Did you know that All Moms judge you if you’re a mom and consider abortion? Or that All Moms think you’re a whiny selfish narcissist who reminds them of their kindergartner if you haven’t had babies yet? No? Well, these moms, who speak for All Moms On The Internet, would like you to know that they’re judging you. Especially if you’re one of their “close friends” who confides in them, and especially if they are so selfless (being MOMS) that they naturally hear about 1/2 of what you’re saying and then make everything else about them.
First, Christina Loccke, who celebrates the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade by saying that she thinks her friends who have abortions are bad people. You see, Loccke is pro-choice — she votes for the candidates, signs the petitions. But when a close friend, married and already a mother to more children than she’d planned, confides that she’s pregnant and wants to have an abortion, Loccke is horrified:
But something changed once I became a mother. Pregnancy went from Scarlet Letter to Holy Grail — something deeply desired and no longer feared. Abortions seemed more something in a campaign platform. What felt most real was the fact that my husband and I wanted another child.
“My friend was in an exceedingly difficult situation and confided in me a secret she wasn’t even telling her husband, but what felt most real was ME.” Look, infertility can be heartbreaking — but another woman’s choice to terminate a pregnancy has absolutely zero bearing on your own ability to get pregnant. Part of being a friend (or a human being) is realizing that her life and your life are not identical, and her choices aren’t about you. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t begrudge Loccke an internal monologue of jealousy, resentment and hurt. She desperately wants another child and her body (or her husband’s) isn’t cooperating. This friend gets pregnant and doesn’t want the baby? Of course some petty resentments and anger boil up. She’s human. That’s ok. What’s not ok is being a jerk to her friend about it, or failing to take a step back and recognize that her friend’s uterus has no bearing on her own, or, I don’t know, writing an incredibly judgmental piece about her friend’s abortion in the New York Times. Perhaps the pregnant friend should have chosen someone other than Loccke to confide in, especially if she knew Loccke was experiencing infertility issues. But it sounds like that friend didn’t have anyone else; even her husband wasn’t told (which says something right there about the hostility women face when seeking abortions).
Also? Abortion is a medical procedure. I told my friends when I got my wisdom teeth out; hell, I tell them when I have a cold. It would be strange to not mention a pregnancy. But then, my friends tend to not be self-absorbed ninnies.
Then another friend gets pregnant and also decides to terminate:
My friend did not seek my approval, but she said she wanted to explain this decision to her closest friends. After hanging up with me, she called two other friends. She told me later that their disapproval was fierce, and those friendships are damaged. The women she called were, like me, mothers with liberal social and political leanings. Still, they could not reconcile the fact that a mother would choose to terminate a pregnancy.
Somehow, motherhood had slyly changed us. We went from basking in the rights that feminism had afforded us to silently pledging never to exercise them. Nice mommies don’t talk about abortion — it is relegated to the dark and dirty corners of our conscious, only to emerge favorably in the voting booth. Yes, we believe in a woman’s right to choose. No, we don’t actually believe she should use it in the face of women choosing to have their children. This is the feminist mother’s greatest taboo.
My choice was either to be true to myself and my politics supporting women, or give in to my emotions as my friends described their choice. More than anything, I wanted another baby. I wanted what they had, and didn’t want.
Sounds like these women need better friends.
And sounds like while Loccke is describing “the feminist mother’s greatest taboo,” she fails to recognize that her friends terminating pregnancies are already mothers. In fact, the majority of women who terminate pregnancies in the U.S. are mothers. Their status as mothers undoubtedly influences their choice to have abortions. Mothers know what motherhood entails. They know how hard it is, what pregnancy demands, what children demand. And many of the mothers who choose abortion are undoubtedly making a loving choice — a choice to do the best they can for the kids and family they already have. Shame on the “friends” who offered fierce disapproval of that choice. Shame on Loccke for telling her friends’ stories in the New York Times through her own small-minded perspective — I sincerely doubt Loccke gained the permission of her two friends before penning a “mothers know best” critique of them in a national newspaper.
And shame on Loccke for claiming a monopoly on “feminist motherhood.” I’m not a mother, but every feminist mother I’ve spoken with about abortion has been clear: Getting pregnant solidified her support of abortion rights and made her more pro-choice. Many of the most dedicated abortion-rights activists I’ve worked with are mothers — including many current and former leaders of major pro-choice organizations. It’s not “motherhood” that makes you self-involved enough to think your friends’ reproductive decisions are somehow related to your own. Self-involvement does that.
Just when I thought Loccke would win the “using parenthood to justify my own sanctimony” award for the week, I came across this piece by Janine Kovac, titled “Maybe You Are Ready For Kids, You’re Just Not Paying Attention.” Ah yes! I knew there was something I wasn’t paying attention to: The fact that I would have reproduced by now if I weren’t so goddamned selfish and immature.
This is an open letter to an old friend of mine. I’ll call her “Doris.” If you’re a mom, you know Doris. She’s in her mid-30s and thinks of herself as a career woman. She knows the clock is ticking. She says she’s not panicking yet, but we know better—she’s freaking out. She doesn’t want to be rushed into having kids (which is why she’s still doesn’t have any) and she’s worried that she doesn’t feel ready. Or worse—what if she finally feels ready at age 46 and it’s too late? What if it’s already too late?
Sometimes Doris reminds me of my kindergartner—“What if I get sick tomorrow and can’t go to school and I never learn to read?” Sometimes Doris reminds me of my toddler twins—wanting whatever toy the other twin has.
Obviously you know Doris if you’re a MOM. MOMS know everything, right? They even know that what goes on inside Doris’s own mind is the exact opposite of what Doris says. Because with motherhood comes maturity, wisdom and ESP. And of course the right to compare your “friend” to a kindergartener.
Doris “thinks of herself” as a career woman — but she’s not actually a career woman until she’s a MOM, because moms have all of the careers, right?
Mostly, though, Doris reminds me of myself before I had children. I did the math—kids are expensive! I couldn’t imagine myself having one child, let alone three. And forget about the high costs of college tuition, do you know what daycare costs?
My husband had to talk me into having children. (In fact, he’s still trying to talk me into having more children). And now, here I am, six years later with three of them. And if I’d had just a little more faith, I would have started having kids from the moment I met my husband and I would have never stopped to worry about being “ready.”
Oh, Doris, Doris, Doris. This is what I want to say to your face when we get together for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and you wonder—again—if you’re ready to have kids. I haven’t said anything because 1) I don’t want to hurt your feelings, and 2) you’re always looking at your iPhone. I’m not sure if you’re really listening. But you need to know this, so I’m saying it here.
First of all, Doris, I should have said this a long time ago, but please stop comparing your dog to my children. I get it—puppies are cute and babies are cute and both need to be housebroken. And your dog seems pretty smart, but will never learn how to brush her own teeth or call the vet when she has funny stomach pains. My kids, on the other hand, are going to grow up and vote.
How about Doris stops comparing your children to her dog when you stop comparing her to your small children?
Also, if children are so great and there’s no need to be ready, why is your husband still trying to “talk you into” having more? Just have them! Quit over-thinking it you selfish broad! Or is being told how and when to reproduce way less fun when you’re on the receiving end of it?
I know you’re a smart cookie with advanced degrees. You think of yourself as a mature woman and a kind woman and a compassionate woman. And you are! But you are also slightly short-sighted. You are dismissive of the younger mom and can’t imagine that she could have wisdom beyond her years and beyond your—excuse me for saying this—limited world experience.
You see, Doris thinks she’s so “smart” and “mature” with all of her “advanced degrees.” But she doesn’t know shit compared to a mom of any age. And her world experience is limited since she’s never had a baby. Unlike every woman who has had a baby, who is worldly and wise and a goddamned genius simply by virtue of reproducing.
In a way, telling yourself that you’re not ready to become a parent is like saying, “I’m not ready to broaden my horizons.” Or, “I’m not ready to be humbled on a daily basis.” Or, “I’m not ready to feel my heart swell up with admiration and pride.”
Or it’s more like saying, “I’m not ready to become a parent.”
Believe it or not, Janine, even us empty-wombers have broadened our horizons. We have been humbled daily. We have felt our hearts swell up with admiration and pride. Do I know exactly what it’s like to feel admiration and pride for my own child? No, I don’t, and I’m sure that feeling is amazing. I am also sure that right now, I vastly prefer being able to disappear for a weekend on a moment’s notice, stay out too late on a Wednesday, take an uninterrupted nap, jet off to Paris for two weeks and sleep on a friend’s couch, have lots of sex, have loud parties, meditate for an hour, live in an overpriced small Brooklyn walk-up, have a long brunch, own a white rug, spend all day and all night writing in silence. Those things broaden my horizons. I also realize they aren’t what everyone else wants, which is why I don’t think that the way I live is the Best And Only Way to achieve happiness or wisdom. And why I don’t write smug articles shaking my finger at everyone who makes different choices, or wants different things.
I am not ready to become a parent. By that I mean: I barely make enough money to support myself (and many months not even that much). I don’t have a partner to share kid-duties with. I don’t have a desire for a kid — no biological urge yet, no ovaries tingling when I see a baby. And I love babies! And kids! I think they are wonderful, fascinating creatures. I enjoy spending time with them. I like having them around. I’ve even been a full-time live-in care-taker for one (and a part-time or sometime caretaker for dozens of others). I think kids are pretty awesome, and almost all of the moms of those kids have been pretty awesome too. And perhaps this is just my selfish unwise non-mommy ignorance talking, but having done significant amounts of childcare work (not the same as being a parent, obviously, but getting a glimpse of what the day-to-day work of having a kid entails) and really adoring kids is precisely why I feel pretty confident saying I am not ready for them yet, and I’m not sure I will be ever. Parenthood is hard. I love kids, but I’ve seen enough to recognize that thinking kids are cute and fun is not all it takes to be a good parent.
Also? For all the talk of how having a child makes your life totally awesome, statistically, kids don’t make people (especially women) happier; often, especially if you have more than one, kids make people less happy. And they decrease marital satisfaction. Which doesn’t mean having kids is a bad idea. It just means that these arguments for having kids — they’ll bring you joy you’ve never known, it’s totally worth it even if you don’t think it is — don’t actually hold up.
What does seem apparent from all the studies is that the least unhappy parents are those who have gender-egalitarian relationships and whose kids were planned. They’re still not statistically as happy as people without children, but they’re pretty happy. And anecdotally, most people who have kids say that they’re overwhelmingly glad they did, and they wouldn’t change a thing — and since of course it’s impossible to accurately assess your own personal happiness against your potential personal happiness had you chosen another course, that’s probably true for most of them (although it’s also totally socially verboten to say you regret having your kid, so there’s also that). Either way, I say, have kids if you want them! But a little thoughtfulness is a good thing. Planning — being as “ready” as you’re going to be instead of just sliding into parenthood — leads to better outcomes for the kid and the parents. And making the affirmative decision to have kids, rather than just assuming having kids is “what you do” when you’re an adult (or to prove you’re an adult), is also probably a good idea.
I know it seems like a big step. I know it looks like motherhood is giving up yourself. It’s not. It’s just shedding the parts of you that you don’t really need anymore. There’s no guidebook that can prepare you for that; you learn through the experience of it. Motherhood is like boot camp for the soul.
So this is where I start to suspect that Ms. Kovac is, in fact, not exactly the happiest camper in the world and perhaps wants her “friend” to share in her misery. Motherhood isn’t giving up yourself, it’s “shedding the parts of you that you don’t really need anymore”? Like your own needs and desires? Your job, as she says a few paragraphs down? The comments to the article make it even more clear — the problem with Women Today who say they aren’t ready for kids is that they just aren’t willing to sacrifice (the commenters, of course, have always been ready to sacrifice and to face life’s challenges head-on, unlike these self-involved so-called “women” who aren’t doing their biological duty).
Of course parenthood involves some degree of sacrifice; of course it involves giving up (or putting on hold) many of your personal interests and pieces of your daily pre-kids routine. Caring for another human being (or multiple other human beings) for 20+ years is no small thing. But I cringe at this insistence that motherhood — and that’s what we’re talking about here, not “parenthood” — must be defined by sacrifice. You see it in all the Mommy Wars stuff where the bar for acceptable parenthood is constantly raised higher and higher and higher — why did you have a kid if you weren’t willing to sacrifice by breastfeeding even though your nipple was falling off and you were screaming in agony every time? Why did you have a kid if you weren’t willing to sacrifice by quitting your job and taking a major financial hit so that you could wear your baby all day and not let him be raised by a nanny and eventually home school him? Why did you have a kid if you weren’t willing to sacrifice and give up your entire social life and sex life so that you could put your child to bed yourself every single night and let him co-sleep until he’s 15? Etc etc. Very little of it is about the kid; it’s more about proving you’re a “good” mother by sacrificing yourself on the alter of mommyhood.
More than half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. Large numbers of women don’t have the resources to prevent pregnancies they don’t want; large numbers of women don’t have the resources to support kids they do want. All the talk of personal sacrifice and how motherhood is so great it’s worth giving up your entire life for obscures the fact that a whole lot of moms are already giving more than they have. The “problem” of highly-educated middle-class women assessing their particular circumstances and deciding they aren’t ready for kids yet isn’t exactly a pressing one. And continuing to frame “good” motherhood as an immense sacrifice that brings with it innumerable invaluable benefits that people without children simply can’t understand and will never have only reinforces the myriad excuses for the status quo of very little meaningful political and economic support for parenthood.
It also makes you sound like an asshole.
- Too Poor to Parent by Jill May 24, 2008
- My Mom Is An Inspiration by Jill May 6, 2010
- The nice pregnant lady’s guide to not offending polite society* by Natalia Antonova January 18, 2011
- “Pro-Life” Concern for Life Really Does End at Birth by Jill June 6, 2008
- File Under “Feminism is Good for Families” by Jill February 9, 2009