The big question mark

A field of wild flowers

On a Friday afternoon, right before we were leaving for a little road trip to Edinburgh, I quite innocently shared something on my Instagram Stories. I had added two new books to my collection regarding a topic that keeps my mind occupied now and again: motherhood. And then my Instagram blew up. Not even having eighty followers, I did not see that coming. My Story was shared by a large account, and several people came over from there to share their stories with me. Some of them mothers, others childfree by choice, but the majority as ambivalent as I am, glad to hear someone voice their point of view for once. I could write a book about my ambivalence towards motherhood. But I don’t want to. It’s not a topic I want to be an expert on, or known for. However, I do want to document my research into this subject as part of my life between the dots. So I’m going to give it some space on my blog. And who knows whom it might help along the way.

For the longest time, I wanted to be a mother. I was going to marry young, have three children, and they would have left the house before I was fifty, so I could live my life. And to be honest, this scenario wasn’t unrealistic. I met my husband when I was 21, people around me were already getting married, so I could have if I wanted to. But I chose differently. Instead of dreaming about a wedding, I dreamed about travelling the world. So three months into our relationship, I told him I was going to go, and he could join me if he wished so. He did, and eighteen months later we filled two giant backpacks and left. When we returned to the place we called home eight months later, I had just turned 24. Being a young mother was still an option. Some of my friends were starting their families. But I signed up for four more years of education. 

In hindsight, I think a lot of choices I made over the years, had to do with me not being too excited about becoming a mother. Choosing an education that would take me forever to finish, gave me an excellent excuse to put off the question of having children for most of my twenties. Because no one would expect me to become pregnant while I was still at university. In a way, it took some of the societal pressure to have children away. And apart from the first year of our marriage, we didn’t get asked a lot about it. But now, we’re at a point where we have to make our minds up for ourselves. A decade ago, we agreed that we would decide before I would turn 36. That’s not even two years from now. I think it’s time to make up our minds.

For some people it’s the single most important thing in life to become a parent, for others, the idea grows on them. But for me, I go back and forth about every other week. I’ve been trying to imagine what it would be like to be pregnant, to raise children, and to have a normally functioning family since I was fifteen years old. I even have a Pinterest board full of sustainable baby items, so when I would get pregnant, I already knew what things I wanted to buy. But looking back on all of it, I did most of those things because I thought I was supposed to. Because I thought becoming a mother is an unavoidable part of life. And it’s not that strange of a thought when you think about it. All my life I had been asked when I was going to become a mother. Not ‘if’ but ‘when’. ‘When are you going to be a mother?’ And somewhere I do understand. Being child-free by choice was not a topic of conversation in the 1990s. And perhaps it’s not a conversation you have with children anyway. But - in my opinion - having repeated conversations with young girls about having children shouldn’t be either. A baby is not the same thing as a stuffed animal or a doll that you can put in the corner when you’re done with it. Moreover, I don’t remember my two younger brothers ever being asked when they were going to be a dad. There are other ways to connect with girls. But I digress. 

Being asked when I was going to become a mother countless times before I was ten years old, I learned that motherhood was a given. It’s expected, it’s what you’re supposed to want, it’s just what you do. In a way, I was programmed from a young age to desire to become a mother. And the only possible reason you remained child-free was infertility. But not just infertility, it had to be infertility so severe that even IVF failed to assist in this ultimate goal of giving birth. So, I never stopped to ask myself what I actually wanted. Which is quite odd. Contraception exists for over half a century, and we as a society still fail to communicate with young women that it’s not just meant to prevent pregnancy before marriage. Contraception gave us a choice to decide for ourselves how we want to live our lives. And choosing to be childfree is just as valid a choice as becoming a mother.

In addition to the subconscious programming, the messaging around motherhood is very black-and-white. Which doesn’t make it any easier if you are on the fence. If you closely observe the conversation around children, there are two options: you either have them and love them despite everything, or you hate them and want nothing to do with them. There’s no space in-between. No room for a different opinion. No safe place to voice your doubts. To say: ‘I love children, I enjoy being around them, but I love going home to my quiet house as well.’ Or: ‘I think I would be a good mother, and I know I would love my children, but I’m scared I might resent what motherhood would do to me as a person.’ And I believe there should be a space to voice those thoughts. That we need to reclaim the in-between. Because I find it absurd that I got asked about being a mother long before I could even grasp the concept, but it took me nearly 34 years to realise there is room to question the givenness of motherhood. So let this then be one of those spaces where you can safely voice your doubts and fears and joys. Will I see you in the comments?

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