For a long time, I wanted to name my child Reid. It’s a family name and I thought it would be the height of meaningful and cool. I was pretty sure I would be a kick-ass mom with a kid who would, no doubt, kill it on a regular basis. This idea was the result of years spent drafting a future by pulling images from the swarm of media, social norms and role models that surround all of us all the time. That’s how we evolve and become who we are: we look around, latch onto things that appeal to us, and project them to the world like Pinterest come to life. So, given that scenes of motherhood infiltrate virtually every aspect of our lives – most of them selectively positive – it makes sense that so many of us want to be moms when we grow up: or, grow up thinking we want to be moms.
As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve come to realize that I might not have kids. What’s even more surprising is that I might actually be OK with that. It didn’t happen overnight. In hindsight, I can see how I made a string of decisions along the way that landed me in a place where having a baby would be really difficult and completely life changing. Obviously, this is the case for many women who still decide to have kids but, for me, it started to feel like just one more thing to check off the Mature Adult To-Do List. Eventually, I had to admit to myself that maybe I didn’t truly want to have kids after-all and, while this epiphany certainly gave me a sense of freedom I hadn’t realized I was missing, it also carried with it a fair bit of anxiety and sadness. It was as if I had to mourn the future I always thought I was building before I could move on and get excited about the one that was actually unfolding all around me.
Throughout the entire process, I naturally sought the advice and consult of my girlfriends – my sisters – many of whom are fabulous mothers themselves to some of the world’s most beautiful children. Dozens of emotional conversations and cups of tea and dog walks and bottles of wine and bags of Doritos later, one thing is very clear to me: the images we have to work with as we muddle through our so-called child bearing years could use a serious upgrade.
For example, good and happy moms are somehow still the norm. Even though we know, logically, that being a mother is sometimes beyond crappy, it’s rare that we actually see it. When I threw a tantrum in Zellers, my mother picked me up by the shirt collar and practically ran me out of the store in a fireman’s carry, partly to teach me a lesson about throwing tantrums and partly to avoid spilling the beans about raising a spoiled brat, in spite of her very best efforts. The ugly, exhausted, frustrated and self-doubting side of motherhood is a scenario that exists primarily off-camera and behind closed doors. When it is exposed, it’s followed by a quick succession of excuses, none of which tend to include the simple explanation that being a mom can just be kind of shitty. I think we need to be more honest about that.
On the other hand, there is a serious lack of positive models when it comes to women who don’t have kids. Growing up, I knew a few women who weren’t moms and I also knew exactly why not. Every story was tragic. So-and-so never married. So-and-so had to have a hysterectomy. So-and-so is a lesbian and it’s 1986. So-and-so is the CEO of a big company and, therefore, must like money and success more than children or, probably, puppies and rainbows and smiling. It was as if you needed a doctor’s note, sob story or feminist cause to get out of having kids. Fast-forward to 2013 and it’s tough to visualize a future that isn’t bleak because I struggle to find an example or a role model I actually relate to and might hope to emulate. I like children. My baby-making equipment seems to work just fine. I’m not particularly career-driven. I’m in a long-term relationship with a healthy man who could conceivably (pardon the pun) father a child. I feel like an unintentional pioneer of modern, childless womanhood along with everyone else who won’t have kids for no good reason. The best we can do, it seems, is fumble along and hope we don’t end up old and lonely, living in a farmhouse full of cats and regret.
There’s also a negative connotation that permeates the language we use when talking about our reproductive future, or lack thereof. It’s a yes or no question: to have kids or not to have them. This kills me because I hate the idea of closing doors and missing out on something, especially when practically everyone I know is doing it. (See: FOMO). But, really, shouldn’t it be the other way around? It seems as though motherhood is the general expectation, an assumption almost, as opposed to something women choose to do if they happen to be particularly inclined and talented in the domestic and maternal realm. I think that’s weird. I think if many women actually thought as long and hard about having kids as I have been thinking about not having them, we would have fewer mothers. And I think that’s fine, quite honestly. Women who aren’t in a position to start a family or just aren’t that into it shouldn’t feel any more pressure to become a mother than I feel to become a long-haul truck driver or a vegan. Imagine the liberation in such positivity! We think we’ve come so far as a gender, and we obviously have in many respects, but the shackles of our sex still remain to some degree. Until we come to widely and truly consider motherhood as one of a variety of equally valued options, the pressure to have children and the semantics of choosing not to have children will continue to cast a negative shadow on lives being lived in otherwise wonderful ways. I would love to see us foster a society in which women identified not with the things they are biologically predisposed to do, necessarily, but with the things they do, period.
So, while it’s possible I may never experience the apparent bliss of motherhood, I highly doubt I will ever own a single cat, let alone an entire farmhouse full of them. Regardless of whether or not I might someday be a kick-ass mom to a kid named Reid, the reality is that I am a kick-ass woman right now, today, with as much to contribute and experience in this lifetime as every mother and long-haul truck driver and vegan who came before me.