By Meghan Connolly
Illustration by Delaney Hooper
My fate was determined before I was even born. When my parents went for that ultrasound and found out they were having a baby of the female sex, my womanhood began. The gifts that were given to them were all new—of course they couldn’t reuse my brother’s blue bodysuits. The color pink thus infiltrated my childhood, and this shade of ‘she’ has followed me into adulthood. Pink seems to be synonymous with feminine, from the pink childhood clothes and blankets to the razors and pens that conform to the feminine body. The color is shoved down women’s throats so much that if we pooped, our shit would be pink.
I’m no stranger to the phrase, “When you’re a mother…” The diction of my own mother’s words predicted my future before I hit puberty. This is what I’ve been training for. This Bitty Baby—my very first birthday gift—as old as I, once served as an inanimate companion. By nine years old, it became a prototype. The doll trained me into thinking of myself as a caretaker. This doll was forced into my life, a present I should be grateful for and care for. But who would give a child a pretend-child as a gift? What exactly are you gifting me except your expectations for me to bear my own gift of life?
At some point I had to break it to my mother that I don’t intend to follow in her path of motherhood—that I don’t plan on growing up to be the mother that she always hoped her daughter would be. Had one of my brothers told her he didn’t want to be a parent, she’d probably be okay with it. Besides, there are many other ways for him to fulfill his role as “man” in this world. But for me—a woman—not to be a mother? Impossible. I’ll probably change my mind anyway. I’m young and my maternal instinct will kick in at some point, right?
I’m certainly not void of this maternal instinct. If my plants could speak, I’m sure they’d agree. The occasional childishness of my friends yields my protection, my comfort, and my care—is that not motherly of me? And I can’t imagine baby fever hitting harder than puppy fever. Must I produce offspring to be maternal?
It seems now that being a woman is much more deceptive than before. For a while, and I’m sure still today outside of my narrow scope, women’s path was set. The primal purpose of preservation was paramount to a woman’s fulfillment. Womanhood and motherhood were mutually inclusive. So what has changed?
The struggles and toils of our foremothers have granted us the freedom to join the men. We can be their classmates, their coworkers, their compatriots. But how long is it before we’re expected to revert to our purpose as women? How long can I continue this journey of personal growth, economic autonomy, and self-fulfillment before I must return to dependence on man?
The deception lies in this taste of equality. We can learn alongside men, but we can’t match their participation.1 We can work alongside men, but we can’t match their pay.2 We can govern and lead alongside men, but we can’t match their power.3 So many women will earn a degree, secure a job, and develop a career only to put these on pause in another ten to twenty years.
It’s different for men. The economic system was established by men and for men. In working, they are able to fulfill three aspects of their lives: economic sufficiency, familial support, and personal fulfillment. For women, these are each separate ventures. Sure, personal fulfillment can come out of familial support, but familial support usually must be a part of a woman’s personal fulfillment. Women today are expected to fulfill each area, but they can’t all be done through one simple act.
Besides, the current economy makes it impossible for most mothers to be of the ‘stay-at-home’ variety. In order to finance a child, most lower- and middle-class households must have two incomes. Many new mothers, after maxing out their maternity leave, must return to work in order to pay for their bills, housing, and the newfound expense of child care.
We are fed the narrative that choosing motherhood is selfless, or self-sacrificial. When it is a choice, motherless womanhood is selfish.4 Yet how does one create a being from one’s own genes while thousands of children go unloved every day?5 And is it not selfish to insist that this earth sustain another human life, when its current inhabitants are actively destroying it? And is having people to take care of you in your old age not a benefit to your future?
What about the women who long to be mothers but can’t fulfill that biological capacity? Is my infertile aunt any less of a woman for not being able to have children? Is she any less of a woman because instead of creating life she sustains it every day as a nurse?
So what is selfish about my decision not to bring a child into this world? Just because I can sing doesn’t mean I should make a living out of it…
My mother said I am too young to be so cynical; but I find it hard not to be. I see my life controlled by the few owners of everything. There is but little hope to make of myself the capitalist archetype, even if I wanted to. For many millennial women, practicality trumps expectations. Less and less women are choosing to be mothers.6 The birth rate is decreasing, often associated with economic decline.7 Hope for a good future is rare to find, and many women don’t wish to bring a child into a frankly hopeless future. Unlike the boomers, young women today don’t want to leave children with a world full of hatred and uncertainty.
1. Seifert, Kelvin, and Rosemary Sutton. “Educational Psychology.” Gender Differences in the Classroom | Educational Psychology. <courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-educationalpsychology/chapter/gender-differences-in-the-classroom/>
2. Graf, Nikki, et al. “The Narrowing, but Persistent, Gender Gap in Pay.” Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, 22 Mar. 2019. <www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/03/22/gender-pay-gap-facts/>
3. “Current Numbers.” CAWP. 22 Jan. 2020. <cawp.rutgers.edu/current-numbers>
4. Kirchgaessner, Stephanie. “Pope Francis: Not Having Children Is Selfish.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. 11 Feb. 2015. <www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/11/pope-francis-the-choice-to-not-have-children-is-selfish>
5. “Foster Care.” Children's Rights. <www.childrensrights.org/newsroom/fact-sheets/foster-care/>
6. Chappell, Bill. “U.S. Births Fell To A 32-Year Low In 2018; CDC Says Birthrate Is In Record Slump.” NPR. NPR. 15 May 2019. <www.npr.org/2019/05/15/723518379/u-s-births-fell-to-a-32-year-low-in-2018-cdc-says-birthrate-is-at-record-level>
7. “The Decline in U.S. Fertility.” Population Reference Bureau. <www.prb.org/us-fertility/>