The choice of motherhood

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Orna Donath realized she didn’t wish to, and will not, be a mother when she was 16-years-old. She realized while in class, listening to her friends planning their motherhood, going over with each other how many kids they will have and what their names will be. While over hearing her friends, she had a moment and realized, “this is not my dream.”

Donath, now an adult, is an Israeli sociologist and teacher and can be said to be the face of the non-parenthood movement. Between 2003-2007, she conducted a study titled “Regretting Motherhood,” which involved interviewing 23 mothers, 5 of them grandmothers, who said they regret becoming mothers.

“Acknowledging that there are women who don’t feel at ease with motherhood is ‘to let’ women the liberty of being the owners of their bodies, thoughts, emotions, desires, and needs,” Donath said.

Some would think the choice to not be a mother would be one that is becoming more accepted, but judgment and pressure are put on many women who choose this route. Different cultures and countries all face different types of pressure – but the lack of acceptance is still seen and Donath receives many messages about this judgment from women all over the world. Despite Donath being “the face” of non-motherhood, she has even been highly criticized herself.

After publishing her first book in 2011, she was “aggressively attacked” by her readers. They said she was not being a real woman, and that she was selfish, insane, and cold-blooded. “None of it is fair. All of it is a consequence of pro-natal and patriarchal society within which motherhood is considered to be every woman’s essence of life and as a proof for her being a mature, responsible and ‘normal’ woman,” Donath said. “I reject it. And I have no problem to be considered as egoistic.”

There is continuing growth of motherhood becoming more of a thoroughly thought out choice rather than a natural, expected part of life. While Donath wrote on the regret of some mothers, more women are looking to themselves and choosing the completely child-free life, and this comes with many common and also personal reasons. While in the early to mid 20th-century women were more commonly seen as having the role of caretaker and mother, now the role is changing. Women are focusing on their career, on dreams and goals that don’t involve having a child. Some simply don’t feel the maternal tick that some women hold dear.

“I never experienced it as a problem that should be solved. For me, it always seemed logical and it felt serene,” Donath said. “I just don’t want to be a mother. It doesn’t suit who I am and what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

Donath is far from alone. While this choice is a shout of independence and a stand of freedom of expression, women face pressure and judgment from friends, family, people online and the society as a whole. Many view children as innocents and something that makes a life whole. Many view motherhood itself as almost a right of passage, that women must have children simply just because they are female, that all women are born with “the maternal instinct”. When women make this choice, some chose to not take their words seriously, believing their minds will change as they grow up.

Those who think differently just want people to realize that for them to disagree – is perfectly okay.

Nikki Fotheringham loves kids, but has chosen, along with her husband to not have children, and is tired of defending this choice. Fotheringham, who is a Toronto-based author and freelance writer wrote an opinion article for the Huffington Post in 2014 called “What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting” on not becoming a mother.

At one point, Fotheringham was so tired of people looking at her as if something was wrong with her, that she started saying “maybe in the future!” or just that she wasn’t able  have children to those who questioned, just because it was easier than having to defend her position. However, she no longer does this.
 “I thought that was disingenuous and I wasn’t being true to myself and I wasn’t really changing the status quo by perpetuating that sort of stuff,” Fotheringham said. “I thought, okay, maybe just explain my position and say it’s just a choice…like any other choice.”

Fotheringham spent 10 years traveling to places such as Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, where she is from. Throughout her travels, she discovered that admitting to choosing to not have children is even more difficult in other cultures. “It’s just not acceptable to have this attitude,” Fotheringham said.

Fotheringham always knew motherhood wasn’t right for her. She never felt the “biological clock” ticking or the urges some women talk about regarding kids. After traveling, herself and her husband moved to Canada when she was in her early thirties and this was the time to decide on whether or not to have kids. In the end, they chose the quickest best-case scenario, which was her husband getting a vasectomy.

Fotheringham considers herself as a nonjudgmental, laid back person, but the things that are said by those around her based on her childfree choice still irks her. “It’s hurtful when someone says there’s something wrong with you if you’re not having children. You can’t help but be affected by that.”

Being in her early thirties, she is at the age when her friends are having kids. Those friends and other women who have children and the older generation are the ones who find it the most difficult to understand the choice and they question and push her to change her mind.


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“They get this idea like ‘you must have children! Who will be friends with you when you’re older? You’ll be alone and you’ll regret it…you’re somehow incomplete,” Fotheringham said. “But then I look at all the old people I know and their biggest bugbear is that their kids never come and visit them. So their argument of ‘you’ll be alone’ if you don’t have a kid, not true.”

She views this as an issue where people have to be more understanding about life choices and realize that having children is not a necessity. The choice itself in her eyes is changing very quickly and is now becoming seen as a beneficial choice to younger people.

Samantha Faith Van DeVenter is only 23, but has never felt like she was meant to have kids. Right from an even younger age, the thought didn’t sit well with her and now still today it doesn’t feel like the right choice for her. She is a student and will be for another five years or so to become a vet. Her career, and caring for animals is something she is looking towards focusing on.

Many people, such as DeVenter, who choose to not be a mother put their attention to animals. So, just because someone doesn’t want children, doesn’t mean they don’t show signs of being maternal with another living being.

DeVenter has expressed her opinion on social media once before because of an essay put out by one of her favourite celebrities, Jennifer Aniston, who has been viewed as a huge voice for those who are childless. Aniston has appeared in the media many times in the last year to defend herself against the constant questioning and scrutinizing. Aniston writes in her essay that was released this summer that to be a real woman, you don’t have to get married or have kids.

DeVenter commented on the essay via Twitter, and one person chose to argue against her, calling her selfish and saying she is disobeying God’s plan. 
“It’s like…I’m a Christian but I don’t think that’s my whole purpose in life. We’re already at 7 billion people, so overpopulated,” said DeVenter. “It would be more selfish for me to have kids just to put them out there and for them to not be the biggest thing in my life.”

According to Statistics Canada, the country has changed from a high-fertility society where women had many children to a low-fertility society where women are having fewer children overall and at increasingly older ages. The last Canadian statistic done in 2011 showed the fertility rate was 1.61 children per woman, compared to years like 1965 with a fertility rate of 3.16 children per woman. In the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, 47.6 per cent of women between the age of 15 and 44 never had children in 2014. This represents the highest percentage of childless women since this bureau started tracking the data in 1976.

For women who choose to not become mothers, there have been safe spaces created to share opinions and struggles. Kristen Chew, 25, is the admin of a Facebook page called ‘No Kids, No Problem’. She created the page out of her want to be childfree and from this choice, she has gotten to know more about childfree choices through the now almost 2,000 members.

Chew realized motherhood was not for her at 17-years-old. Chew is on the autism spectrum and lives with a medical condition which is triggered by stress, something children can be argued to cause.

She grew up even in her early-mid teens developing slowly on a rationale sense. “The ironic part is I didn’t even know where babies came from yet. My parents were too scared to bring that up to their ‘autistic’ child,” Chew said.

In her last years of high school, she began to improve greatly on thinking for herself. She then got therapy, medicine, case management and over time she became independent and fully developed mentally. Throughout this growth of herself, she researched about kids and her choices, and she quickly set her mind on not having kids.

This realization was not one that initially settled well with her family. 
 “My mom was trying to persuade me to give her grandkids someday. I’m her only child so according to her, it was up to me to ‘save’ the family tree,” Chew said. “Fortunately, I was able to talk some sense into her after family counseling.”

Despite her mother coming around, not everyone was so accepting. Chew’s boyfriend is also an only child and his mother didn’t come around with their choice of not having children. Her boyfriend, at the time, was living with his mother. His mother wanted grandchildren, and the fact that she wasn’t going to be getting this fuelled a resentment towards her son and Chew. She kicked her son out of the house and she now is hardly involved in her son’s and Chew’s life.

Outside of family, Chew finds the groups that pressure childfree women the most are those who are envious, those who are old-school, religious and those who are mentally ill-controlling.

“What I’m hoping for is for everyone to get along. A misconception that people tend to have is that childfree equals hating kids. That’s not always the case, I don’t hate them at all,” Chew said. “You can love kids and be childfree by choice.” 
 Other reasons for why women choose to not be mothers are the rising costs of living, overpopulation, concerns over passing on genetic issues, they find enough fulfillment in being a caretaker or mentor to children rather than having their own and the choice to prioritize career or other interests over spending the time and money to raise a child.

Joanna Chiu is a co-founder of WAM! Vancouver, a non-profit dedicated to gender justice in media. She is also an international journalist who focuses on women’s issues and a columnist for the Canadian feminist magazine, Herizons. Chiu personally wants kids, but only once she is comfortable in her career.

In Chiu’s opinion, the pressure and shame put on women is an example of when feminism can be helpful in pointing out what should be changed.
 “It usually takes two people to have children, but men do not face nearly as much pressure as women to procreate. Having children also doesn’t tend to have as big of an impact on men’s careers,” Chiu said. “You don’t often hear about ‘paternal instincts’ but many people assume that all women must have strong maternal instincts.”

While the choice of being childfree is obviously one that is misunderstood, all the women who take this route wants is for their choice to become more understood. Women should not have to explain themselves over what they wish to do with their bodies. As many women state and as many would state if anyone asked them today, just because someone is female, it doesn’t mean they are subject to the expectations of becoming a mother.

Now, in the 21st century, women are still being given more opportunities and the women rights movement is in a constant fight. The most common way people respond to those who don’t wish to go into motherhood is claiming they will regret it and miss out on the great experience of caring for their own child. While of course, that may run through some women’s minds, there is also evidence from Donath’s study, showing the regret that can form even years and years after having children. Overall, only the individuals can speak for themselves, and for their bodies.

“Many societies never stop from trying to deliver the message that motherhood is a matter of nature only: that it is natural for women to want to be mothers because they are females, that it is natural that any woman who is considered to be physically and emotionally healthy would know what to do after the child was born (‘the maternal instinct’) because she is a female, and that it is natural that any woman would evaluate motherhood as a worthwhile change in her life since this is the essence of her existence because she is a female,” Donath said.

Donath feels it is time for minds to change and for the right questions to be asked. “Why, in 2016, do people still think that all women would want to be mothers?”


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