Manufacturing Motherhood in the Pronatalist Nation

Manufacturing Motherhood in the Pronatalist Nation

“Know what keeps a community going strong? More babies.”

Or so says the billboard I pass on my commute to work. I must’ve driven by this sign a hundred times without ever paying much mind. I suppose this is a bad thing if you’re a billboard considering getting noticed is literally your only job. As I became more resolute in my decision to be childfree, the more the words on this advertisement stood out.

So just what is this advertisement trying to sell? Specifically, a brand new maternity ward at an area hospital. But in a more general sense, this billboard is pushing something else. It’s something that really shouldn’t even be up for sale: motherhood. And the method of choice? Pronatalism.

Pronatalism? What is the meaning of this word that even predictive text cannot compute?

It’s the idea that parenthood and raising children should be the central focus of every person’s adult life. Pronatalism is a strong social force and includes a collection of beliefs so embedded that they have come to be seen as “true.”

-Laura Carroll, The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds From Outmoded Thinking About Parenthood & Reproduction Will Create a Better World
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“I Would Give Anything to Not Be Their Mom”: An Interview About Parental Regret

“You’re going to regret not having children.”

Whether this statement is given as a warning or uttered out of ignorance, if you’re childfree, you’ve probably heard this before. In retaliation to parents’ bluntness, some childfree people have been know to reply, “Well, do you regret having children?” This question is, of course, meant to be a conversation stopper. Little did we know though, some actually do regret having children.

Recently, we are seeing more and more brave individuals stepping forward and admitting that having kids isn’t all they thought it would be. The Guardian published an article last month featuring parents who regret having children. One of whom is Victoria Elder. After giving birth to her baby girl, her immediate instinct came by way of this thought:

“‘Oh, no. What have I done? This was a huge mistake.’”

When Colin and I were trying to determine whether or not to have children, regret is a topic that came up often. Our society as a whole seems to be regret-centric.

“…regret in cultures such as the U.S., where individuals have more choice over their life’s course, versus in cultures with arranged marriages, where family have much more control over life choices…regret is much more commonly experienced and reported…”

-Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D of The Psychology of Regret

I suppose it is not unusual, then, that I can quickly call to mind several of my regrets. From eating something unhealthy for dinner last week, to snapping at my boss a year ago, to the purchase of our fixer upper home some eight years ago, I’ve certainly felt my fair share of discomfort from poor life choices- both big and small.

Even though I am no stranger to this feeling, when I think of Elder’s experience of looking into the small eyes of her brand new and totally dependent human and seeing a giant mistake staring back at her, I can’t help but think her feelings are stronger than regret. When reading her story, I myself was overcome with an overwhelming sense of sadness. A sadness that gives way to empathy and helplessness. A sadness that makes me want to travel back in time to wrap my arms around both mother and child and replace remorse with assurance instead.

Shortly after the article on the guardian.com was published, a woman came forward saying she would give anything to not be her children’s mother. She was kind enough to speak with me and gave me permission to publish her words anonymously. Here is our conversation:

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