06.12.12 Wellness

To Mother or Not?

To Mother or Not?

BY Maggie Jankuloska

Is motherhood the ultimate expression of womanhood? Does choosing not to have children continue to stigmatise women? 

Last year I experienced a fertility crisis. After years of irregular menstrual cycles I finally listened to my gut and decided to investigate. There was a possibility I could have Polycystic Ovaries Syndrome, making it difficult for me to conceive children naturally.

Whilst waiting for a diagnosis I spent numerous nights wide awake and crying until 6am at the prospect of not having children. I mourned something that I never really possessed, a child. I have been in an amazing relationship for over four years and the prospect of us not having babies one day was absolutely heartbreaking. He would make a wonderful father and I would rob him of that.

After reading several drastic stories about women with PCOS and all their trials with conception, marriage and weight I felt devastated and hit rock bottom. All of a sudden I somehow felt defined by my potential infertility. I felt like I had somehow failed as a woman, as if my very feminine essence was robbed.

In the past, as a 23-year-old I had weighed out the options of whether to or not have a child. Although I love children, at 23 children were not in the immediate future for me. I wanted to travel, find a decent job and focus on writing more before settling down. However, all of a sudden my future appeared bleak without the prospect of a child. I felt like I had failed as a woman and I realise how dated that sounds.

My results were encouraging.  I feel blessed to know that I have a good chance of conceiving naturally and if not there is numerous options to help us get pregnant. Although I do not plan to have a child in the near future, it is a relief to know that I am not robbed of having the freedom to choose whether or not to have a child.  I never realised how desired motherhood would be in my future until this turbulent time.

Who chooses to remain childless? According to National Statistics research, one in five women chooses to remain childless. According to the same reseach,  women with higher qualifications than her partner, women of the professional sector and women with no siblings are those likely to choose to remain childless.   In 2005 according to Dr Paul Henman from the University of Queensland’s Social Policy Unit, the average cost of raising a child to the age of 18, was $600,000. No doubt, seven years on this figure has increased.

What does the life of a childless woman look like? Personally, I imagine freedom. The luxury not many women can experience. Imagine spending that $600,000 on annual trips to France, a wardrobe to rival Carrie Bradshaw or your dream home without nappies or sticky surfaces. Having the ability to live out your fantasies without thinking they may be inappropriate or unattianable.

Oprah Winfrey famously declared that “I don’t think I could have this life and have children.” Her achievements are known to us all. She is the first female African American billionaire, she has revolutionised television and has continuously strived towards helping those in need , whether African students or child abuse victims. Together with Australian PM Julia Gillard, Katherine Hepburn and Helen Mirren, she represents infinite possibilities.

Are these infinite possibilities available for all mothers? Do you have to compromise your parenting for a career and vice versa? Or does parenthood make you even more determined to strive for your dreams?

However it appears that childlessness is not accepted as a social norm. Choosing not to have a child appears to be seen as a fault against nature and is stereotyped as “selfish” by many. If they are not “selfish” they are quite often pitied for being alone or being somehow biologically defective. Australian PM Julia Gillard has often been scrutinised for her lifestyle.

In April 2011, former politician Mark Latham accused her on ABC radio of being unable to express any empathy for children “I think having children is the great loving experience of any lifetime. And by definition you haven’t got as much love in your life if you make that particular choice.” She is ultimately being accused of not being able to love children because of her lifestyle choice. Gillard is vilified and considered abnormal as a woman by many men and women.

Motherhood is beautiful and a miracle in many ways. The love and strength of a new mother must be unparallel. However are motherhood and womanhood intertwined? Can womanhood be celebrated without motherhood, without judgement or pity? Is having a child the ultimate expression of one’s femininity?  Is mothering synonymous with womanhood and is having a child “just what women do?”  Is motherhood a social expectation?

At 24 and months after the fertility scare I am blessed to know I have many years ahead of me, with numerous options about motherhood. I am blessed to know that I have not been robbed of my ability to choose by Polycistic Ovary Syndrome. There is no right or wrong choice for women and couples, which is what society needs to accept.

Maggie Jankuloska is an Australian writer and contributor for HelloGiggles and The Conversation. Avid reader and writer of her debut novel, Francophile, Leonard Cohen aficionado and history nerd. Follow her on twitter- @maggiejank and her blog  http://maggiewritesmoderndread.tumblr.com/

Comments

  • Stephanie Agu

    I feel as though many celebrate womanhood because of our ability to give birth and create life. For that reason, womanhood = motherhood in the eyes of many. Having children is certainly an expectation society has for women, and I am not convinced that its fair. It seems that no matter how much a woman achieves (with all the women you named above as examples) if she hasn’t had children then she has yet to have it all. It is strange that despite how much our views of sexuality and gender are evolving, this view is something that it still stagnant. 
    Though only 20, I lean towards not having children.  But that is my choice to make, and I don’t think anyone should be looked down at for making that particular choice. I don’t believe children are the end all, be all of life, and frankly there are too many out there. If I ever have children, I want to do so because I myself desire them, not because of societal pressure.

  • a.miles

    Is there no middle ground between being a mother and becoming a famous billionare?  If we opt not to have children are we expected to over acheive?  What to we expect of men who choose not to have children?

  • Nony Mouse

    I have two children whom I love dearly – however I was always ambivalent about having children and did so mainly because my husband clearly wanted a family.  Whilst I adore them and wouldn’t be without them now they’re here I’m not sure I’d have children again if I knew then what I know now.  I know women who have chosen to remain childless (I am 43) and they have full and fabulous lives.  I don’t think their lives are any the worse for being child-free and, in many ways, they are probably better.  Children bring a lot of love and joy but they also put a huge strain on your relationship, they are exhausting both physically and mentally as well, of course, as financially.  After children, your life is no longer your own and that is more so for women than for men.  That is a HUGE thing.

  • Diane

    I am 34 years old and have been in a relationship with my husband for 11 years.  When I was in my late twenties, I wanted children and he wasn’t ready. Now I am older and he really wants children and I’m trying to figure out what I want. And people (friends and strangers) are very quick to tell me I should be having them NOW. That I don’t have much time left, that soon I will be too old and what am I waiting for? I think having children is a very personal decision for every woman.  And much like you wouldn’t run up to someone and ask them what their weight is, similarly it is unacceptable to demand when someone is going to start having kids.  Yet, people do it all the time and it needs to stop. You have no idea what is motivating someone to consider not having a child and the issues could be deeply personal and private. And there should be no shame in making the decision to not have children.   I don’t shame my friends who became pregnant “accidentally” at a young age, so don’t try to make me feel bad for giving serious thought to something that will change my life forever.

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