What comes up for you when feel deeply into these categories? Read through them again. Take your time with each and make lists. Write out the stories and memories that swim through your consciousness as you engage with this self-inquiry. Feel the feelings in your body that accompany these visions, and notice any other voices (your mom’s? society’s?) that want to make any of what you are noticing about yourself “right” or “wrong.”
There is no correct way to feel about any of the above. A combination of nature and nurture, much of it is also beyond our control. There is only the person you are, the life you have lived, the influences you have been exposed to, and the degree of choice you have had access to along the way. Holding this position, ask yourself: What stands out as my non-negotiables for living a worthwhile, contented, and meaningful life?
The next step is to map what you have uncovered about your nature against what you also know to be true about motherhood. Not the Instagram version—but the raw, daily, down-in-the-trenches stuff of mothering that you have witnessed with your own eyes. What are your recollections of your personal experience of being mothered? What has been your mother’s experience of mothering, and her mother’s? How is it for your friends, your colleagues, and the members of your wider community? Do you see motherhood as a tender refuge from the competitive cut and thrust of the world outside the home? Or has a lack of financial and emotional support stretched the mothers in your life to a breaking point? Maybe it’s a combination of both.
Given the emotional charge of the word “mother,” now see what happens when you strip this away and instead place your non-negotiables within the context of parenthood. That is, the responsibility for feeding, sheltering, nurturing, and educating small human beings. The psychological, intellectual, moral, and emotional labor of raising well-rounded, secure adults. What version of yourself do you see in this picture? Is she largely content with her lot? Relishing being the mistress of her own universe and its subjects? Or is she harried, resentful, and out of her depth? Maybe, again, it’s a combination of all of the above. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers, and none of what comes up makes you a good or a bad person.
Perhaps this exercise will help you feel more confident in your Affirmative No. Or if you always wanted kids and it hasn’t happened for you, maybe it will inspire you to prioritize other ways to “mother” and to center children in your life. Remember, the change-making potential of our revolutionary sisterhood begins with each and every one of us owning, embracing, and sharing our diverse experiences of being women without kids.
Ultimately, there’s no such thing as the “right” place to orient oneself on the Motherhood Spectrum—only the place that is right for you.
Excerpted from the book Women Without Kids: The Revolutionary Rise of an Unsung Sisterhood by Ruby Warrington. Copyright © 2023 Ruby Warrington. Reprinted with kind permission from the author and the publisher, Sounds True.