Motherhood On Trial
Motherhood is a blessing, but sometimes even strong pro-lifers subconsciously think otherwise. Megan shows us why.
It had been a trying couple of weeks for me, having discovered that I had been “blessed” (a word I kept chanting over and over in my head, hoping soon I would believe it) by God with a pregnancy — albeit an unplanned one. While trying to process that bit of information, I frankly felt I deserved to spend some time with a superficial favorite from my pre-Jesus days.
It’s not that I didn’t value motherhood (so I thought), it was simply that I had IMPORTANT things to do. You know, things more important than raising Christian individuals to go out and have a positive impact on their world. Things like writing Presidential speeches (in my fantasies) and lecturing other Christians on which movies they should/should not see (in real life).
Being a rather late bloomer, at age 27, I felt I was only beginning to come into my own as a writer and as a woman. And having a baby might interfere with becoming that woman. Didn’t God know He had more IMPORTANT things planned for me than that?
So who was I hurting if I needed to unwind with a bit of trivial fashion fluff? Seeing as how my husband wasn’t with me, there wasn’t even anyone around to flash me disapproving looks!
Now, being a writer, I read every shallow word of these publications, just so I can know for certain which hot, new items I won’t be able to afford this season and which thin, new models I might want to disdain. But while the beautiful people’s inane ideas about life, love, and fulfillment might have affected my thinking as a teenager, I was quite convinced that I had learned to separate the occasional wheat from the vast amount of chaff since then. I listened to the Bible on how to live my life, not some silly fashion magazine.
And then, just I was about to throw in the towel and watch the in-flight movie, I saw it.
Prefaced by a lovely painting by Sophie Matisse, was an article by Dodie Kazanjian (a Vogue regular) titled “Just the Two of Us,” about her experience as a woman who had deliberately opted not to have children. Ever.
As she eased into her narrative about how, though she was no militant feminist, she had simply never felt the stirrings of her own biological clock, I felt myself relating. As she described her vague shame for her lack of maternal ambition, I heard an echo in my head sighing, “I understand.” Then, as she efficiently started to call upon current social theories to defend her decision, I stopped short. Was this really what I believed?
She began by quoting from a highly-praised new book A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother: “The hardship of parenthood is so unrelievededly shocking that … at its worst moments [it] does indeed resemble hell. I often think that people wouldn’t have children if they knew what it was like.”
Wait a minute — I knew plenty of people who had children, and though I was sure they had their bad days, I was also pretty sure none of them would say they wished they’d never had kids. So that wasn’t my issue at all. I was simply feeling a bit rushed because of the IMPORTANT things I had yet to do.
Then she began relating another woman’s feelings, her friend and well-known artist Cecily Brown. Cecily wasn’t so much worried about the difficulty of parenting as she was concerned about the effect being a parent might have on her career: “I’m scared I would love the child more than my work. I’m afraid I’d resent the child because, up until now, the work has always come first.”
To Dodie, this sounded like a reasonable fear. To me, it sounded like a ruthlessly self-centered take on child-bearing. And even worse, it sounded a little bit like me.
I had read enough Christian literature to know that, if a mother is financially able, the best way to raise children is by being home with them. While researching other topics, I had learned that despite feminist pressure, more women than ever are becoming full-time moms. But I had never given much thought to our modern attitude toward procreation in general. When I finally saw the worldly philosophies confirming, in black and white, their insidious influence over my own private thoughts, I was sickened.
It seems that since feminists couldn’t convince mothers to value their careers over their children, they’d convince them not to become mothers at all.
The Childless Revolution: What It Means to be Childless Today (by Madelyn Cain), illustrates this trend well.
This book opens by sharing the responses Ann Landers received when, in 1975, she asked her readers if they could do it over again, would they have children. As author Cain gleefully divulged, an astounding 70 percent said no.
One woman wrote, “I speak from experience as a mother of five. Was it worth it? No…. Not one of our children has given us any pleasure. God knows we did our best, but we were failures as parents and they are failures as people.”
Another complained, “I was an attractive, fulfilled career woman before these kids. Now I’m an overly-exhausted wreck who misses her job and sees very little of her husband. He’s got a ‘friend,’ I’m sure, and I don’t blame him. Our children took all the romance out of our marriage. Signed, Too Late for Tears.”
A different mother wrote directly to a woman who had decided not to have children, “I applaud your decision and wish I had had the guts to make it 17 and 14 years ago, but NOOOO I had to listen to my mother and experience the wonderful joys of motherhood.”
Instead of decrying such callous attitudes as a possible reason for the subsequent generation’s trouble maintaining personal relationships and experiencing a sense of self-worth, Cain reasoned, “Maybe parenthood is not all it is cracked up to be and some brave souls wanted to spare others from what no one had spared them — namely parenting.”
Fiction got in on the anti-motherhood bandwagon as well, and columnists across the nation saw it as cause for celebration.
In her bestselling novel, We Need to Talk about Kevin, Lionel Shrivel wrote about the parents of a high school boy who was sent to prison after killing several of his classmates in a Columbine-like rampage.
Throughout the book, the mother tried to come to terms with what happened by writing letters to her estranged husband. As she searched for an explanation for her son’s psychopathic nature, she shared her miserable experiences raising Kevin.
Far from examining the idea that this mother might bear some responsibility for her son’s development, We Need To Talk About Kevin insinuated it was the burden of motherhood itself that caused the situation, prompting columnist Anne Kingston to call the book an “anti-motherhood manifesto” that breaks the “‘motherhood taboo’ that all mothers love their children all the time unconditionally.”
The Globe’s reviewer, Heather Mallick, also found reason to cheer, writing that the book allowed women to say for the first time, “We are ambivalent about the children we carried inside us.” Until now, she stated, “Mothers have not been allowed to say, ‘I don’t like my child.’ Fortunately, feminism will let us discuss this openly now, if we choose to.” She finished, “perhaps many women who can’t stand their kids, particularly their sons, are absolutely right.”
Despite what we may want to believe, these are not lunatic voices on the fringes of society, as countless other books and articles (which in the interest of space are not listed here) could attest. In fact, according to statistics, it appears the concept of the content, childless woman may be succeeding where the have-it-all super-mom failed. In 1995 (the last year data was compiled) the National Center of Health found that nearly 7 million women defined themselves as voluntarily childless — up from 2.4 million in 1982.
And why not, when they hear sociologists proclaim that childless couples have happier marriages?
“The only people consistently happier than non-parents are empty nesters, because they have the self-satisfaction of having raised a child but none of the demands of having kids live under their roof,” stated Catherine Ross, sociology professor at Ohio State University. She concluded, “It’s weird finding that children are only good for your well-being once they’ve left home.”
Despite such aggressive arguments, most Christians, and plenty of non-Christians, instinctively recognize that there is something perverse about this worldview. Though I had not yet looked for the verses, the Spirit within charged me that what I was reading (and much of what I was feeling) was not consistent with God’s command to embody selfless love; I had bought into the deceitful notion that my primary function in life was to fulfill my ambitions rather than accomplish God’s design. Scripture only confirmed what I intuitively knew.
Our culture tells us that women cannot be expected to love another person, even if it is her child. Jesus commands us to love every person, even if it is our enemy.
Our culture tells us children are a burden, robbing us of our financial resources and our potential. Psalm 127:3 tells us “Children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward.”
Our culture tells us women are made irrelevant by motherhood. 1 Tim. 2:15 tells us, “Women shall be preserved through the bearing of children.”
Our culture tells us to wait until we have realized all our desires before having kids. Psalm 127:4 tells us, “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth.”
And, covering all, Romans 1:25 warns us not to exchange the truth of God for society’s lies.
I would like to say that after revealing these things to me, God made me the blissful mom of a beautiful new girl or boy. But, sadly, for some reason yet unknown to me, this was not His plan. Shortly after I was able to appreciate the blessing, the blessing was gone.
But now, unlike when I first found out, I don’t regret my pregnancy, and though I do regret the miscarriage that followed, I’m also grateful for it. Without it, I might not have been able to shake the shackles of the world’s hollow and deceptive reasoning off my mind. I might have waited till it was too late.
And I might not now be looking forward to the day that, God willing, I can set my minor, selfish ambitions aside and begin a new, IMPORTANT course by creating a new, IMPORTANT life.
Copyright 2004 Megan Basham. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Megan Basham, a regular correspondent for WORLD Magazine, is a writer and film critic living in Memphis, Tenn. She is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman’s Guide to Having It All.