published in Caregiving, Motherhood, Mothering Matters, Widowhood by Maryanne | May 10, 2015

 

Getting to the Heart of the Matter – To Be or Not To Be…a Mom?

 

Mom and MA Kananaskis

Maryanne & Momma Pope, 2013

“It’s about what you really want out of life – not what you’re supposed to want.”

– Nikki Loach

To be or not to be…a mom? That is the question in the hearts, minds, souls and ovaries of millions of women today.

It seems there are as many reasons for waiting to have a family, as there are reasons for wanting to have a child – or not have one – in the first place. So if you’re struggling with the motherhood decision – or coming to grips with the fact that it’s not happening for you – baby, you’re not alone.

And if you’re already a Mom, have made the choice not to become one – or have accepted that motherhood is not in the cards due to circumstance, then you have a great deal to offer those women still in the “should or shouldn’t I?” camp.

So whoever you are and wherever you’re at regarding motherhood, thank you for reading Mothering Matters!

I was in the “should I or shouldn’t I?” camp for oh, about two decades of my life. But now, at 47, I can safely say the motherhood ship has sailed – without me on it.

Thank goodness.

But believe me, answering the question, “to be or not to be a…a Mom?” was a long, slow and often difficult process that I did not take lightly. And it is only now that I’m through that phase of my life, that I can breathe a huge sigh of relief that I didn’t take the full-time motherhood path.

For in the end, it was the process of living my life that revealed to me the answer.

I was 32 when my husband passed away suddenly, as the result of a workplace injury. One day he was here; the next day gone – and we hadn’t quite got around to starting a family. In an instant, the motherhood decision was made for me…by a missing safety railing, of all things.

But honestly, my husband and I hadn’t come to an agreement about whether or not we actually wanted kids, even though we’d been together for 12 years. At the time of his death, he was pretty firmly in the no-camp, whereas I was on the fence.

And so, onto an already overloaded grief barge, I plopped the motherhood issue and embarked upon a 15-year voyage of exploration to determine if becoming a mom was still a possibility…and if so, in what capacity?

In the first few years as a young widow, I looked to my girlfriends to learn why they were choosing or not choosing to become mothers, or how they were coming to terms with what life had chosen for them. Here were a few of my findings:

“You have to decide whether you want to be a mom – or you want to be a parent.”

– Carolee, 40, married, two adopted children, unable to get pregnant

“People have said to me, ‘You’re not contributing anything, are you?’ I think they’re ruining the planet having five children but I don’t say that to them. I’m sure many people are having children because they want them – but some are having kids for their own egos. They want to see what they can make. Go take a pottery class, don’t wreck someone’s life.”

– Terri, 42, single, no children, had tubal ligation at 30

“You don’t have to have a child to be a mother.”

– Laura, 40, married, two children

“At my age, not having children is, at times, extremely lonely. At other times, it’s very freeing.”

– Colleen, 50, married, no children, could not get pregnant due to ovarian cancer

“Motherhood is not something you have to do perfectly but you have to do it with your whole soul.”

– Erin, 32, single, no children

“If I didn’t have kids, I would be feeling very unfulfilled right now.”

– Theresa, 41, divorced, four children

“I would ask yourself some tough questions. Do you really want to have a child? What’s underneath that decision? Why have one? What do you want to accomplish bringing a child into this world? Are you having a baby to be loved or needed? How much are you willing to give up? Do you really know what it’s like to have a child?”

– Esther, 35, married, no children, does not want children

 “Make sure you’ve accomplished a big part of what you want to do in life. Don’t rush into motherhood because sometimes the child pays the price.”

– Jackie, 27, widowed, one child

Then I asked my own Mom about the matter.

“You know too much,” was her reply. “Of course, being a mother is challenging – if you knew ahead of time just how much work it was going to be, you probably wouldn’t do it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.”

Then she thought a moment and added, “But for God’s sakes, Maryanne, if you do have kids, don’t stop working outside the home for too long. Keep your foot in the door of your career…even if it’s just a day or two a week.”

How blessed am I to have such wise (and honest) women in my life?

In fact, so much so that in 2005, we put some of these women on a boat together to get to the heart of the motherhood matter – and filmed the discussions. The result was a documentary entitled, Whatever Floats Your Boat…Perspectives on Motherhood, produced by my company.

wfyb_postcard_front

The 53-minute film captures my personal journey of whether or not motherhood was a path I wished to travel. “To be or not to be…a mom?” was indeed the question of the weekend as 11 women set sail on a houseboat to discuss the choices and responsibilities associated with the motherhood decision.

But what floats one person’s boat can threaten to capsize another’s – as perhaps you can imagine from the very different opinions expressed above. But that’s what makes the film real.

To view the 53-min documentary and/or the 20-min facilitated discussion on-line, here is the link.

And what’s the conclusion I reached on the boat?

That even 5 years after John’s death, I was still grieving – and therefore, although I was 37 at the time, I was still in no shape to even be considering motherhood.

Or…had I subconsciously been prolonging the grieving process, so as to stall on moving forward with a new life with a new partner that may potentially include children?

For it is only when I look back now, a decade later, that deep down I think I already knew the answer to the motherhood question. Because if I really wanted to become a mother, then that’s where I would have put my efforts in my 30’s: finding a new mate and/or determining in what form motherhood would take for me – giving birth, adoption, fostering or otherwise – and then taking appropriate action to make it happen.

Instead I spent my 30’s and early 40’s developing my craft as a writer, building my business, working with the charity in my husband’s memory to raise public awareness about the importance of workplace safety – and producing a documentary that could be of help to other women struggling with the motherhood decision.

In other words, my actions revealed where my heart really stood on the matter: I was a Mother-at-Large in the making.

Although hearing other women’s perspectives certainly helped guide me to shore, at the end of the day, the only person who could set my sails – choose the direction I wanted my life to go – was me.

Shakespeare again said it best: To thine own self be true.

So for many years, I sat on the dock, alone, trying to determine what I really wanted out of life, what effort I was prepared to put in to achieve it, and what sacrifices I was willing to make along the way.

“It’s about what you really want out of life – not what you’re supposed to want.”

– Nikki Loach

But sometimes the clatter of cultural and societal expectations, the pressure from peers and family, the chiming of the biological clock and the fear over possible future regret makes it rather difficult to determine what that is.

It wasn’t until my early 40’s that it finally dawned on me that the answer I needed to be asking myself wasn’t whether or not I wanted to have a child – but rather, whether or not I wanted to raise a child? For THAT is what makes a mother.

Terri, bless her candid soul, hit the nail on the head with her blunt observation that many people get caught up in the making and having, or acquiring, of said child instead of taking the time to think through the reality of the time-consuming, expensive, exhausting, nitty-gritty, day in and day out relentlessness of raising the little gaffers into responsible adults.

So one day, I took Esther’s advice and asked myself a very honest question: is looking after a child, and all that entails, how I really wanted to spend my days, my nights, my life, my energy, my love and my money? Because if there was any shadow of a doubt, then there was my answer.

Why?

Because the motherhood decision wasn’t just about me. More importantly, it was about the child.

Which brings me back to the documentary. Ten years later, I can honestly say the only thing I would change about the film is its title (well, okay…I would also have got my hair styled for the interview – it looks awful!).

For although “Whatever Floats Your Boat” is catchy and fitting, it also suggests that the motherhood decision is, in fact, entirely up to the woman – and/or her partner. But it’s not. It’s also very much about the future child…and I think sometimes this rather obvious fact gets lost in the shuffle.

As such, my advice to women who are working their way through the motherhood decision is this: take the time to first figure out what floats your boat – what you want your life to look like – and then make an honest, responsible decision as to whether or not a child truly fits into that picture…not just the beautiful family photo at Christmas time.

Because let’s face it, for every unwanted baby born and given up for adoption, there are thousands more children brought into this world who aren’t particularly wanted but not given up for adoption.

As for me, moving forward? Well, I’m only 47 and single. So what if I meet a great guy who has young children? What then? Would I walk away?

Nope.

Because now I know the conditions I need in my daily life to be happy, productive and peaceful.

I know what I need and want to do in a day…for work, play and solitude. My life thus far has taught me what I can – and more importantly, what I cannot – sacrifice.

However, I also know how much love I still have to give and lessons to learn. So if the right fellah comes along, I’m open to figuring out how to share my life with him and his kids, in a way that doesn’t compromise the life I’ve worked so hard to build out of the ashes of loss.

Although my own Mom is no longer with us, all the good advice she gave me over the years is alive and well. And when I think back now to what she said about the importance of keeping my career going part-time – had I chosen the full-time path of motherhood – I wonder if perhaps I can tweak that a little…into full-time career and part-time motherhood?

Time will tell. And that, my friends, is the heart of the motherhood matter for me at the moment 🙂

Well, actually…not quite.

Stay tuned for next week’s Mothering Matters blog entitled, Parenting Pets – Why We Fuss Over Our Furry Friends.

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the playwright of Saviour. Maryanne is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. To receive Maryanne’s Weekly Words of Wisdom blog, please sign up here. To subscribe to the Mothering Matters blog series, here is the link 

 

8 Comments

  1. Nadia on May 11th, 2015 at 11:58 pm:

    Nicely done
    One day I’ll have to watch that video, too

  2. Sherelle Wallace on May 12th, 2015 at 12:59 pm:

    In my country (The Bahamas) many people consider children an investment. A child/children means you will have them to take care of you when you get old. While I see this as a rather selfish reason to have a child, I also don’t see the point of spending the MAJORITY of my life/money raising a child…in preparation for the SHORTEST part of my life. Especially with the assumption that I will need taking care of before I die. Realistically, at my age, children are still a possibility, or I might marry someone who has young children already…in that case motherhood will come unplanned in my life. But if/until that happens….I love my solitude. As an artist and creative person, I get bored easily….the monotony of raising a child would drive me crazy! After working with children most of my life, the best part about being around them is that they get to go home! I love having my options open to relocate anywhere in the world I wish, without a second thought other than handing my mother the keys to my home to look after until I return, whenever that may be!

  3. Maryanne on May 13th, 2015 at 2:05 pm:

    Awesome feedback, Sherelle! Thanks SO much for sharing your perspective. I know what you mean about the freedom of having your options left open 🙂
    Maryanne

  4. Maryanne on May 13th, 2015 at 2:05 pm:

    Thanks, Nad!
    Maryanne

  5. Laurel Corbiere on May 19th, 2015 at 10:22 am:

    Thanks for the article Maryanne! You are amazing – keep up the great work.

  6. Maryanne on May 19th, 2015 at 2:22 pm:

    Oh thank you, Laurel! You are amazing, too…I just wish we didn’t live so far apart 🙁
    Take care and I hope our paths cross soon!
    Maryanne

  7. Jackie Fawns on June 1st, 2015 at 4:10 pm:

    This is such a big topic! It’s been on the back of my mind to add some discussion but where to start……? Great job on covering so many of the aspects concerning this matter.

    I don’t think I gave it a lot of thought in my early twenties. It was just something I always wanted, To be a Mom. Looking back, (now as age 39, married, new mom, widowed, remarried and 2 more kids) I think I wanted to be a mom because in all my circles of family and friends, that’s just what every one did. And I absolutely love the baby stage and even being pregnant. All those exciting changes, and cuteness! What’s not to love? I was even migraine free for the first time in my adult life after the first trimester of pregnancy. So I felt better being pregnant! I never gained access weight, just a giant basketball in my belly, so to me it was cute! I don’t need tones of sleep so getting up with babies in the middle of the night was not that big of a deal either. I still say that if they would stay babies I would have more. But they don’t, they grow up to be demanding, taxing, tiring small children and then exhausting teens, so 3 is definitely the limit.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I love my 3 children very much and I dedicate my life to raising them the best I can. And by that I mean I don’t just work my butt off to give them everything they want. I work my butt off to give them great opportunities and teach responsibility and work ethic to become as you say responsible, caring citizens, and, highly important to me, open minded and tolerant!! I have had very open discussions with my 15 year old daughter about this very topic. I have told her, I love you all very much and I don’t per say regret becoming a mom, but I kinda wish I had done a few more things in life before becoming a mom, but that has a double edge sword as well, because her dad, my first wonderful husband, appears to have only been in my life long enough to give me that gift of becoming a mom and then quickly exited when she was only 2 months old! So I don’t regret our short 3 1/2 years we had because it is better to have loved and lost than not loved at all and that we did have, a wonderful love.

    I never liked it and still don’t but do feel that I was meant to raise her on my own. Why? I have never come to any great conclusions but that’s the hand I was dealt, so there I was left to pick up the pieces.

    I did thank fully take this new and unwanted opportunity to now go and ‘do some more things’ in my life. And since I didn’t per say have a strong career going for me, but had done a bit of travelling at age 19, (ventured off on my own for nearly a year, travelling and working in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji), then falling in love with some one (husband # 1) within 6 months of returning, who didn’t share that travel passion, so promptly gave up any plans or ambitions to do any more. With his passing (after 2 years of incredible sadness and grief), I decided I was sick and tired of being sad; pining away for him was not going to bring him back; didn’t need to prove to any one any more how much I loved him and I was now going to start living and be happy again, damn it!!! So I did. I decided to do what made me feel fulfilled. Which was not a career, like it is for many women, but rather explore and travel the world! Some with my daughter and some with out. I have been to 30 plus countries. And most of them not 5 star resorts. I like to see how the locals live, eat their food, listen to their music and do their work. We have volunteered at orphanages…. Ok I better stop talking about that….. Getting off topic and dreaming too much. But brings me back around to my point of how much I miss said passion. Because I have not set foot on a plane in 8 years and why? because I choose motherhood again. So my point to my daughter (and I think plays in nicely with parenting her about safe sex and all) that if u want to do all sorts of these things in your own life which surprise surprise she wants to travel, it’s a lot harder to do when you choose motherhood. And she gets it. She’s not offended. She sees how much work kids are and how it’s not just all cute babies, and that you give up A LOT to become a mom and she’s not sure she wants to do that. She is an aspiring adolescence that has a big check list of things she wants to do and when you pick motherhood, it becomes all consuming. So I have opened up options for her. Options that were not really options for me. Of course I could choose and did choose motherhood, no one forced me, but what I’m saying is I was raised in a very strict, religious, close minded family where it was unthinkable to not want to have children. And even my circle of friends, were, small town people who mostly picked motherhood because that’s what society tells you to do. I didn’t have as broad of spectrum of influences in my life at that time who opened my perspectives. And interestingly enough after being single and not really fitting into the couples crowd of friends we had had, my new friends were mostly single women, choosing not to have children and there fore that being the first time in my life reflecting on those choices and seeing the benefits of not choosing mother hood. And wondering if I had made the right choice. Of course it was too late for me. But it planted the seed of openness on that ever so important topic because as you quoted me saying make sure you accomplish a lot of the things in your life that you want before choosing motherhood, other wise some times the child pays the price. We see that all too often, some making the best of it and others failing, sadly. Had I been a part of discussions like this previously to choosing motherhood at age 24, would I have chosen differently? Who knows? The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence! I may have only pined away for all that cuteness of babies and even all the wonderful joys they do bring as toddlers, preschoolers and teens, not knowing how hard it can be, like your mom said.
    And Terry, you are so right. So many have had children for those reasons. Maybe it’s natures way of keeping our species alive! If we all knew how much we had to give up to become a parent and how exhausting and frustrating it can be at times, we’d probably die off in 2 generations! Haha…. And I’ll end it at that. 🙂
    Take care,
    Jackie

    It’d be so fun to be a part of another group discussion like the house boat documentary, again. So much more insight 11 years later…

  8. Maryanne on June 3rd, 2015 at 11:22 am:

    Wow, wow, wow, Jackie…thank you for your fantastic feedback on your perspective on motherhood! You raise many excellent points…and the one that jumped out the most at me was you talking candidly to your teenage daughter about the importance of doing some of the things you want to do BEFORE you become a mother.
    Thank you, as always, for your candor 🙂
    Maryanne

Leave a Comment

This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.