This article appeared first on Pikara Magazine in Spanish. We translated it and are re-publishing it with permission of the author, Sonia Herrera Sánchez.
Facing the project to become a mother, I find myself in a sea of doubt and without any certainty. I’m horrified by the idea of becoming THE selfless mother. I don’t want to be a ‘superwoman’ either, and I’m crippled with the fear of feeling like all those regretting mothers, like the one in “The Hours” or the ones in the book by Orna Donath.
Woman, young, 32 years old. In this moment in her life she would describe herself as from Barcelona, a feminist, an audiovisual communicator, a critic, a researcher, a teacher and a blogger. Specialized in cinema and gender, edu-communication and peace journalism. Responsible of the comms in a foundation. An activist. A precarious PhD candidate (meaning: doesn’t get a penny for her research work). A daughter, partner. Niece, granddaughter, cousin. Godmother. Addicted to TV shows and movies. A seasonal relapsing smoker with guilty feelings. Vulnerable. A party animal. Joyful, always late, self-demanding to the point of cervical contracture. Sleepy head, crybaby. With the heart in Mexico. A traveler with a newly built fear to fly. Lover of “bichobolear” (thanks, Erika Irusta, for the concept) in the sofa. An extrovert, a fighter. Left-wing, anti-militarist. A Christian. A bookworm. A writer still in formation. A member of the Orwellian generation (1984). Alterwordist and from working class. A dreamer. Full of fear.
This, in a nutshell, is me, and it’s been an uphill battle to build myself and to see myself in some of these tags. The order they came to me has been aleatory. The adjectives and nouns came up one by one by opening my internal drawers… maybe some I left closed.
The thing is that it occurred to me that I want to add to this long list the word “mother” and then I’ve got overwhelmed. It’s not something immediate, not at all. I’m not pregnant – don’t panic, my friends. But the project is there and some days I really want to rethink that… I guess I’ve found myself in a sea of doubts without any certainty and I don’t think I’m alone there. That’s why I’ve wanted to write this article. Because in this binary world where everything needs to be white or black, good or wrong, man or woman, trans or cis, yes or no… fears, doubts and the maybes just don’t fit.
And I cannot say that my biggest hope in life has always been to become a mother because I’d be lying, but I cannot see myself making the decision to not to be a mother either. Simply (or maybe “complexly”), I don’t want to be THE mother. I don’t want to lose all those words that define me in the middle of diapers, bronchitis, snot and exhaustion. If I bring a new person into this world (or if that person adopts me as a mother) and I do it even ignoring the dystopian global context we are living in, I don’t want that the tag ‘mom’ covers up the rest.
Because the way I see it, motherhood is also filled in with a perverse halo of romantic love. “Without you, I’m nothing” is the message they try to inject us with. And no, I’m sorry, that’s not true. Without you, I’m still me and I want to keep being me – as well – with you.
Thinking about this, it came to my mind the character of Laura Brown in “The Hours” (Stephen Daldry, 2002). Do you remember her? She was played by Julianne Moore: a woman trapped in “the mysticism of femininity” in 1951 (in her “life of details” as Francesca Johnson in “The bridges of Madison County” [Clint Eastwood, 1995] would say), in a life apparently happy and perfect centered in her family, but very far away from her wishes. In front of that personal dissatisfaction, Laura thinks first in suicide, then drops the idea and finally abandons her family, bearing the weight of guilt during years. That’s more or less how the drama went.
At some point in the film, looking back at her past, Laura states: “It would be wonderful to say you regretted it. It would be easy. But what does it mean? What does it mean to regret when you have no choice? It’s what you can bear. There it is. No one’s going to forgive me. It was death. I chose life.”
This book broke one of the biggest social taboos
In September this year a book that unleashed a big controversy and that has a lot to do with Laura Brown hit the bookshelves in Spain. Regretting Motherhood (Reservoir Books) by the Israeli sociologist Orna Donath. A book that compiles the 23 testimonies of 23 regretful mothers – between 26 and 73 years old and from all social classes – who share the heavy load that being mothers meant for them, and that breaks with one of the biggest taboos surrounding the motherhood built as something sacred and sublime; women who love their children, but if given the chance to go back, they wouldn’t have them.
On one side, I’m horrified with the idea to become THE selfless mother that cinema, literature, advertisement, music and a long etc. bombed us with. I’m horrified with being a modern version of Antonieta Tiberio from Una giornata particolare (Ettore Scola, 1977) who works three jobs and has surrendered her body and soul to her children and has been alienated from herself. And I also don’t want to be a ‘superwoman’ with messy hair as the one Uma Thurman played in Motherhood (Katherine Dieckmann, 2009). And on top, I’m crippled with fear that the day comes when I could feel the same as Laura Brown or those 23 women in Donath’s book and only find a wall of misunderstanding and silence…
On the other hand, I don’t want to comply with the social mandate of becoming a mother and live it in a tangential way, missing the formidable side that I think the relationship of teaching and learning and reciprocal love one can have with a girl or a boy.
And that makes me wonder: can you truly oppose a ‘life of details’ in which you get lost in raising a child and build an own way to be a mother without impossible ideals and guilt? Can you reclaim your right to the tribe as Carolina del Olmo does, so raising a child is not something individualized that puts a burden on you and becomes a coffin? Does the “me with you” exist or the “us” erases everything? And is it possible to regret having your children even if you love them and get to express it without being judged as if you were a crazy sociopath?
In March 2016 Tina Vallès – writer, translator, editor and mother, among many other things – wrote in Vilaweb an article I definitely recommend to read (in Catalan), in which I could see myself reflected. She wrote:
“What we don’t know, or what sometimes seems like a conspiration so we forget about, is that we didn’t come to this world to suffer, nor to give birth. (…) I’ve lived and I live a motherhood that doesn’t appear in advertising, a motherhood that I didn’t make a flag of it, and also is not my sole center of my existence. My life wasn’t half empty before I had my daughters, and it is not fuller now with them. It has simply changed, it has changed a lot, to be completely honest. It would be unfair to say that it improved, as unfair as to say all the contrary”.
As I said at the start, I don’t have answers, and also I have not made decisions. But I do have one only certainty: we need to deconstruct the stereotypes that surround motherhood, deconstruct this mythological mother that doesn’t exist, that devours identities, that puts us all in a corsé. I keep my faith: other ways to live motherhood must be possible and they need visibility, the same way we need to keep insisting that the personal fulfillment of a woman doesn’t need to be tied to the fact of becoming a mother. In any case, maybe the sea of doubt and the constant learning doesn’t need to be a bad place to become one. In the end, as the Sister Margaretta said in The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965), ‘I always try to keep the faith in my doubts, sister. After all, the wool from the black sheep is just as warm”.