Mothering

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As a childfree/childless-by-choice woman in my 40’s, emotions have run high and wild for me the last few years on Mother’s Day. I even feel conflicted about which term to use – childfree or childless – because one suggests freedom, and one suggests loss. My experience has proven to be something in-between.

I thought I wanted children when I was young because that’s what I was supposed to want. However, by the time I was about 20, I realized I could barely take care of myself, and had no business being a parent. As a sexually active young woman with type 1 diabetes, which I was more or less ignoring, I knew a baby would be bad news. I was committed to making sure a pregnancy would be carefully planned, inasmuch as such a thing can be planned of course. The flip side of that was that I was just as committed to making sure I didn’t become pregnant as long as I wasn’t ready. I used Norplant, an implantable dummy-proof and highly effective birth control device that lasted for five years, starting at age 20. When it expired, I happily got another Norplant. I figured I’d get a new Norplant every five years until I decided to have a baby, or my biological clock expired, whichever came first

Those plans didn’t last for long though. By the time I was 30, Norplant had been taken off the market because some women had issues with it, class action lawsuits were filed, blah, blah, blah. I was SOL without a comparable replacement form of birth control. I reluctantly switched to the Depo-Provera shot, but that was horrible. Whereas on the implant-it-and-forget-it Norplant, I would literally go years without getting a period (yay!), the shot caused me to get my period every 2-3 weeks (boo…), and required quarterly visits to the doctor to get re-injected.

After a year of that inconvenience, I decided I needed something different, but had few choices. I was married by then, and having had some oopsie-the-condom-broke scares in the past, I wasn’t going to rely on condoms. The pill was contraindicated because of my diabetes and associated heart risks. After ruling out a few other miscellaneous options, I decided to get my tubes tied. At 31, my ambivalence about having children was holding steady, and in the end, none of the birth control options met my personal needs. Thanks everyone who colluded to take Norplant off the market. Yes, I’m still mildly bitter about that.

Through my 30’s, I struggled with my decision, despite having plenty of sound reasons to not have children. My confidence in my capacity to parent was low for a myriad of reasons. I had career and education aspirations that were more important to me than changing diapers. After nearly two decades of mismanaging my diabetes, I’d already experienced complications, and while I’d finally made peace with my diabetes, becoming the proverbial model patient, I didn’t want to undermine my health any further than I already had. Long before veganism even occurred to me, I worried about overpopulation, the resources required to raise children, and the future of the planet – environmentally, politically, socially. The world seems unkind most days, and I wasn’t keen on purposefully bringing another being into humanity’s destructive shit storm.

But.

All around me, people were having babies throughout my 30’s. Not just any people either. My peers, friends, acquaintances, people my age. Constant reminders that this is what people my age do. Some days, my FB feed overwhelms me with photos of people’s children, birth announcements, ultrasound images, baby shower photos, and the phrase that makes my head spin with rage, “starting a family.” It’s been hard to feel completely secure with my choice when I naturally wonder what those experiences are like, when my story doesn’t align with the narrative, when I observe how women are enthusiastically welcomed into the inner sanctum of the mommy realm, and people implicitly suggest that Hubs and I aren’t a family. Anne Lamott beautifully articulates how women without children, for whatever reason, are devalued because “Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path.”

Changing my mind and having biological offspring was off the table, unless I went out of my way to undo a procedure performed by a surgeon I had specifically instructed to burn the hell out of my Fallopian tubes. In theory, adopting was an option, and I’ve thought about it, but Hubs isn’t interested, and inevitably, I come back to some of the reasons I decided to not have children; I don’t think parenting suits my personality, and I have other things I want to do in life.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t felt sad though. I wouldn’t say I regret my decision, but there have been tearful moments of wondering what it’s like. I get that motherhood, as an identity, responsibility, and gift, is canonized, but the implication is that the rest of us women are a bunch of second class nobodies. From this side of the OB/GYN waiting room, it invariably seems like womanhood is equated with motherhood, especially on Mother’s Day. As such, for the last several years, as I’ve reflected on the ramifications of my choice, I’ve loathed Mother’s Day. As a side note, if I actually got to see my mom or mother-in-law, the day would be more meaningful, but since they live elsewhere, we don’t do anything. The absence of celebration reinforces the message I get from the world around me, the message I’m trying my hardest not to internalize, the message that I’m not a real woman, that I don’t know true love, that I don’t know life’s purest joy.

Mother’s Day at ages 39 and 40 hit me hard. I was pretty fucking miserable. It was an understandable response to the natural tendency to reflect as I approached and then turned 40 years old. In light of how miserable I was, if you’d asked me how I would prefer to feel on Mother’s Day, I would have hoped to think of it as any other Sunday. I would have been content to not feel like an unused uterus, dry nipples, and a trainee vagina, with a forever unfulfilled potential to truly love. If you’d asked me a year ago what my lofty aspiration for Mother’s Day 2014 was, my response would have been to not give a fuck.

Now, the day is here. This year I’m 41. This time I’m vegan. I had hoped to feel indifferent, but I don’t. I do feel different though. Being vegan has allowed me to reframe what it means to be loving and compassionate. Being vegan has expanded my vision of how to be a mother in this world, to this world. Being vegan has shown me that blooms of injustice and brunches of suffering do a disservice to the notion of mothering. Being vegan has opened my eyes to abuses against our animal friend mothers, particularly those in the meat, dairy and egg industries. Being vegan has helped me become the person I’m supposed to be, loving, caring, protective mother to this precious Earth, her resources, and the non-human animals among us. This is my identity, my responsibility, the gift that has been given to me that has infused Mother’s Day with new meaning and purpose.

Happy Mother’s Day to all women who have opted not to parent a human child, but instead, have embraced their role as mother to animals and the Earth. You are not alone today, you are not forgotten. I am one of you. We are mothers.

Mother's Love
Mother’s Love

4 thoughts on “Mothering

  1. As a fellow vegan, I respect and thank you for your mothering of all the non-human animals. Gandhi says to be the change you want to see in the world
    And I feel that your veganism makes a difference not just to the animals you save from suffering but from our future sons and daughters. We need more amazing “mother earthers” like you as it would make the world an even more compassionate place

  2. Lee Ann,
    This post on motherhood is powerful – thank you for writing it. I was told I would not be able to have children when I was diagnosed. I came to terms with that as a very young girl – preteens – and accepted the opinion of that doctor. Your voice resonated with my experience and while I do have a daughter today – I agree so much that “embracing a role as mother to animals and the earth” is equally important and meaningful. Eliz x

  3. Lee Ann, this post is very touching and poignant. As a single woman in late 30th in Asian country is pretty hard too. Your post somehow comforted me as I feel similar with you. Sometimes, people threw me hurtful comments about my ages, education, appearance and even spritiuality whether they intended or not. Not creating my own family is pretty hard and I admit I cannot ignore so called “social norms”. Anyway, thank you for sharing this .

  4. Here in Texas, I always get asked about having Children. And, being Vegan has opened my eyes to all the sentient beings that need our love. Whether it’s that I adopt more dogs or a child who needs a home, I feel as you do regarding the choice to not have children.
    More people like you would make the world even better

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