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Exploring the Motherhood Spectrum: Reflecting on These Prompts to Discover Your Position


In the book Women Without Kids, author Ruby Warrington explores the need to reframe society's discussion of women who choose not to have children. In this excerpt, Warrington presents a thought exercise to help individuals determine their position on the "Motherhood Spectrum," ranging from a firm decision against motherhood to a complete embrace of it.

To initiate a shift away from the binary view of motherhood and towards the concept of a spectrum, we must first foster an environment where open and honest conversations about our individual identities, fears, needs, and desires are welcomed. Currently, delving deeply into the reasons behind a woman's choice to be childless is often seen as impolite. However, this mindset perpetuates the idea that not being a parent is the result of a tragic misfortune. In reality, discussing where we stand on the Motherhood Spectrum and why can provide validation and insight.

For instance, as I was gaining confidence in my resolute decision not to have children, one of my closest friends found herself deeply involved in the complex world of in vitro fertilization (IVF), which may appear to outsiders as an industrial birthing process. I supported her emotionally throughout her journey, witnessing her transition from hope and determination to disillusionment, tears, and exhaustion. After she became an ecstatic yet tired mother of twins, I questioned her about what drove her to persist. I hoped she could explain the elusive "baby fever" that I had never experienced myself—something biological that must surely manifest physically, like a voracious hunger but in the realm of emotions. However, her response surprised me: "I cherished the lively family holidays of my childhood and desired to recreate those moments. I yearned for a bustling home filled with people because I feared the opposite. I wanted to bring happiness to my parents and witness them as grandparents."

As she described her motivations, I realized that her reasons for having children were not so dissimilar from my reasons for not having them. While she craved noise, I yearned for peaceful moments of solitude. Her excitement stemmed from family trips to Disneyland, whereas my fondest memories were of solitary experiences during my childhood. As for envisioning my parents as grandparents, I struggled with this notion (for reasons that will become clear later). However, there was something else, which came closer to the enigmatic baby fever. When we spoke again a year later, she revealed, "I felt an overwhelming abundance of love within me, and I would have done anything to have a child." In my case, I realized I had always experienced this profound affection for my ideas. It was a compulsion to express my thoughts about the world that led me to pursue my writing career with the same unwavering determination.

Reflecting on our experiences, it seems that our inclinations are not necessarily dictated by a shared biological imperative. Rather, what we are fortunate to share is the opportunity to pursue the path that feels right for us in this era. Even though a woman's choice to prioritize intellectual pursuits over family life may sometimes be misconstrued as cold and uncaring, we possess the privilege of following our own convictions.

What about the uncertainty of motherhood's suitability for you?

You might be reading this because you're in a similar situation to mine—never desiring children and wanting reassurance that you haven't missed some important memo from above. On the other hand, you may still be undecided, leaning more towards a "no" than a "yes." If the opportunity to have children has passed you by, you might find yourself privately mourning your childlessness and unsure of what lies ahead. And if you're a mother who doesn't naturally find joy in motherhood, you could be searching for ways to understand and validate your feelings. Whatever reason brings you here, I strongly believe that comprehending our position on the Motherhood Spectrum and the reasons behind it is crucial for understanding ourselves as part of a diverse and evolving community of women. This understanding is not meant to prove or justify anything, but rather to find peace with deviating from a pre-established narrative. It allows us to detach our quest for purpose and fulfillment from our ability to bear children, enabling us to engage with aspects of life that have traditionally been confined by societal expectations of motherhood—such as purpose, family, love, and legacy—on our own terms.

When contemplating our position on the Motherhood Spectrum, let's focus on the aspects that define our individuality.

  • Temperament: Consider how your inherent disposition influences your actions, impacts your participation in group settings, shapes your communication approach, affects your connections with others, determines your stance on control, and influences your desire for belonging.
  • Fears: Reflect on the lineage and family you come from, the influence of your cultural and social upbringing, your spiritual convictions, your current living arrangements and financial security, your sexuality and gender identity, and the path you have chosen in your professional life.
  • Desires: Consider your desires and aspirations, the things that ignite your passion and enthusiasm, the experiences that attract you, what brings you pleasure, how you prefer to spend your time, and your aspirations for both your own life and the world around you.
  • Capacities: Reflect on your innate abilities and strengths, the talents and skills you possess, the activities that invigorate you, the unique contributions you make to your relationships, and the qualities that others appreciate and value in you.
  • Limitations: Consider the areas where you lack proficiency, the tasks or endeavors that pose challenges and don't align with your abilities, the activities that deplete your energy, the physical limitations you may have, and the domains where you tend to make mistakes.

Take a moment to immerse yourself deeply in these categories once again. Read through them attentively and take your time with each one, making lists and noting the stories and memories that arise in your mind during this self-exploration. Pay attention to the sensations that manifest in your body as you engage in this introspection, and be aware of any external voices—such as those of your mother or society—that may attempt to judge or evaluate what you discover about yourself.

Remember that there is no universally correct or incorrect way to feel about any of the aspects mentioned. It is a blend of nature and nurture, with many elements beyond our control. What matters is acknowledging the person you are, the life you have lived, the influences you have encountered, and the choices you have had the opportunity to make along the way. From this standpoint, ask yourself: What stands out as non-negotiable for me in living a fulfilling, contented, and meaningful life?

The next step is to compare what you have discovered about your nature with what you know to be true about motherhood. This entails looking beyond the idealized portrayal found on social media and delving into the raw, everyday reality of mothering that you have witnessed firsthand. Reflect on your own experiences of being mothered, as well as the experiences of your own mother and grandmother. Consider the perspectives of your friends, colleagues, and the broader community. Do you perceive motherhood as a nurturing sanctuary amidst the competitiveness of the outside world? Or have the mothers in your life struggled due to a lack of financial and emotional support? Maybe it combines elements from both.

Now, remove the emotionally charged label of "mother" and instead consider your non-negotiables within the context of parenthood. This encompasses the responsibility of providing sustenance, shelter, care, and education to young individuals—the psychological, intellectual, moral, and emotional labor involved in nurturing well-rounded and confident adults. Envision yourself in this scenario. Does this version of yourself find contentment in her role, relishing the autonomy and influence she holds? Or does she feel overwhelmed, resentful, and out of her depth? Once again, it may be a mixture of various sentiments. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers, and none of your responses make you inherently good or bad.

This exercise might strengthen your conviction in your Affirmative No, providing you with increased confidence. On the other hand, if you have always desired children and circumstances have prevented it, this exercise might inspire you to prioritize alternative ways to embody the essence of motherhood and to incorporate children into your life. Keep in mind that the potential for collective change within our revolutionary sisterhood begins with each of us accepting, embracing, and sharing our diverse experiences as women without children.

Ultimately, there is no universally "correct" place to position yourself on the Motherhood Spectrum—only the place that feels right for you.