While fifty years ago there was an expectation that motherhood was a natural progression for women, starting a family is no longer a given for today’s generation.
But if you’re not fully certain whether or not you want to have children, how do you go about making such a major life choice?
It’s the question tackled in a new book Motherhood, Is It For Me? by psychotherapists Detroit-born Denise L. Carlini – who was inspired by her own process of deciding she didn’t want children – and San Francisco-based Ann Davidman, in which they present a 12-week programme of guided visualisations and self-exploration to hep women gain clarity.
‘We hoped that it would help women who were ambivalent to decide before their biological age limited their options,’ Denise told Femail. ‘We also wanted to “normalise” that this is a choice women will and can make.
Ann Davidman added that it’s still considered something of a taboo for women to even question having children, as they believe it’s something they’re ‘supposed’ to do.
‘Some won’t question it and won’t decide until it’s too late,’ she explained. ‘They wait it out until time has decided for them. The shame of not knowing or knowing that they want a childfree life is so great that it can get shoved underground so far that it’s not even a conscious thought.’
Here Denise and Ann share the four key steps anyone should take to help them understand whether or not they really want children.
Psychotherapists Denise L. Carlini and Ann Davidman have written a new book to help women explore whether or not they really want to become mothers (stock image)
DON’T LET PERSONAL CIRCUMSTANCES MUDDY THE WATERS
When you’re trying to make a decision you may spend too much time looking at practicalities such as finances or how long you’ve been with a partner, which can actually confuse you and distract from the real issue.
Mantra for reassurance
I don’t know
I don’t know why I don’t know
It’s not my fault that I don’t know
It’s OK that I don’t know
I’ve had clarity before about many things
My true desires matter and no one can know it better than I
I am the definer of me
The answers will come because they never left
Only I can know what’s true for me. It’s all within me.
‘Our program encourages and supports women to put the externals on the back burner in their life by helping them understand the benefits of doing so,’ Denise explained.
‘Prematurely entertaining externals, before you know what you want, wastes time.
‘While we understand the activity of looping through the consideration of external circumstances, it just isn’t helpful until you actually know what you want.
‘f course, external circumstances do need to be addressed eventually but only when it’s time: after clarity is reached.
‘We have created The Mantra to calm anxiety and create some internal spaciousness.’
The mantra is reinforces the idea that not knowing what you want is temporary and that it’s fine to be unsure.
Women may feel a sense of shame about not being overjoyed at the prospect of motherhood (stock image)
STOP FEELING ASHAMED
‘Many women feel alone and many experience shame when they can’t decide whether or not they want to become a mother,’ Denise said.
‘What happens here is that women internalise the ‘pronatalism’ that still abounds and then feel as if something is wrong with them if they don’t know or don’t feel strongly they want to become a mother.
Childlessness in the UK
UK women in their mid-40s are almost twice as likely to be childless as their parents’ generation.
One in five women born in 1969 is childless today, compared with one in nine women born in 1942.
‘The shame may be in the mix because they don’t yet know what they want and they feel that as a woman they should.’
It can help to consider the fact that mothers also feel similar shame and isolation over feelings they believe aren’t socially acceptable.
‘Mothers have been writing more about the mixed feelings they have and this is of great service to all women. It shows there is a grey area and it’s natural,’ she explained.
EXPLORE YOUR FEARS
‘Fears play a big part in being undecided. Most are natural and need to be accepted, some need to be explored and de-bunked,’ Denise explained.
‘The most common are fear of living with regret, fear of making the wrong decision, fear of losing a partner or a relationship turning sour.
‘Some additional fears include: you won’t be perfect, you will be judged by others, fear of loss, or fears of the physicality of pregnancy and/or giving birth.
‘Rather than ignore a fear, we think it’s more important to explore a fear and understand where it comes from.
The new book by Carlini and Davidman explores motherhood over the course of a 12-week programme
‘If the fear doesn’t lose its grip through exploration, acceptance can follow. Many fears come from assumptions or conclusions that were made early on in one’s life.
‘These have an underside that needs turning over for closer examination. Occasionally, some may need help or outside expertise to work through.’
ACCEPT THAT YOU’LL GRIEVE, WHATEVER YOUR CHOICE
‘There is grief work to be done with either choice. It is inevitable. Choosing one thing says no to something else,’ Denise said.
‘Every single choice we make results in missed opportunities, but this isn’t really what’s so very important with such a defining choice as being a parent or not.
You’re not going to know precisely what you have to grieve until you’ve discovered your true desire or you have the clarity you didn’t have before.
‘Until you know what you want for you and WHY you want it you won’t know what you’ll have to grieve.
‘Yes, it’s true that any choice involves loss, but you won’t know the details of that loss until you’ve worked through what it is that you do want. It’s very different for each person and it’s very personal.’
GRIEF TAKES DIFFERENT FORMS
IF you choose to become a mother you might grieve things such as the loss of independence and identity, and if you don’t you might grieve for the family you don’t have.
But your grief could take a different form entirely. The following examples can give a flavour of the type of grief and self-acceptance work that commonly comes up through the decision-making process.
Example one: After completing her process a woman realises she had wanted to have already been a mum five years earlier. She’s now 38 and if she had gotten help back then she would have made that choice.
She has to grieve that she didn’t get help when she needed it, and that she is not going to be a mum. Her life has shifted focus now; it isn’t what she wants in her current developmental cycle. She feels sad that her truth came too late.
Example 2: Another woman believed her whole life she would become a mother and after going through the program and unpacking her own assumptions realized that rather than not finding a suitable partner first (one of her external circumstances) she actually didn’t want to become a mother.
This was hidden from her consciousness and might have even influenced her earlier dating choices. She will have to grieve the time spent focused on living ‘a lie’ and how this unexplored truth caused her to waste her time and resources.
Example 3: Another woman thought she never, ever wanted children only came to realise that the decision was based on a reaction to her painful childhood and once that was more-fully explored, she would like to become a mother.
‘Grief work would be part of healing some of the early childhood pain, but it would also be relevant if her clarity came later in life beyond a time she would be able to or want to be a mum.’
Motherhood – Is It For Me?: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Clarity by Denise L.Carlini & Ann Davidman is available to buy from Amazon