Asking For The Space To Doubt Motherhood

I’ve written about the idea of having children, talking to friends who are mothers, and being jealous of their sureness. It’s not that I’m just questioning my sureness on whether or not I see myself as a mother, but the sureness of everyone else, the sureness in their voices when they tell me I should be a mother. It seems everyone thinks that I should have children; that they’ve foretold my destined future. In the eyes of parents, siblings, best friends, and most certainly our society, since I am a woman I must want a baby.

Being raised in divorced-parent households, I was able to witness my mom and stepmom both have very successful careers. They were mothers, but they also worked full time. When we were kids, they did it all in whatever order they could. That is to say that I was raised to be independent both by accident and by example. Both women instilled in me that I could work hard for whatever career I chose, and that I could get married if I wanted but in no way would it ever define me. My life as a woman could be any version I created for myself, and I never felt pressure to define myself or my future based on whether or not I’d become a mother.

In my early twenties I started to imagine wanting kids at thirty. I remember making a definitive statement around 24 that I would officially hit pause on my fertility and reconsider motherhood closer to the ticking of my biological clock. The age 30 sounded like a time that was far far away, and by then, surely by then, I’d know exactly what I’d want.

Plus no one really talked about it. Sometimes on girls nights, or a month with a missed period, we’d talk about the idea of motherhood. But as single 20-something-year-old women, there was no expectant dialogue that any of us would produce children at any time soon, or ever. It all started to change when I got engaged, and then more so when I got married. Now that I’ve been married for almost 5 years, and in my thirties, it’s near constant.

“When are you going to have babies?” is an echoing, gleefully asked question, a constant pressure and assumption made on my womb. It’s a question I’m not prepared to answer, at least not in the way they want me to.

I recently stumbled across a old Lenny Letter written by Joy Bryant that reverberated my feelings. Titled, Stop Telling Me I Should Have Kids, Bryant writes about being asked why she hasn’t had kids.

I, as the recipient, must keep my cool and either explain myself or gracefully defend myself. What I choose to do or not do with my womb should be of no concern to anyone but my husband.

Joy Bryant

Everyone assumes if you have a womb, you want to fill it with a baby. Everyone asks and everyone expects the same positive answer.

And while Bryant vocalizes strongly that “I don’t have the need to breed,” I can’t answer so definitively.

If I choose to have children, I’ll make everyone around me happy. If my nephews are any indication of the love I’ll feel, I’ll love them fiercely. I’ll do anything and everything to ensure their life is wonderful but real. I’ll teach them about life and love, and that being a good, kind human is the only real goal. But what if I’m bad at it? In my moments of doubt, I worry that my selfishness won’t breed a good mother, and that stings. There are no guarantees that I’ll ace motherhood.

If I choose not to have children, I disappoint everyone. But I’ll be able to afford the lifestyle I’m accustomed to. I can do whatever I want, and nothing, on a whim. Joe and I constantly turn to each other while out and about, or sleeping in, and say to each other, “We couldn’t do this with kids.” I’ll be just like Terry Gross or Oprah: a woman with a fulfilled career and life partnership sans children. But what if I regret it? There are no guarantees that I won’t.

Everyone means well, but is there a point at which we need to stop asking women when they’ll have children? How do we talk about doubt without responding with assumption and persuasion?

Maggie Trela

And I know I’m not alone. The U.S. has a historically low birth rate, and The NY Times piece, Americans Are Having Fewer Babies. They Told Us Why. by Claire Cain Miller, reveals that 34% of men and women ages 20-45 said they weren’t sure about having children. Women especially are considering against it due to financial insecurity and the fact that life with children just doesn’t look that desirable in our current society. “Women have more agency over their lives, and many feel that motherhood has become more of a choice,” Miller writes.

But it’s not about just doubting motherhood. It’s the feeling that society, my community, isn’t allowing the space to do so.

I’m 31, just 4 months shy of my 32nd birthday. My hand now hovers over that paused button, scared that if pressed to play, the atomic bomb of parenthood will implode my life. And it feels like everyone around me is trying to move my hand to press the button themselves anyways.

If everyone is telling me to have children, how do I separate my own feelings? How do I silence the influence of everyone around me to hear my own thoughts? How do I respond?

“Maybe?” I say with a shrug. “We’re still deciding,” is another good one.

It’s the best I’ve got but it doesn’t end the questioning. It then commences the convincing.

But don’t you want to have children? You’d be such a good mother!

Children make your life better.

Won’t you be lonely? Your children will take care of you when your older.

Your husband would be such a good father!

What if you regret it?

Your kids would be beautiful.

Everyone means well, but is there a point at which we need to stop asking women when they’ll have children? How do we talk about doubt without responding with assumption and persuasion?

I don’t need an endorsement or convincing argument. I know I have a ticking biological clock; I need no reminders.

Maggie Trela

Shani Silver from Medium writes, “General sentiment is, somehow still in 2018, that women who want children are right, and women who don’t want children are wrong.”

It’s not that I mind people asking either, I just want there to be room for any answer.

“Are you going to have children? Do you want to be a mother?”

However I choose to answer: yes, maybe, no, I don’t know; I want the answer to be accepted. I don’t need an endorsement or convincing argument. I know I have a ticking biological clock; I need no reminders.

As my friend B. recently texted me, “You shouldn’t feel pressure. Dreams of what your life will look like are rarely reality.”

Fact is, we don’t know what our realities will look like. Having children or not, no one’s future is guaranteed.

So when asking if someone wants children, let them answer without argument, assumption, persuasion, or shame. However we choose to respond, I hope the reaction will be positive nonetheless.


photography by Britney Gill




  1. I did not understand the weight and sneaky hurt that could be delivered in the question, “ when are you going to have a baby? “ , until I spent years trying to do just that. That question holds so many assumptions as to what all women should want and should be able to accomplish effortlessly. It was a lesson in pausing to consider my words and to remind myself that my curiosity was not an invitation to ask.

  2. I was afraid to have children because of the pain caused when my mom died when we were little. I was in constant fear that some thing would happen to them when I let them out of my sight. I continue to fear their loss and now, I fear my loss and how it will affect them. Children are the best gift in the world and can be most worrisome too. Weighing the options, I felt I won and especially now that they are happy and with children. I wonder if I will be grandma to more lovelies, but if not, that’s ok too. We have plenty to love. In my time, we just got pregnant or we did not. No one asked those questions back in my day. Life is an emotional roller coaster. To have or to have not, only a woman has that right to decide if she wants to take that ride or not.