Everyone should get the chance to figure out what they really want.
You either know that you want kids, or you know that you don’t. Right? There’s no middle ground, no ambivalence, that’s how people with vaginas are. We are either consumed by baby fever, or we’re childfree, i.e. cold and vacant, with no maternal instincts. The reality, of course, is that how we feel about having kids exists on a continuum, and that not knowing if you want them is a completely natural (and understandable) state.
There are, of course, reasons one might feel pressured to figure it out sooner rather than later. You have a partner who is certain one way or the other, your parents want you to figure it out, you’re becoming keenly aware of the reality of reproductive time, fertility, etc. Maybe you’re exhausted by or ashamed of not knowing, because it seems like everyone around you does know. If only there existed a space where you could talk to other women who weren’t sure if they wanted kids, where you could be open about your fears and hesitation, where you could get really real with yourself, and maybe even arrive at the conclusion that’s right for you.
In 1991, Marriage and Family therapist Ann Davidman and psychotherapist Denise L. Carlini created a course called “Motherhood – Is It For Me?,” designed to help women who were ambivalent about having kids figure out what was true for them. In 2016, the pair released a book with the same title. “It’s a population that’s hidden and stigmatized,” said Davidman. “We wanted to create an online community for women where they wouldn’t be judged or shamed. Women have the right to explore and discover their own truthful answer about whether they want to be a mom.”
The course, which is 14 weeks long, is designed the intention of moving folks through a process, instead of hustling them towards an explosive realization. Said Davidman: “Women think they’re supposed to have some big feeling, and they’re frustrated when they don’t have it. Sometimes what you come to is just a quiet truth.”
Folks who are contemplating taking the group course (there are also private sessions available, or you can use the book to work through by yourself) receive a 20 minute “Get Clarity” session “I say, ‘Do you want to be a mom?’ I want to catch them off guard. Sometimes they just laugh, or they say yes or no, but I can see where they are in that moment,” said Davidman.
For Krista, who was 42 when she took the course, Davidman’s question was especially provocative. “It shifted something for me,” she said. “It’s not just about having a kid – motherhood is a role you choose. I always thought that my answer to that question depended on being with ‘the right guy’ when actually my desire to be a mother is totally independent of who I’m with.”
Via the course, and exercises such as going through a period of time in which the participants acted as though the decision had already been made, Krista decided that she did not want to become a mother. “It’s a loss, but it’s not a regret, it’s a recognition, I said yes to something and no to something else. I feel solid in my decision. I’m grateful.”
The Motherhood Clarity Course is not just about making a decision about having children – it’s also about accessing what’s preventing one from knowing what she wants. When S enrolled, she was 34, and had spent a lot time making lists of pros and cons about motherhood. The course encouraged participants to examine their families of origins, and engage with emotions around their own childhoods. For S, this culminated in the awareness that she did want to have a child. “I don’t have to be a perfect parent in order to be a parent,” she said. “I will screw my kid up, and that’s okay. I wouldn’t have come to that realization if I hadn’t taken the class.”
Ultimately, what’s most radical about the Motherhood Clarity Course is not even whether or not it leads to a decision about motherhood – it’s that a space has been created to encourage women to connect with what they do and don’t want, especially in regard to something as ingrained as being a parent. “This is the most feminist thing I’ve ever done,” said B, who took the course when she was 35. “It’s about getting confident in your own beliefs, in alignment with yourself, and making decisions out of that place, instead of listening to what everyone else is telling you.”