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Renouncing Motherhood

Posted by E on July 2, 2008

I don’t want to worry after a child. I can’t imagine what it would be to experience the uncertainty I have seen in mothers’ eyes when they look out the window and see their baby crossing the street and disappearing into an uncertain future filled with other anonymous people who don’t have the same tenderness, the same cherish, the same endless adoration for the one you love.

I don’t want to feel the trepidation of watching the one you have cradled in your arms and fed at your breast, as he or she stumbles away from you, away, away, falling and crying but always moving further out of range, propelled by an inexplicable forward motion into the distant unknown, propelled by a bottomless ache for exploration that stabs you through the soul.

I don’t want to bear the weight of my grandmother’s fears, as she looked out the same window so many other women before and after her have stood at, arms tucked like prayers in the hollows of elbows, holding themselves tightly, trying to abate the cold that seeps in – the cold of What If? Will he be safe? Will my boy come home tonight?

I don’t want to be my mother standing in that window, on that grey concrete balcony of hers, stubbornly ignoring my furious waving for her to go back inside. I don’t want my eyes to carry like hers do, at the back of my head, so heavy with regrets – regrets of abandonment, of hurting me, regrets of a wretched life that vibrates like a shout in the air between us. But her eyes, nonetheless, full of regrets as they are, plead after me in the road until I am swallowed up by the urban concreteness of the city, and they can no longer follow the shrinking pinprick of my outline.

I don’t want to carry that worry inside me like a shadow infant, a twin of the one who has been born and tears away from you. After a physical birth, a secret pregnancy continues, an afterbirth that you carry in your spirit forever. Even as your baby turns into a toddler, then a youth and finally an adult who goes to school in another city or perhaps gets a job in another country, the twin thrives, sucking from your marrow, clawing through your heart, becoming the pulse in your veins and the throb in your gut.

I don’t want that. I don’t want to bear the pain of creating something as fragile as a human being only to watch him or her slip away from me, while I die a little every day inside. I don’t want to tell her of all my past hurts and all the hurts and demons of her grandmothers and the great-grandmothers before that. I don’t want her to inherit the suffering of her forefathers, the ache of a wounded country, the knowledge of having inherited her flesh from generations of women bloodied by revolutions and wretched men and abandonment and despair.

I think it is more merciful to murder the idea of an infant before it hatches into something more. To hurl that idea as far away as I can, to hurl it like a rock into an abyss of oblivion, to get it far away from me, away, away, away.

(written today, on the occasion of my mother’s birthday)


5 Responses to “Renouncing Motherhood”

  1. sara said

    When you become a mother is the first time your heart walks around outside your body, I believe this is true. But there is no greater love than the love you will have for your own child. It’s a stronger love than the love you had with your own parents and siblings and even stronger than the love you have for your husband. Friends come and go and men come and go, the only thing that is forever is motherhood. Even if your child passes away, you will never again feel the way you felt before becoming a mother.

  2. Elisa said

    I would like to believe in a wonderful world where mothers love their children, cherish and nurture them forever and let nothing stand between their relationship. But I know from personal experience that this isn’t so. There are mothers out there, more of them than you would perhaps like to imagine, who do indeed allow other priorities – men, travel, etc – get in the way of raising their children as well as they should.
    I have been a volunteer in prisons where I’ve met mothers who killed their kids. Mothers who make you rethink the notion that every individual who gets knocked up and gives birth is, by your definition, a “mother.”
    There are so many different kinds of mothers.
    For me, motherhood is a sacrifice – not only of your own ambitions, who invariably get placed aside – whether temporarily or permanently – but also a sacrifice of emotions. I that, yes, when you have a child, your heart walks outside your body. For me, I don’t think it is something I could, or am ready to, experience.

  3. Priya Raju said

    Elisa – Is it really necessary to sacrifice all for a child? I politely disagree. Some changes in life are needed. Some rethinking of priorities is needed. But, if we sacrifice our ambitions & emotional well-being for our kids – can we ever truly forgive them?

    I truly believe that people will be better off if they spend some money on day-care. I have a baby-sitter & this gives me some time to focus on my business, volunteering & reading. Yes, it is expensive – but I don’t want to lose the opportunity of helping 85 kids in an inner-city school, just because I want to spend all the time I can with my kid.

  4. Elisa said

    No, of course it’s not necessary to sacrifice all for a child – I don’t see this point as a matter for disagreement either. I think it’s all a decision that is up to each mother to define – it’s a complex blend of how much do you want to give up, and how much to keep intact.
    For me, I couldn’t give up the life that I have now. I am afraid of the choices that I will be forced to make, and I think everyone says at first “No, I won’t allow this to change me, or redefine who I am”, but all too often I have seen it happen to my girlfriends – they HAVE changed, and the chasm between us has widened. Perhpas this is part of life’s passage, but it scares me. I don’t want to lose myself in the process.

    I think the people who manage to have kids and yet keep their ambitions intact are an exception, not the norm, and I admire their tenacity. But I think that nobody can predict exactly how things turn out until they are in that position. As for me, of course I’d get a nanny, etc, – but who knows? I still think that I may lose myself in the process, and reemerge in my 50s, like so many other women I’ve met, sad and puzzled as to where all my goals and dreams went….I really don’t want that to happen.

  5. Priya Raju said

    Elisa – Yep, well said. I guess too many people believe the platitudes about motherhood – what a bundle of joy it is etc. Of course, a child’s love & pranks are gratifying. But, there is this near-ceaseless attention that it needs in the 1st year. No amount of reading books or listening to others can prepare a person for that. It can be very emotionally demanding.

    A survey done in the UK on people 50 or older revealed this. 70% of people polled said they may not have kids, if given a choice to relive their youth. So, too many people get into parenthood without realizing how difficult it is.

    I doubt if thinking individuals like you would lose yourself in the process. But, as you say, not everyone needs kids to lead happy, fulfilled lives.

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