Jennifer Aniston has been in the public eye for almost 20 years and has weathered all kinds of accusations thrown at her by the media. So what has hurt her most? The speculation that she has remained heart-broken since her 2004 divorce from Brad Pitt? The endless jibes about a (non-existent) love triangle between her, Brad, and Angelina? Or the pressure to be thin and glamorous, with media outlets constantly scrutinizing her looks? It turns out the idea that Aniston sacrificed the chance of motherhood for fame and fortune in Hollywood is the opinion that wounds her the most.
Aniston told Allure magazine: “Oh, God, so many painful things. The accusation that I’ve put my career before the want, the desire to be a mother. This continually is said about me: that I was so career-driven and focused on myself that I don’t want to be a mother, and how selfish that is.”
What an incredibly sexist remark. No man ever has to defend the fact that he hasn’t chosen to have children. Do we endlessly speculate on George Clooney’s sperm? Or if Bradley Cooper feels the need to procreate? Nope. Plus it’s derogatory to all women — the suggestion that being career-focused is wrong. That we’re only “right” as women if we are desperate to breed.
But back to the Aniston’s interview. She adds that she thinks it’s wrong for people to assume that women who haven’t chosen motherhood are somehow perceived to have failed in life. “I don’t like [the pressure] that people put on me, on women, that you’ve failed yourself as a female because you haven’t procreated,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair. You may not have a child come out of your vagina, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t mothering — dogs, friends, friends’ children.”
I couldn’t agree more. There are many women who have bred children who have barely a nurturing bone in their body. Becoming a biological mother doesn’t make you one. Mothering is all about the kind of person you are — not the fact that you gave birth. In every interview with Aniston I have ever seen on TV, she comes across as wildly likable, über-warm, and incredibly down to earth. In a town famous for its shallow media friendships, she warmly describes her tribe of buddies that she’s known forever. She strikes me as a girl’s girl. Someone you could rely on, have fun with. Someone incredibly loyal. Just because she hasn’t had kids doesn’t mean her life has been void of nurturing elements.
Aniston also said the scrutiny feels like an unfair pressure on all women — not just her. “I have a lot of friends who decided not to have children, who can’t have children, or are trying but are having a difficult time. There’s all sorts of reasons why children aren’t in people’s lives, and no one has the right to assume. It’s quite rude, insulting, and ignorant.”
Imagine if you found out that Aniston had endured several miscarriages or failed attempts at IVF. That she had to walk the red carpet and then race home and inject herself with hormones, all the while smiling as interviewers shove microphones in her face and asked when she’s getting married and if she still wants kids? How would you feel now about speculating over her “lack” of motherhood? No one knows what goes on behind closed doors, nor should we want to know. I have watched good friends have to be happy for others announcing their pregnancies, while they’re going through IVF in secret or are grieving over a miscarriage. I’ve watched them share the joy of others and then privately go home and weep. The choice of whether or not to have children is an intensely private one and shouldn’t be up for public discussion.
I am a mother of two, and yet even this year I’ve felt the need to explain why I left such a break between my pregnancies. Most of the moms of kids in my daughter’s nursery have children in year 2, and my son is in year 4. I deliberately left a four-year gap between them so one child would be at school when I had the other. As the moms innocently asked what year my son was in, I felt like I had to defend my choice.
Before I had my second child, I was often asked when I would give my son a brother or a sister. I used to grit my teeth and smile, loathing the implication that one child wasn’t “enough.” That we should all have the perfect 2.4 family. My step-sister wanted children, but after she divorced, she never met anyone who she wanted to have children with. She toyed with the idea of having kids alone, but held out in the hope she would meet Mr. Right. She hasn’t so far, which makes Christmas a difficult time for her when she watches everyone centered around their partners and children. It heightens her sense of regret. She has an amazing career and is ambitious and successful, but like Aniston, she would be horrified if people thought she had chosen it over having a family. Life just didn’t work out the way she had planned.
As Aniston says, you don’t have the right to assume you know the reasons why people don’t have children in their lives. It is frankly none of our business. I wish with all of my heart that the media would celebrate Aniston’s successes: her amazing 10 seasons of Friends, her enduring friendships, her Golden Globe nomination, her crazy talent, her movie career — rather than always referring to her womb. What happens there is no one’s business but Jenn’s. Period.
Image credit: PCN Photos