand the reasons for such regret. ‘If today I could go back’, she said, ‘obviously I wouldn’t have children. It’s totally obvious to me’. ‘I’d totally forgo having children’. Such is how some of the women interviewed express their regret at having had children.
One of the interviewees was asked by Orna when she realized she regretted being a mother. – Orna: Can you recall when you felt and/or understood that you regret becoming a mother?
– Tirtza: I think since the ﬁrst weeks after the baby was born. I said it was a catastrophe. A catastrophe. I immediately saw that it is not for me. And not only that it is not for me, it is the nightmare of my life. …I had no interest in being a mother. It was anomalous for me. Even this concept when a child calls me “Mommy.” Till this day. I look around to see who is calling me, to what mother it concerns. I did not relate to the concept, nor to the role, the meanings, the con-sequences of the …this responsibility and commitment.
We may realise belatedly that being a mother is not for us, that we have not taken enough time to reflect on our ability and willingness to be a mother or not. Why should we question something “natural for women”?
Regretting parenthood, Tsippora felt it through her father. Tsippora described him as a free spirit, who didn’t recognise himself in fatherhood. Nevertheless, his father prioritized his responsibilities in view of his personal choices. He married Tsippora’s mother and started a family. He never objected to his daughter’s choice regarding motherhood and is proud that she can assert it. Her choice to not want to be a mother is also known. Affirmative in her choices, Tsippora pushes her experience with motherhood even further. Tsippora had the brain wave when her sister-in-law had trouble getting pregnant, deciding to embark on an egg program donation.
The struggle of black women for egg donation
According to a French newspaper, each year, more than 3500 couples request gamete donation. As ethnic statistics are prohibited in France, the percentage of afro descent requesting gamete donation is unknown. Indeed, black donors are much rarer, as can be seen in this video, where black Afro-descendant women in France have difficulty finding a black donor.
In the UK, the same is observed, African descent donors are very rare. ‘In 2017, about 1,900 individual donors donated eggs in the UK. Of these only 15 were categorised as “Black Caribbean”. Twenty were Black African. The vast majority – 1,608 – were White’.
The stigmata attached to infertility is massive in the African diasporas. Social, cultural and economic reasons explain why African descent donors and patients are rare. In many African cultures, the purpose of life is to get married and start a family. Being childless can definitely be a factor of marginalization. Then, the belief persists on the fact black women can not experience fertility issues due to the collective imagery of black women. African women, for instance, are many times depicted as women with many children, and this preconceived prejudice extends to all the Afrodescendant diaspora. The strong black woman syndrome could also explain this rare number of donors and patients. ‘Rosario Ceballo, a University of Michigan professor leading the study, noted, ‘One explanation for the women’s silence about infertility may have to do with cultural expectations about strong, self-reliant black women who can cope with adversity on their own and with notions about maintaining privacy in African-American communities.’
Motherhood is evolving
Motherhood is changing with our times. Socio-economic changes are gradually bringing visibility to this desire for motherhood or non-motherhood and to this disconnection between being a fulfilled woman and being a mother. However, the glorification of motherhood still stifles many unspoken words and taboos. It also tends to underestimate our time of reflection on the desire or not of motherhood. This desire or not to be a mother can be very instinctive, as was the case with Tsippora, who from a very young age never saw herself as a mother.
It is important to take the time to get to know yourself, to connect with yourself to know what you want in your life and whether or not to take the step of parenthood. Beyond personal choice, it is time for the narrative on motherhood to give more visibility to Afro-descendant women, to be more plural and less patriarchal.
Regretting Motherhood : A Sociopolitical Analysis, Orna Donath, 12/2015
For black women infertility comes with shame and coping in silence, TheGrio, 05/06/2015
‘Why can’t I find an Afro-Caribbean egg donor?‘, Ven Carter, 13/01/2020