A book review on "Regretting Motherhood"
I finished reading Regretting Motherhood by Orna Dornath this past week. The whole book felt like a revelation, simply in the bravery of the women whose words and stories are held within its covers. When I came across the book in a library search for "motherhood," I was intrigued by the title because regret has often been suggested to me as something I will feel if I do not become a mother. In her research, Ornath digs deeper into the feeling of regret, but in an unexpected way. She explores the complex feelings of a range of women who regret becoming mothers.
Though it is a contentious topic, this book is important because it shines light on an area that remains hidden, not because it doesn't exist, but because it is treated as unseemly. For many it is unfathomable and even perceived as cruel that a woman would regret becoming a mother. Does that mean she regrets her children? This book illustrates that no, regretting the role of being a mother does not mean a woman does not sacrificially love her children and raise them well. It's more an acknowledgment that if she had the opportunity to rewind time and choose again, she may choose differently.
I feel grateful for the honesty of these anonymous women because their bravery supports me in my process. I've only ever heard that I may regret not becoming a mother, but never that I may regret becoming a mother, which could be an equally real and possible experience. I also appreciate the ever-present challenge throughout these stories to broaden our ability to bear witness to another person's feelings free of judgment, no matter how uncomfortable they may be or how much they contrast with our own feelings. I've observed my own ability to integrate and make peace with uncomfortable or "prohibited" feelings once I've been free to articulate them to another. When that person has listened to me without trying to fix, dismiss or condemn me, and instead responded with not only kindness and empathy, but also with acceptance of me as a person who is different but still lovable, it has been an incredibly healing and connective experience.
Towards the end of the book, Dornath introduces an insight that has stayed with me. She points out that women have only two legitimate options for a path in life: motherhood and/or career.
"...in that motherhood and paid work outside the home are the only two options that women have in the collective imagination: either you want to be a mother or you want to be a career woman. However, in my previous study of women who do not want to be mothers (and are not), I learned that many women felt that a "career" was just as alien to them as motherhood."
This puts words to the imperative I have frequently felt as a woman: I need to have at least one of these lifestyles, if not both (preferably both). Yet, the lack of desire I have felt for having kids throughout my life has never been because I would rather focus on my "career", or be a career-woman. The things that give me pause about having kids are the same as those that make ordering my life around a career feel foreign. It has to do with the way I experience the words freedom and fullness.
I want to spend more time with this. There have to be more paths available to us than motherhood and/or career. Life has to be more open and creative than that. What are those paths, what do they look like, what do they hold?