7. A book written in the Middle East: Regretting Motherhood: A Study by Orna Donath
List Progress: 16/30
I am not a mother, nor do I plan to be. Neither my partner nor I have ever felt a particular pull towards being parents and we do not plan on having or adopting children. I enjoy spending time with kids: I love my various cousins’ children, I like babies, and I have greatly enjoyed getting to see regular students at my job grow and come into their own over the years. I like having children in my life, but being a mother has never felt like something for me. But I am often fascinated by the way we, as a culture, talk about motherhood, so Israeli sociologist Orna Donath’s study Regretting Motherhood scratched a perfect itch for me. And I do agree that the issues she raises should be discussed far more openly across the world.
Donath spent several years conducting interviews and compiling a study group of 23 women in Israel who regret the fact that they are mothers. While a small group (Donath is very aware that this is a qualitative study rather than any type of quantitative one), it contains a range from new mothers to mothers with teenage and adult children to grandmothers, but they are all united by feeling that motherhood was the wrong choice for them and that if they could go back with the knowledge they now have, they would choose differently. This is an incredibly, incredibly taboo stance to hold in a world that has turned motherhood from a relationship into a role, a vaunted position that comes with untold amounts of expectations, responsibilities and assumptions. Donath posits that unless experiences of regret can be represented in discussions of parenting and motherhood, that mothers and potential mothers cannot be said to have made a fully informed choice to have children. When one side of the argument is entirely excised from the discussion, then no one is truly informed of all possible outcomes of having children and has not made their decision freely.
The interviews are arranged in pieces by subject, covering everything from what led them to initially want children, to their relationships with their partners, to how they view the past and future. These are threaded through with Donath’s analysis, which go down to the level of investigating regret as an emotion and the modern perception of time as a linear force with no room for turning back. This segmenting and intermixing of the subjects’ stories keeps them from being about individual people (even though they are given consistent pseudonyms throughout) and lets the stories stand for larger cultural trends. These are still individuals, and supposedly extreme outliers to have a view of motherhood so counter to dominant trends and narratives. But they do exist, and Donath wants to make sure you know they exist, and there are almost certainly many, many more who are unwilling to say so out loud. Donath’s goal is not to convince women to not become mothers, but to make sure they go in as clear-eyed as possible, and help mothers, whether they regret their role or not, feel comfortable with the realities of their inner lives.
I am a biased reader, because I am already sure of my desire to not be a mother, and Regretting Motherhood plays concurrent to my own feelings. I am sure a mother, or someone who wants to be a mother, would have an incredibly different perspective on this work than I do. But this book and others like it are important for all of us, at the very least to help expand the conversation around motherhood and banish some of the silence. With a quick pace and smooth prose, it is a good read for a lay person, and one I would recommend for anyone interested in mothering, gender roles, or just the way women exist in the modern world. It won’t always be an easy read, but it is a good one.
Would I Recommend It: Yes.