The Beautiful Lie

Between by Angie Abdou

“What do you mean you don’t want to have children? Aren’t I a good mother? Haven’t you had a good life?”

When my mom asked sixteen-year-old me this question, through tears no less, I wish I’d had Angie Abdou’s book, Between, to quote from. In the throes of a mommy-meltdown, Abdou’s Vero Nanton lays bare the fundamental lie of motherhood: “Parenting’s hard”. Well, that’s only the beginning. What follows next is a truth I have always, inexplicably and inarticulately but deeply known, and the reason I have never been consumed by the desire to reproduce.

“Whatever made us do it? I mean, really, imagine trying to sell this experience to someone if we hadn’t all bought into it already. Here’s the pitch: You’ll get pregnant. Your body will warp in ways you hadn’t thought possible. It’ll never be the same. You’ll pee your pants for months afterward, maybe forever. Delivering a baby will hurt until you think you’ll die. You’ll wish for death. You won’t recognize your own screams. What’s that awful noise? you’ll ask the doctor. As a reward, you’ll have years of shit and barf and endless sleepless nights of screams and whines. You don’t even know what that sound will do to your nervous system.”

Vero goes on with her darkly hilarious rant, which should be read in full and in context to appreciate, then concludes with “Oh, there are good moments…Sure. Build that into your marketing plan—there are good moments.”

That’s it. Right there. That’s the reason I never felt the pull of parenthood, because I wanted my life to be full of good moments but without the pain and the screaming and the barfing and the pants-peeing. I always suspected the Technicolor Disney version of parenthood was not quite right and the older I get the more I see this is the case.

I know at least some of you want to pop my cynical balloon. Hey, poke away, I’m almost egg-free anyway and Prez’s river has no fish. But I applaud Abdou (who is a mom, for the record), for writing with such raw honesty about the hardest job in the world. As a childless-by-choice woman, I have often acted as a kind of confessional for female friends and co-workers who needed a non-judgmental ear for their parenting woes. Want to know what they tell me? Along with the usual “barfing and screaming” complaints, a good number of women have told me that although they love their kids and wouldn’t give them up for anything, if they could go back and do it all again they would choose a life without them.

Shocking? I don’t think so.

To continue, our species needs a constant supply of new additions. We’re hardwired to want babies. There’s also a good chunk of evidence that we’re equally hardwired to forget the pain, the barfing, and the pants-peeing in order to make more babies and to convince future generations that, hey, this baby thing is AWESOME! It’s a lie, but it’s a lie with a purpose: our survival.

In his bestselling book, Stumbling On Happiness, Daniel Gilbert explains the phenomenon and also presents research to show that parents are not as happy as we’ve been led to believe. Of all the good things children give parents, Gilbert asserts that an “increase in daily happiness is probably not among them.”

I’m not anti-children. In case you’re getting that idea. I love kids. Kids inspire and rejuvenate me…in small doses. I am, however, critical of parenthood as the default setting for life. With a global population of over seven billion and climbing, humans have knocked it out of the park. There are enough of us now, (possibly too many), we’re all good, thanks. When it comes to babies, it’s no longer about survival. In the western world, at least, it’s about choice.

Choice.

Go on, let that word sink in.

You can choose.

But before you do, go buy and read a copy of Between. One story may not change your mind, either way, but parenthood is too important enter into with your eyes only half open. The beautiful lie has had it’s day; its time for a little truth.

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8 Responses to The Beautiful Lie

  1. I hesitated a long time before I decided to comment on this post. You see, I used to share your feelings about having children, but then in my thirties I made a mistake and fell pregnant. I went on to have the child, whom I raised alone,
    I’d just like to say that the experience changed me for the better, opened up a world of love and commitment I hadn’t understood before. I had another child after that, and lordy, lordy, I wouldn’t change that decision for the world.
    I’m now 76, so I know what I’m talking about. You might say, as Joni Mitchell does, “I’ve looked at life from both sides now.” When you express your anti-childbearing views, you are only looking from one.
    (I share your views, though about the book: Deciding to have a child can be a life changing decision, and women should be well.informed.

    • clubfredbaja says:

      Danielle, I’m so glad you decided to comment! I actually know a fair number of women who started in the “no kids” camp and then found themselves drawn to mommy-ness. I think that’s wonderful and if a woman really wants to have children then she should follow that instinct.

      I’m actually not anti-childbearing and I believe, if you want it, parenting is probably one of, if not ‘the’, most life-changing and positive experience a person can have. But the key is “if you want it”. I think too many of us are conditioned to believe it’s the only option–as evidenced by the sheer number of people who have demanded to know why I chose not to have children, as if there’s something wrong with me.

      Happy to hear from the “other side” on this. 🙂

    • author says:

      Danielle, felt I had to jump in here (hope you don’t mind). “When you express your anti-childbearing views, you are only looking from one.” which confused me since that is the only “one” she has, right? We can only speak our truth but as a chosen child-less person I can tell you that view is not spoken enough. Rarely are women asked “Why DID you have kids?!”, way more often they ARE asked “Why DIDN’T you have kids?!” I welcome a little more balance to the conversation.

  2. andshelaughs says:

    I am a mother. As a girl and young woman, marriage and babies were never as important as my education and career. All I can say is whether a woman chooses to be a mother or not is HER choice, and no book can prepare you for motherhood. It’s great to see both sides though, instead of what I call the ‘cupcake mommies’ making everyone think that being ‘Stepford’ Mommy is the greatest aspiration of human kind. We all have gifts to bring to this life, and we all need to support one another.

  3. Marie Parc says:

    I’m mom to three grown kids, and I believe one of the most promising trends of our time is the willingness of young people to examine the decision to become parents. As a mother, there’s a limit to how far you can go in cautioning your own kids to think it through: how do you say to your child, “Looking back, I’m not sure it was the best decision for who I am”? You can’t, obviously — you can’t inflict such a personal ambivalence about their very existence. So it’s good that people such as yourself, and the authors you reference, are willing to be dissenting voices. Wishing you lots of good moments.

  4. author says:

    Kristene thank you for yet another great article. I am sooooo going to enjoy following you :}

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