The Daily Stupid

I don’t know what is worse–the fact that The Daily Beast has published a press release for this fertility doctor as a news story, or the fact that this story recycles the completely unbelieveable trope that women in their 30s and 40s are truly surprised when they learn they might not be able to have children: 

Some bosses offer dating tips. Diane Sawyer counsels her colleagues on freezing their eggs.

The anchor of ABC’s World News has long been a sounding board for her famously hard-working staff on a host of personal issues, from dating to the more complex realities of a demanding career. A recurring theme with women: finding time away from the office to meet a partner and have kids before they hit 40. It doesn’t always happen, as Sawyer, who first married at age 42, well knows. When it doesn’t, Sawyer sends her workers to New York University’s Fertility Clinic.

.       .       .       .       .       .      

Three quarters come in because they aren’t ready to have children yet. Some are sent by their parents: I know you want to work, but I want grandkids someday. Many are furious their doctors didn’t tell them about egg freezing sooner. “I want to send Diane a basket of flowers for what she’s doing,” says one childless 40-something in the media.

The idea that one could be a woman in her 40s in the media and not be aware of fertility issues is just completely laughable.  This is the same news media that for at least thirty years has been bullying women to get pregnant before they’re 25 or else!!!  That “childless 40-something in the media” probably spent her college internships back in the 1980s writing scripts that scolded women who didn’t get pregnant by 25, then worked as a producer for TV segments in the 1990s discussing the heartbreak of infertility and the joy of international adoption/IVF babies/donor eggs/babies via surrogacy, and then was promoted to create shows in the 2000s recycling these scripts and story lines on daytime TV, the nightly news, and evening news magazines.

Never mind that women in their 30s or 40s who don’t have children might not have them because they don’t want them.  I wonder how many of Diane Sawyer’s employees submit to this expensive procedure because they’re afraid to tell their bosses or co-workers, “no, thank you, I don’t want children.”  I wonder how many women in their 50s and 60s feel pressure to cast their decisions not to have children as some kind of bad luck or physiological failure, because of the opprobrium they might face if they say, “I’m really not into children, so I didn’t have them?”

But, really:  the notion that these stories offer some kind of secret wisdom that women have never heard of before is just too stupid to believe.

60 thoughts on “The Daily Stupid

  1. Is this right?? “In 2011 around 40 percent of college-educated working women over the age of 40 were childless.” That seems really high to me, but interesting if true.

    It is so offensive that professional journalist Diane Sawyer (who I note, is not quoted anywhere) is mentioned in NEWSweek, where this was originally published, for telling women to get their eggs frozen and avoid the error of her (very successful) ways! It epitomizes to the effort to turn professional women into scaring must-be-mothers.

    Blech all around.


  2. That stat seemed high to me too, but it’s so much easier to assume that 40% of college educated women are stupid and can’t be trusted to make their own decisions than it is to believe that 40% of college educated women don’t want children.

    Here’s a hilarious alternative universe: a TV interview or news magazine story that interviews mothers in their 30s and 40s in which said mothers express regret about having children. That’s completely unimaginable, isn’t it–even one story, let alone a 30-year story line that’s played out in several media outlets every day. And yet, we assume that the reflexive position for women who don’t have children is regret.


  3. Equally irritating is the way they present a frozen egg (or 12) as the only factor here. As if, when you hit 43, you can take it out of the freezer, let it thaw, and ta da, instant baby! You still need a uterus, some sperm, more money, and a partner or desire to be a single mother.

    I”m sure (at times) some women post 40 regret never having children. I’m equally sure that (at times), some women post 40 regret having children. Though no one will ever write an article about that second point of view because they don’t want to hear it.


  4. Can we just take a step back here? Perhaps we’re being a bit too judgmental here. It’s not as if the article says Diane Sawyer or anyone else (aside from parents, maybe) forces them to go to the clinic and undergo the procedure, nor does it say they should avoid the error of her ways.

    Like it or not, some women who do want children do focus on their careers and forget about some of the options out there. It’s not as if freezing your eggs, as the article points out, is inexpensive, so people are more likely to forget that it is an option. This has nothing to do with women who don’t want children. It’s simply a reminder for women who MIGHT that there are options they can take in advance while focusing on their career goals…if they can afford it.


  5. Forgetting’s the wrong word, and the focus on babies is also wrong. What always strikes me as strange when these pieces materialize is that women are accused of forgetting to have children, while the authors of these pieces seem to ignore the phase before: the finding of the partner. I’m probably just speaking from my own experience and in fairness there are other factors that have left me perpetually single, but what has always worried me is how my career is getting in the way of creating a family unit into which I may choose to bring children. I’m pretty sure all the women who want to have children know how to get them without a partner, but choosing single motherhood’s a big step and I suspect the hold-up is as much about finding suitable men while having a successful career as it is about the myth of “forgetting” to have children.


  6. Oh, and actually that percentage of college-educated working women without children doesn’t surprise me. In the other trend that won’t quit (why can’t black women find a man?), the number of unmarried college-educated women is shockingly high, especially those with graduate degrees. I don’t have the numbers on hand, but they were staggering.


  7. In my, obviously online, dictionary: American media is “stupid, arrogant and right of center.” I stopped reading or watch our media more than a decade ago. As they are so fund of saying: there is enough irritation “to go around,” who needs them.


  8. I think your related point regarding the importance of women who choose not to have children being confident enough to verbalize that choice is an important one. From my experience, expressing this openly does become easier as you get older. In my 20s and early 30s, I was more likely to make some vague comment about not having children when asked, in part to minimize the frequent replies of, “Oh you will change your mind.”

    Since my mid-30s, I have become more direct when responding to others who ask and readily state that it was our active choice not to have children. There are always people who seem to think it must have been some unfortunate circumstance that rendered us with children, as they are always a bit surprised when I say we actually PLANNED not to have children.

    I have also a number of colleagues and others tell me that they wish they would have had the courage to say they didn’t want children. By all accounts, these women were active, loving parents so there was no evidence they do not fully embrace their parenting role. But I think it is unfortunate that they weren’t able to hear that inner voice – however small – that said maybe the path to motherhood was not what they truly desired for their life.


  9. I can’t find the link right now, but there was a story out of the UK last year about the tragically amusing consequences of all these “Your fertility is gone after 40!” stories. Apparently so many women believe that these stories mean they can’t get pregnant after the age of 40 that they’re forgoing any kind of birth control…with the unsurprising result that the rate of unplanned pregnancies among women in their early 40s is now the same as the rate among teenagers. Good going, news media…

    @Trapped in Canadia: fantastic blog title! I’ve thought ever since I moved down here that I should write a “Canuck Down South of the 49th” blog, but I think it might get me into big trouble.


  10. “This has nothing to do with women who don’t want children.”

    This might be a reasonable point only if we didn’t have 30 years of concern trolling about women’s fertility, but it’s precisely this larger context that I’m writing about. Articles about women going to financial and technological extremes to preserve their fertility are in fact all about a motherhood imperative.

    Bridgett, thanks for sharing your perspective. I’m amazed by your colleagues’ confessions! These are the kinds of conversations we never hear about because they counter the assumptions of the motherhood imperative.


  11. I totally claim to be the poster child for abortion. I’ve got a kid and I love ’em, but I sure wouldn’t wish him on anyone else. I discourage younger women from having children – I tell them – “it’s ok to not want them. Please don’t if you don’t want to. Oh, god, children will destroy aspects of your life – your clothing, furniture, body, etc – that you’d never expect (just once I’d like to laugh really hard and not pee at the same time.)”

    I hate that my best friends feel like they have to justify to others that they don’t want children. And yet I can “pass” because I had one (although how many times do I hear “you’re still young, you could still have another” – good god – why would I? The one I’ve got drives me crazy enough and he’s not even a teenager yet). Seriously, what is with the motherhood imperative?!


  12. Something that really bothers me about the motherhood imperative is how disrespectful it is of children. They are living beings, not property, as in “having” it all means to work and be a parent.

    I love my children very much and my life is happy with them. But I think that if I could not see myself just as happy were they never to have come along, then I would not be a very well adjusted person. A wise person I once knew told me that if I could not see myself coming out on the other side of an emotional entanglement able to take of myself then I should think hard about getting into it. She meant this with respect to financial security but I think the reasoning applies also to emotional security.


  13. Thanks to Yahoo: “You know which tattoo most women wouldn’t regret? One in honor of their children. Whether it’s a tattoo of your kid’s name, their birth date, their baby footprints, or their portrait, a mommy tattoo has a meaning that people can respect. Tastes change, and relationships end, but your kids will always be your kids no matter what.”

    -A mommy tattoo has a meaning that people can respect. And there you go…

    Truffula – you raise a great point. Think of all the parents who create lives around their children and then cannot function when their children grow up.


  14. The statistic about the 40% of women not having children is true for the UK. They way it looks just now is that between 35-40% of women in the 40-45 age cohort don’t have children. And they think for the next age cohort, it will be nearer 40% (although they don’t know for sure because of the trend towards later motherhood). And this figure is for all women, so may be even higher amongst educated women.

    It’s a trend we see in many countries. In Australia, where the figure is 30-something per cent, there is some anxiety about declining population and women not doing their part for the nation at the exact same time as rabid anti-immigration feeling! Awesome.

    On the wanting children debate, I think there may also be a lot of ambivalence around children. We are sort of sold that you *know* if you want them and you *know* if you don’t. And, I think for some women, they don’t *know*, and they like children but they also like their life choices without children (and I think some of this is driven by a realisation that children are people and not accessories, so it’s not a purely selfish discussion). And putting off the decision until tomorrow is easier than having to make one. So, I can see that you might not have forgotten per se, but you might just be delaying making that decision. In the last few years, many of my friends, who are getting to their mid-thirties, are having those convesations about ‘needing to make a decision’, but we are still taking our sweet ass time about it. So perhaps it’s not so much forgetting as an unwillingness to take steps towards an active choice, and perhaps reminding some women that freezing their eggs gives them extra time to make that choice is helpful. I think perhaps many women (who could afford it) would see freezing eggs as choosing to have children (as part of a range of ‘fertility’ options), rather than choosing to have choice, which is why they don’t always consider it.


  15. Thanks for these interesting comments. truffula, you are so right on about the people vs. property thing. And I think that too few parents think about the rest of their lives *without* children. After all, successful parenting is about getting your children to the point where they can function in the world without you.

    Love the tattoo intel that Liz2 dug up. Wow! And yet unsurprising. (I don’t have tattoos precisely because there’s no decision I’ve made, with a very few big and important exceptions, that I haven’t regretted 2 or 5 or 10 or 20 years later. Hairdos and boyfriends of the 1980s? Fashion choices of the 1990s? SO glad I’m not stuck with them.)

    Feminist Avatar: interesting international perspective. I’m also interested to hear how your friends all see themselves at a crossroads in their mid-30s. I suppose that partners & children need to be made priorities if they’re not on the immediate horizon if one wants one’s own genetic children. But there are so many ways to make a family these days, at whatever age–and as truffula suggests, all parents are just temporary custodians of people who will grow up and leave us.


  16. I’m loving this thread. Even being queer these days isn’t the get-out-of-parenthood-free card it used to be. I am so grateful to hear parents – Historiann, Liz, Truffala, y’all – saying that it’s okay not to want kids. There are almost tears of gratitude in my eyes as I read your posts – it’s been that hard to hold my truth in a relentlessly pro-motherhood culture, and not internalise the notion that I am actually an unnatural monster who will never know the meaning of – well, everything.

    And Truffala’s point is right on, that seeing kids as a means to the end of the fulfillment of *another* person, usually the mother, dismisses the kids as actual people. This is exactly why I don’t have them – I respect the needs of other humans enough not to create or adopt one that I am ambivalent about.

    @thefrogprincess – I don’t really understand this: “the number of unmarried college-educated women is shockingly high”. Why shocking? Apart from the screaming hetero bias (one of the reasons I’m not married is because I can’t, legally, even if I did aspire to that institution), the word “shocking” assumes that marriage is a state preferable to other forms of kinship. Why is the percentage of unmarried women an issue worthy of comment at all? (And I assume no-one is performing a similar census on men’s marital status).


  17. LouMac–I think it was John Waters who I heard say once that it is such a drag now that gays can marry and have children that it’s become de rigeur. He said something like, “NOT having children used to be one of the precious few benefits of being gay!”

    I think thefrogprincess is coming from the perspective of a college-educated Black woman, as AA women have a much harder time finding male peers to marry than white women in the U.S. I don’t think she was trying to privilege heterosexuality so much as to remind us that marriage is not really an equal opportunity instituion for all hetero women. Most of my friends of color (male and female, but mostly female)–all of whom are college-educated–have talked openly about their internal debates about whether to date in-race or out of their race. (Whereas by comparison only two of my white college-educated friends have married men outside of their race or ethnic group.)


  18. Also, back to Trapped in Canadia’s point about how this doesn’t concern women who don’t want kids .. I wish that were true. The media’s relentless production of stories about women who find meaning in motherhood where there was little meaning before, or whose infertility (or “forgetting” their fertility!) becomes the defining tragedy of the rest of their lives – all this becomes a kind of coercive ideological machinery that reproduces (ha!) the idea that this is what women *should* aspire to. That may not be the intention, but as in many discourses about marked identities (in this case, gender), the effect often differs from the intention. It’s a version of what Lee Edelman calls reproductive futurity – the endless deferral of meaning onto the next generation, whereby adults only have access to meaning inasmuch as they produce meaning-bearers, i.e. kids .. and so it continues. Some of the most well-meaning and wonderful parents I know will say things like “having children makes you human”, without thinking how it sounds to those who have always known they don’t want to, or won’t, have kids. It’s a sentiment based on lovely things – a parent’s love for their kids, the overwhelming sense of wonder they can produce and so on – but it can be experienced as very exclusionary, judgmental, and hurtful.

    To be more prosaic, we could try to think of positive media representations of voluntarily childless women who *don’t* change their minds. I’m drawing a blank … all I’ve got is Glenn Close boiling pet bunnies in Fatal Attraction, and that wicked witch in Narnia …


  19. In the mid-1960s, my mother, who was then in her early 30s, visited her gynecologist shortly before marrying my father and asked about birth control. He told her she didn’t need it, because “at her age” it would probably take her some time to become pregnant. I was born 11 months months after the wedding. I also have a 2-years-younger sibling, and know that she had an early miscarriage (after a brief illness that involved a high fever) in between us.

    So, yes, nothing much new under the sun on this topic, at least for the last half-century or so.


  20. I’m sure that many women regret having children. But I’m equally sure that they would not want to say so publicly because it would/could cause pain to their children.


  21. Ok, I’m going to have to post over at my place because I have a lot to say about this. But briefly, FA’s third paragraph really resonated with me.

    Also, to respond to CPP, I don’t think that women won’t admit that they’ve regretted having children so much because of the public chastisement that would result but rather because if one has had a child, saying that one has regrets (given the current discursive norms) having had children is *personal* rather than *general*. It means you regret having had your specific kids, which I’m not sure many women would necessarily feel unless the kids they had were particularly horrible. Whereas, admitting that you regret *not* having had kids isn’t personal, really – it’s sort of like regretting not having sung in a rock band or like regretting not moving to San Francisco when you were carefree in your early 20s. It’s not a personal attack on actual people if you voice that regret.

    So, for example, my mother would never say that she regretted having *me* because, well, she loves me. (In fact, she has said countless times that she could never say that she regretted having me, in exactly that passive-aggressive way.) But she *has* said that she regretted having a kid so young, that she regretted having no single life in her 20s, that she regrets the opportunities that she missed because she got pregnant when she did. So it’s not that women with children don’t have regrets or even voice them. But expecting for them to “admit” to regretting their actual children seems like asking for a bit much, imho. Because I’m going to venture that most mothers, regardless of their regrets, do love their actual children and wouldn’t want to indicate that they don’t, and not wanting to do that seems entirely reasonable to me.


  22. I’m not denying there is a “motherhood imperative” in this country. As a 34 year old, I certainly feel the effects of it on an almost daily basis. I’m simply saying that I did not feel this article was pushing that imperative or that anyone was forcing women to freeze their eggs. Those of us who know we don’t want children may still feel pressured, but we aren’t being dragged to fertility clinics, kicking and screaming all the way.

    @Canuck Down South – Thanks! It started as a bit of a joke with my Canadian friends, but now I wonder what I’m going to do when I move back to the States in the next few months. I’ll need a new blog title!


  23. “Articles about women going to financial and technological extremes to preserve their fertility are in fact all about a motherhood imperative.”

    I believe that what bothered me most about the article (reading quickly) is the idea that motherhood and a career are and will remain in conflict. That young women in their 20s might someday freeze their eggs in order to keep their “options open”.

    It’s the myth of total control. That with enough financial and technological resources, a woman really can have it “all”, and the “all” can be kids! As many kids as you like! It completely ignores the emotional, physical, and financial implications of actually raising a kid (or two). Completely blows past the idea of a father or partner as a co-parent, of two rational adults deciding *together* that kids would be life-enriching and then taking on the task of raising the kids *together,* with sacrifices on both sides.

    This also resonated: “But, really: the notion that these stories offer some kind of secret wisdom that women have never heard of before is just too stupid to believe.”

    Gah. In the interest of context, I’ve got two. Girls The first was born when I was just past 40; the second a couple of months shy of 45. My husband and I talked about the whole thing in great detail before we got married – whether we wanted kids; what we would or would not do if it wasn’t in the cards, given both our ages. I’m very happy with the way things turned out, but I would have been equally happy if we hadn’t had kids….just would have been a different life. I hope to raise my daughters in such a way that they can parse the bullshit. I’m not optimistic enough to think that it–and by that I mean all the antiquated, anti-feminist stuff out there–will go away in their lifetimes.


  24. And you’ll need to buy private health insurance, too, once you’re no longer Trapped in Canadia. W00T!

    Has anyone here seen We Have to Talk About Kevin? As usual, I’ll have to wait to see it on Netflix in like 2015 because all I have is the cheap-ass 2 DVDs a month plan. (In case you haven’t heard about the movie, apparently it’s all about the regrets of being the mother of a Bad Seed.)

    Leslie: thanks for your comment. It’s really Teh Stupid that bothers me most, I think: the presumption that women don’t understand that they’re making adult choices, and that some adult choices foreclose other choices even as they open up other possibilities.

    Finally, although I’m not big on it, what’s so bad about regret? It seems like every sentient and reasonably thoughtful adult over the age of 30 or so probably lives with some regret. I sure do–not of the “what have I done to my effed-up life” variety, more along the lines of “I regret treating this person badly,” or “I regret not doing a better job with this or that task,” or “what made me think that second bottle of wine was a good idea?” I recognize that I’ve made choices in my life that foreclosed the possibility of other options, and sometimes I think about how my life would have been different had I made other choices–but that just seems to me the place where most middle-class people are living their lives.


  25. Thanks, Historiann, for articulating something I couldn’t quite manage earlier–yes, adults need to be able to live with regret. It’s a part of emotional maturity to be able to recognize and deal with the idea that choices have consequences.


  26. Pingback: On “Forgetting” to Have Babies « Reassigned Time 2.0

  27. H’Ann – I don’t think that regret is so bad, necessarily, especially in the way that you describe it in your most recent comment. I think the problem comes in when people expect parents (mothers, fathers, whatever) to express regret about becoming parents, because that is about specific people – people whom parents ostensibly love a lot and wouldn’t want to hurt. It’s one thing to regret that second bottle of wine – it’s entirely another to regret having had your daughter or son. You know?


  28. @LouMac–Historiann clarified my comments well, but just to add some more specifics. If I remember correctly, the number that’s bandied about for college-educated black women is over 70% are unmarried. So that’s what I meant by shockingly high, the context being that these are women in a country that highly prizes marriage and in a community that does the same. (Here, I’m thinking about the fact that there’s a higher rate of religiosity among African Americans.) As the journalistic pieces go, the numbers are so low because there aren’t enough quality black men (as in not incarcerated, not on drugs, no children) and those that do exist have their pick of both black and nonblack women. These same pieces also go on to highlight (as they insist that we date outside our race) that black women are much less likely to date/marry outside their race than black men, and while some of that is certainly black women’s choice to stay within the race, it’s also a reflection of how our beauty is perceived (or not perceived) by nonwhite men.

    These pieces are highly frustrating. In part because they insist we’re at fault for not venturing over to white men (usually the demographic in question) while never asking whether white men as a group are providing a welcoming front to nonwhite women. In part because they inevitably downplay career success and make us nothing more than our marital status. In part because of the assumption is that working-class black men aren’t good enough for us high-class ladies. (Sarcasm.) And in part because the only time we’re ever talked about in the media as a demographic is in this context. Why aren’t we getting married? And why aren’t we dating white men?

    All that said, in the United States and in such a highly churched community, I do think 70% unmarried is objectively a high number and I do think it reflects many unhappy women at the same time that it must also reflect women who don’t want to get married.


  29. Is anyone else here old enough to remember the Ann Landers poll from the 70s where 70 percent of women who responded (anonymously for the most part) said if they had known what they were getting into, they wouldn’t have had children? Anyone? Bueller?

    OK, you can find a discussion of the survey, including statistical problems, here:

    And for the record, I never wanted kids and never forebore saying so to anyone pushy enough to ask. Sometimes they said I’d change my mind. That’s sort of like people suspecting you’re getting married because you’re pregnant: see if they still think that in eight months. I’m old enough now that it’s obvious I didn’t change my mind, and people have also stopped asking or commenting about my reproductive plans. Age has its benefits, people.


  30. It’s not a personal attack on actual people if you voice that regret.

    The reason that it is so anathema as a social norm for any woman to express regret for having had children isn’t because it will make her children feel bad–all the baby fetishism and glorification of reproduction has nothing to do with the children and everything to do with making sure bitchez know their proper place–but rather because it could possibly make women who might have children in the future entertain doubts.

    Another realization that occurred to me re-reading this post is that the whole thing is grossly classist. It costs a fucketonne of money to freeze eggs. According to this Web site, it’s $8,500:

    And I would assume you have to pay ongoing maintenance costs to keep them frozen, although I’m not certain about that.


  31. I haven’t waded through all these comments, but as someone who needed egg donation to have a second child (under 40, I might add), I’ll state two obvious things: egg freezing (as opposed to embryo freezing) is a very new technology that is only done well by a few highly selective fertility clinics nationwide and it’s a complicated, expensive procedure. It basically involves doing all the first half of IVF (egg stimulation and retrieval) and simply not choosing to fertilize the eggs. And then even if they are frozen, who is to say that they will actually make viable embryos somewhere down the road… if not done prior to age 30, there’s probably not much point as egg quality goes down substantially (why egg donors are 20somethings).


  32. To me, the most shocking part of this text is not the bullying of women to have kids (same old, same old) but rather that anyone would ever say to their daughter “I know you want to work, but ….” Please, someone, show me the alternative universe where women don’t want to/have to work! Does anyone still think this?

    Anyone thinking about getting a tattoo of their baby needs to check out for a reality check.


  33. Regarding the issue of parents who regret having children — I doubt there are (m)any who would state this publicly, but in the 1970s Ann Landers conducted a poll in which 70% of parents said that if they had to do it all over again that they would not have children. So, the 40% of women not having children is not surprising. I wonder what the figure is for men (or if anyone has bothered to even study this).


  34. OMG, what CPP said (and gwinne), in his last post. I mean, there are so many things to be horrified about in this article, well covered upthread, but let’s not forget the ways in which a “need” for an extremely expensive (and invasive!) industry is being created here. It reminds me of cord banking (ie, banking the umbilical cord in case you need the stem cells – same thing as egg freezing, you pay a monthly fee for maintaining the cells for like forever)

    And word about baby fetishization. After all that pressure on women to have kids, boy do we really hate kids! The irony!

    Sometimes I say that I couldn’t imagine my life without kids, until I had them! Now I can imagine it super clearly! That’s a bit of a joke, but I really do think that the experience of the challenges and ambivalence of motherhood should make mothers MORE sympathetic, understanding, and supportive of the child-free (by choice or not), rather than heaping on that “wow you’re life is meaningless bullsh*t.


  35. I was out all day yesterday; sorry to have missed this conversation. But as a happily childfree woman, it’s lovely to read a conversation about opting out of motherhood that is, well, *sane.* That’s so, so rare!


  36. Everyone still reading here should go on over to Dr. Crazy’s reflections on “forgetting” to have a baby. She sums it up really nicely, and asks us to see women as people rather than mothers or not-mothers:

    It’s not about “forgetting” to have a baby, and it’s not about not “really” wanting one. It’s about the fact that I want many things, that I am many things. And maybe a kid will happen and maybe it won’t. But if it doesn’t, my life will still be really great. I will still be a woman. I’ll still be a person. Reproductive choice for women isn’t only about freedom from having a kid (the right to legal, safe abortion) nor is it only or also about the freedom to have a kid with the aid of technology (egg-freezing, sperm donation, other reproductive technologies). If we see it that way, women are still defined through and by reproduction. Reproductive choice, for me, should result in a world in which women are people outside of their reproductive refusal or potential. Reproductive choice should mean that I don’t have to be either a “mother” or “child-free.” Setting it up that way means that I’m still only the sum total of my uterus – whether I’ve “chosen” to use my uterus to house a human or whether I’ve “chosen” (or by virtue of health issues had to) to keep my uterus empty.

    No woman should need to announce her womanhood, her personhood, either by having a kid or by asserting her “choice” in not having a kid. At the end of the day, a woman’s personhood shouldn’t have a thing in the world to do with her reproductive organs. That, for me, should be the point of reproductive choice. Not that I have the freedom to have an abortion or I have the freedom to freeze my eggs. Seriously, are those the only options for a person who is also a woman? I’m sorry, but I want more than that.



  37. I meant to add that I too was bothered by the weird parental pressure to become grandparents that the article alluded to. I love that idea of “wanting” to work! How cute. Fortunately for me, I “want” to work, but I also *have* to work. Because in my world, that’s what grown-ups do, and in the rest of the world, the money you make at work is the means by which you can purchase things that are pretty important, like food, shelter, clothing, etc.

    I would hope that people these days are raising their children to function in the world regardless of their sex or relationship status. It would seem to me to be parental dereliction to raise children to think that someone else owes them a living, instead of raising them to make their own livings.


  38. I love this thread. I went through a period of pretty deep regret about having kids, and mentioned it a couple times, online only, and it went over like a lead balloon, even amongst the pseudonymous. I felt like a horrible and selfish person. This is, of course, why I would NEVER let it get back to my kids that I ever regretted being their mother, even for a relatively short period of time. Maybe only if they came to me with similar feelings after they’d had kids and I thought it would help them rather than hurt them.

    My kids are out of that super-difficult phase and I’m now very pleased that I had them, but I’m assuming sometimes people have lasting regret (I personally know of no one). That is such a scary place to be in, and during the time I felt regret, I was utterly alone. I couldn’t talk to anyone IRL about it because it’s so forbidden, and I was just stuck with that decision, forever and ever. I was very upset about being pregnant with my youngest for the first half of the pregnancy and I felt similarly alone. It was dreadful. No one had ever told us the truth about parenthood, so it took us by surprise with our oldest. It was our choice and I had to live with it. Yikes. It was not my kids’ fault and I would have to stop the self-pity, put on a happy face, and continue being a good mother.

    I fantasized about dying. I would never have tried suicide, as I couldn’t hurt my kids (or husband) like that, but I fantasized about accidental death daily. I think that had my kids remained super-difficult, as some do, the regret might not have faded away. I am so thankful and lucky that it did.

    I knew I had to be a responsible adult and try to get over it and forge ahead, loving and serving and mothering my children, no matter how hard it was, or how I felt about it, as my love for them never wavered. I am fortunate that this did not coincide with mental illness, as I’m guessing it does for many who experience it. I am not suggesting that chin-up-bootstraps-pulling is a good solution to this problem. For me, I think it was time and luck that helped the most. Also I have a great partner. I had a period of private mourning for the life that I was wishing I had. Since I had kids before/during grad school, I envied the other students’ freedom. Now I just think about how hard it’s going to be for them to have newborns when they’re in tenure-track jobs and/or old-ish, ha! I got mine over with early and they are fun now. Plus, I’ll still be in my 40s when they’re in college.

    No one IRL knows about my period of regretting motherhood. People around me know that I totally dig my kids, but I don’t sugar-coat parenthood. I tell people that the only good reason to have a child is that you desperately want one. My boss is the same way, only with more kids. I know we’re responsible for the fact that about 80% of my co-workers in their 20s say they probably don’t want kids, because for the first time, they’ve gotten a real look at what it’s like to be in an egalitarian marriage with kids and careers and they also heard us say it’s okay not to have them. They see what we do, day in and day out. They know we adore our kids, but they see the sacrifices we make, because we’re transparent about it in the workplace. I am proud that I am helping ensure that every child is desperately wanted, and that people carefully consider parenthood. Because that’s what children deserve. I thought for many years I’d never have an abortion. Then I had kids.

    Liz2, Perpetua, and others, thank you for your candor.


  39. It’s telling that one of the few times a film deals with a mother seriously regretting have children — and showing what happens when that emotion is pushed — it’s a horror movie, JOSHUA.

    It would have been an even better movie if its Bad Seed *didn’t* prompt the baby to wake up and cry, but just showed us what sleeplessness and that damn nuclear family model does to parents starting out with the best intentions….


  40. I know someone who on one occasion got in her car and just drove, leaving her children asleep in bed, because she thought she might kill them if she stayed there. She went back and is a great mother- this was a combination of exhaustion and poor mental health. She never told that story until years later. But it struck me as so desperately sad that she never had support because we aren’t allowed to talk about those things. She was also a stay at home mother, whose mental health improved dramatically when she decided to go to university and then got a career. And it is this story that makes me suspicious of the claims that stay at home mothering is best!


  41. Pingback: comment on the baby chatter « Nola, Ph.D.

  42. Coincidentally, yesterday or the day before (I think I got around to reading it yesterday) my local paper had a feature article, in the lifestyle section, on three couples who are very happily childless. It’s an odd piece in some ways. For one thing, the couples featured have all been photographed in sort of kid places–riding the carousel, making sand castles. The women are very careful to say how much they really, really love, or at least like, kids; just don’t want any of their own.


  43. Wogglebug–thanks for that link. Loved it!

    Wombat: your comment probably speaks to the experience of many. We all know that post-partum depression is a widespread problem, and yet women continue not to talk about it and continue to suffer in isolation. How much more difficult then must it be to articulate feelings of depression or regret about motherhood past a child’s infancy?

    Having children is like a lot of culturally celebrated rites of passage (getting married, or buying a house for example): in spite of the propaganda, it doesn’t really make people happier. I think people’s setpoints for happiness or unhappiness are pretty much set by brain chemistry and perhaps early childhood experiences, so they don’t tend to migrate much later in life.


  44. I don’t want to move the thread too far OT, but in response to wombat and Historiann’s last comment, I wonder how much of the regret around kids stems from the contrast between hype and reality, as H’ann mentions as well as the total lack of support for working mothers (or mothers generally). We have a situation in which women are told, You are only a “real” woman if you have kids; you MUST want to have kids; your life will be empty and meaningless without them. Then they have kids and we’re like, shut your kids up! UR doing it wrong, you are a terrible mother and society is dissolving because you suck! Do not bring them into restaurants or airplanes or any public spaces thankyouplease, and your career will be ruined forever for all those sick days you have to take when they are ill/ your “lack of commitment” to your professional life (on top of all the mind numbing routine chores of parenthood), as well as the social and geographical isolation of parents.

    I think of my experience as not about regret per se, but what I now see (with the benefit of hindsight) as a VERY LONG adjustment period. I mourned my autonomy a great deal, which was not about sleepless nights and breastfeeding demands, but about not being able to leave the house whenever I wanted and go do something by myself. That sounds small, but it was *major* for me. Parenting is unrelenting. Like having a dog x500000. Combined with exhaustion and isolation, it almost brought me to my knees, and it didn’t just last a couple of months, but a long time.


  45. doesn’t really make people happier

    I think happiness, or rather, contentment, comes from not desiring something other than what you have, or at least not letting your actions be dominated by that desire. I believe (by which I mean I have faith) that this sort of equanimity is something a person can cultivate. This doesn’t preclude striving for things, it simply recommends not hanging everything on the outcome of that striving or on the attributes of the striving itself.

    It is for this reason that I find advice like the only good reason to have a child is that you desperately want one troubling. “If only I had X I would be Y” is a recipe for disappointment. I agree that people should think very carefully before setting out on the parenthood course but framing it as an abiding hunger that must be satisfied seems destined for trouble when having a child turns out to be different than expected.

    My sys admin phrases it thus: happiness is all about expectation management.

    And what others have said: this is a great thread.


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