I wrote earlier about research concerning women who avoid highly competitive careers in order to raise a family. (Blog 1/29/15) Others have chosen differently, deciding to remain childless so they can compete in those challenging jobs. The decision to have a child or not can be wrenching because motherhood is a defining moment in a woman’s life. As Robin Black describes it in “Growing up together,” the minute her first born was placed in her arms, she felt as though she “had been seeing the world in black and white for my entire life and now there was color, miraculous color brightening everything in my view.” (“Growing up together,” by Robin Black, More, 2/2015, pg.70.)
The relationship between Black and her daughter was close, and she was happy on the day the girl became engaged. But when she was told not to anticipate grandchildren, Black broke into tears. “How could you not want to have what we had?”(Ibid pg. 73) She didn’t realize her love had made her daughter strong. ”I don’t feel like I need to have a child to be whole,” the girl answered tenderly. “Does that help?’” (Ibid pg. 73)
In time, Black found her daughter’s remark did help. Thinking back on her own life, she remembered how empty it had been until she’d had a child. Becoming a mother gave her the closeness she was missing. (Ibid pg. 70) When her daughter rejected motherhood, Black felt she, too, was being rejected. Eventually, she came to see her disappointment stemmed from her desire to be validated – to have her child make her feel as though she’d done a good job. “I had made the mistake of confusing my daughter’s life with my own.” (Ibid pg. 73.)
Most women choose motherhood and are happy in their choice. But some take the road less travelled. They may look over their shoulders and wonder, sometimes. “Did I make the right decision?” To remain childless is to be cut off from the basic experience of being a women and to lay oneself open to the charge of selfishness.
There are many ways to be selfless, of course. But I do admit that in any gathering of women, I’m always asked if I have children. Children, women suppose, are the bonds of our sex — our gift, our burden, our private ritual. When I answer “No,” a cloud sometimes forms over the face of the woman asking the question, as if our conversation is at an end. Then, happily, we move on to other common ground — usually the foibles of men.
I have my mother to thank for my unclouded mind about being childless. She has always been independent. At 99 she remains her own person. I’m grateful she understands I don’t need a child to be whole.