Marie Claire magazine recently published one of the saddest things I’ve ever read. It’s one of those pieces where all the names have been changed because nobody wants to admit to what they’ve just admitted: child-regret. Mothers, feeling doomed by motherhood and wishing they’d never had kids.
The article opens with Laura’s story:
“The regret hit me when the grandmas went home and my husband went back to the office and I was on my own with him,” she says. “I realized that this was my life now — and it was unbearable.” As more time passed, Laura felt convinced that she had made a life-altering mistake. “I hated, hated, hated the situation I found myself in,” she says. “I think the word for what I felt is ‘trapped.’ After I had a kid, I realized I hated being the mother to an infant, but by then it was too late. I couldn’t walk away and still live with myself, but I also couldn’t stand it. I felt like my life was basically a middle-class prison.”
According to the article, the number of mothers who feel this way is increasing:
It’s a huge taboo, admitting this kind of thing, but there’s a growing and largely ignored group of mothers all over the world who are confessing their regret over having children. Day after day, as they change diapers, drive to soccer practice, and help with college applications, they fantasize about a life unburdened by dependents and free from the needs of others. A do-over.
“What might have been” beckons loudly to these women, and they mourn the life they feel was taken from them, and all the freedom and achievement it would have held:
“I wonder if my accomplishments would be more spectacular,” says Ananya, a 38-year-old freelance writer and editor who divides her time between the United States and Singapore. “Would I have written my second or third book? Would I be able to travel to chase that elusive story? I feel motherhood has slowed me down so much.”
She envies friends not for their spontaneous vacations and naps, but for the time and space they have to think.
“I hold a lot of data in my head,” Ananya says of constantly keeping on top of all the details that go with small children: doctor’s appointments, weight, height, most recent allergies, toys they want, foods they will eat. “I long for a life without this mental clutter,” she explains.
It’s too easy to say, “Well, these women clearly just aren’t cut out for motherhood. Some people aren’t.” Perhaps they really feel that way; nevertheless, that’s a cop-out answer. The trouble here goes much deeper and is far more revealing. This is evidence of a culture that has shrunk into a real smallness of being. So small that there is only room for one: I.
It is an atrophy of the deepest heart. It is a caving in of our selves, into a cage of mirrors where all we can see is our sad reflection.
We do not look on children as a gift anymore. If they are not an accessory we special-ordered, then they’re a ball and chain around us. We resent their presence and their dependence. We feel we should be allowed to erase them and have a do-over. This is what the “choice” of abortion is all about, after all.