My dear actor friend Katie Mitchell has been writing for years – thoughtful, probing and extraordinarily heart revealing material. She and her sister in-law Lupe Padilla Mitchell, have a created a podcast called If It’s Not 1 Thing It’s Your Mother.
Each week, the pod cast features a different writer reading a piece about their experience with motherhood. It is illuminating because the writers and their experiences are extraordinarily diverse. Their tag line is “Being a mother is an attitude, not biology.”
Katie remembered a piece I wrote about my choice NOT to be a mother and wanted to feature it. Like most things I couldn’t find it. So I wrote a new piece. Here it is. You can either read it or have me read it to you. Or both as I am also interviewed in the pod cast If It’s Not 1 Thing It’s Your Mother.
I’m 57 years old. I don’t have children. And I don’t have any regrets.
In my 30’s and early 40’s I never minded people asking me if I had children. It was the follow up question I found obnoxious, rude and no one’s business.
“Why Not?” They would ask.
Beginning to steam, I would politely answer, “Oh I think it is a calling and I don’t feel called.”
Which they responded with what they thought was polite, “But you would be such a great mom!”
By now I was beginning to boil. I’d stare at them with their beatific-holier-than-thou-I’m-the-eternal-mother look on their face, and I would just want to eviscerate them. How dare they assume that all women should be mothers.
First of all: She didn’t know me! How the hell would she know if I would be a good mother or not. At that point in my life I hadn’t been through therapy and I can safely say I would NOT have been a good mother.
Second of all: She didn’t know me! She didn’t know my political leanings and how I had been donating to zero population growth for years. And thought and think the greatest thing someone can do for the environment is not to have ANY children. But I wasn’t telling her NOT to breed, why was she encouraging me TO breed.
Third of all: She didn’t know me! I could have had a health issue or reproductive issue that prevented me from being ABLE to have children. I could have been trying for years and she could be opening up a wound that would never heal.
Fourth of all: She didn’t know me! She didn’t know my financial reality. She didn’t know I was the sole bread winner for my husband, myself and other family members. I couldn’t realistically and in good conscious afford a child. However, there was a period of financially stability and my yearning motherhood hormones kicked in. After 2 months it passed. And I thought holy shit, that feeling has got to last a LOT longer than 2 months.
Fifth of all and maybe final: She didn’t know me! Nor did she want to know me. She had been enveloped by that protective coating of motherhood that only allowed her to feel understanding and empathy for her children. No one else. Not someone standing right in front of her.
But maybe that is the way it should be. Maybe motherhood should be all encompassing. I mean a Mom should be able to take a bullet for her child. Right?
In reality, I was too busy putting the oxygen mask over my face first that I didn’t even consider children a possibility. Regardless, “Not feeling called to have children” is a phrase ambiguous enough to be interpreted several ways. And should have shut the questioning down. If the person asking the question were religious, they could hear. “God has not blessed me with the ability to have children.” Which should shut them down. Or those who are little more secular could hear, “I don’t want them.” Which should shut them down. Or someone really sensitive might hear, “I’m trying to be polite, but think that this is a fucking obnoxious question. Talk about your kids. Enjoy your kids and your motherhood, but don’t fucking judge me for NOT having them, you sanctimonious douche.” But it never shut them down.
It finally occurred to me, the quickest and most efficient response was to say, “I’m barren.” Full stop, end of discussion. However, I had too many friends who were suffering with the inability to have children, so I stopped using that tactic – out of respect. Besides, my struggling friends would tell me horror stories of people giving them unwanted fertility advice. Complete strangers would gleefully tell them what they should try. What a fucking painful nightmare.
As I grew older, people mercifully stopped asking. And I began to get some perspective and empathy on why people would want kids and why I didn’t.
I am the last of seven children. I never really played with baby dolls growing up. I preferred Barbie. I would spend hours acting out various adult scenarios with all my Barbie’s, Ken’s, Skipper and Christie. I only had one Skipper and one Christie. I watched a LOT of soap operas, so I had great material with which to work.
I also felt I had been brought into this lifetime to help my sisters. I wasn’t called to be a Mom but rather I was placed here to help them, my sibs.
But I think what had the greatest impact, was watching my mother struggle. Don’t get me wrong, she was a terrific mother – Always put us first, was an amazing teacher, had a huge sense of humor and raised us all with a great deal of humanity and compassion. But she was a constant worrier. She was always on call. Even long after we had moved away, she never let her guard down, unless… she got ill. The only way she could take a break was to get ill. Not a healthy way to carve out time for yourself.
I looked at her, and saw a woman exhausted. She had given everything she had to her children including all her calcium (she had severe osteoporosis with at least 5 compressed vertebrae).
When my Mom died, I mourned her loss and pitied her a great deal – Thinking she had not lived the life she wanted – how she didn’t deserve the overwhelming burden of 7 children. Then I found love letters that she and my father wrote to one another in their late teens and early 20’s. In them, my mother spoke a great deal about having children. How important it was to her. How she looked forward to the day that she could share her life with her children, nurture them, teach them and help them grow. It was a running theme in many letters.
It was then I realized my Mom did get to do what she wanted in her life. She had a raised 7 children. All with strong convictions and opinions. Each one could think and act for themselves. Each one went out into the world and created space for themselves. Each one had a very different personality and defining spirit. I say had, because in recent years I have lost a sister and a brother. There are now only 5 of us.
So, I have no regrets not having children. I DO regret not respecting or understanding my mother’s passion for motherhood. And for those who were called to have children, like my mom, bless you. You are selfless creatures who demand great respect.
Please subscribe to this pod cast filled with incredible stories. You can find them wherever you get your podcasts. Here are links to two places itunes: If Its Not… & podbean: If Its Not. You can learn more about them by following them on: