Motherhood. It’s a tricky business. And no, I don’t mean mothering, which comes with its own set of complications – and rewards. I am talking about motherhood, a state that everyone and his uncle has an opinion about. Motherhood, which is made out to be the ultimate achievement of a woman (and the inability to achieve it the ultimate failure). Motherhood, the status update that sets the women apart from the girls. Motherhood, the rite of passage that is meant to ‘complete’ you.
And the reason I have been thinking about motherhood over the last fortnight is down to three women: Jennifer Aniston, Sania Mirza, and of course, Theresa May.
Let’s begin with Aniston, who has spent most of her adult life being stalked by the Pregnancy Police. From the time she was married to Brad Pitt to now, when she is wife to Justin Theroux, pregnancy rumours have constantly swirled around Aniston. So, you can understand why she finally blew her stack when some paparazzi pictures of her with a slightly more rounded tummy set off yet another hysterical round of Jen-is-finally-pregnant pieces.
In a searing piece for HuffPost, Aniston wrote, her rage fairly dripping off the page, that she was not pregnant but simply ‘fed up’ of the constant speculation revolving around her uterus. “I have grown tired of being part of this narrative,” she wrote, adding that she was “not in pursuit of motherhood because I feel incomplete in some way”.
Then it was Sania Mirza’s turn to face the mother of all questions from TV anchor, Rajdeep Sardesai. His query was framed in terms of ‘settling down’. “What about motherhood... building a family... it seems like you don’t want to retire just yet to settle down”.
Mirza was having none of this. She responded with a zinging backhander: “You sound disappointed that I am not choosing motherhood over being number one in the world... unfortunately, that’s when we are settled, and no matter how many Wimbledons we win or number ones in the world we become, we don’t become settled.”
To his credit, Sardesai saw the point immediately and instantly apologised, conceding the point that he would never have asked that question of a male sportsperson.
The rest of the world is not always so obliging. Most people see a childless – or child-free, to use the more politically correct term – woman as a perennial question mark. Why didn’t she have children? Was it down to fertility issues? (If it was, who was to ‘blame’: the husband or her?) Or is she just a selfish so-and-so, who didn’t want kids to hamper her hedonism? What is the appropriate response to her barren state: concern, pity or scorn?
And then come the value judgements. How could she possibly understand what other mothers go through as they bring up their kids when she doesn’t have any of her own? She simply can’t have the same stake in the future that mothers do – as Andrea Leadsom said so famously and fatally about Theresa May, when they were both running for Tory leader, and the Prime Ministership of Great Britain – because it’s not her children who are going to inherit the earth. She can’t understand the depth of maternal love because she hasn’t experienced it first-hand. And she cannot begin to fathom the despair caused by the loss of a child because, yes, she doesn’t have children.
It’s almost as if the rest of the world has agreed that a woman who doesn’t have a kid is lesser-than in some way. That because an entire world of experience is shut off to her, so is the world of empathy, or indeed, sympathy.
Perhaps this is why childless women so often feel obliged to explain their empty nest to others. Even the resolutely private May had to offer up this tiny morsel about her childlessness: it simply didn’t happen (like it doesn’t for many people) and while it was an abiding sadness, she and her husband got on with their lives.
Jennifer Aniston, too, responded to the motherhood question a tad defensively in a 2014 interview. “You may not have a child come out of your vagina, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t mothering – dogs, friends, friends’ children... This continually is said about me: that I was so career-driven and focussed on myself, that I don’t want to be a mother, and how selfish that is... Even saying it gets me a little tight in my throat.”
But why should any woman – celebrity or otherwise – feel obliged to explain why she doesn’t have children? It is nobody’s business but hers and her partner’s; and presumably both of them are in on the secret.
Thankfully, even Aniston knows better now. As this older and wiser Jen wrote in her HuffPost piece, “We are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child... We get to determine our own ‘happily ever after’ for ourselves.”
And yes, whether that includes children or not is entirely up to every woman to decide for herself. And no, she doesn’t owe you or the world any explanations about her decision.
From HT Brunch, July 24,2016
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