“I don’t have the need to breed.”
Actress Joy Bryant, best known for her role on Parenthood, pulls no punches in an open letter articulating how tired she is of people asking her when she’s going to have children, or worse, trying to convince her she should.
In the letter, published on Lenny Letter, the married 41-year-old sounds off on why she doesn’t need to be a mother in order to feel fulfilled in her life. Yet people constantly feel the need to question and comment on her choice. And she’s not alone. Women who choose not to have children have faced this sort of criticism for years. Even the pope has joined in, saying the decision not to procreate is fundamentally “selfish.”
But as Bryant explains, the choice is a personal one. It is not “selfish” and it should not be open for debate.
“Society dictated a woman’s existence, stripped her of her agency, told her to sit down and be quiet, to put everyone’s needs ahead of her own because her life was not her own, that she could only see the world through the eyes of a man, that she was useless if she didn’t bring life into this world. Her purpose was not of her own making.
While the lives and livelihood of women are still under assault, we have come so far and accomplished so much. We don’t have to be automatic breeders. My womb doesn’t belong to the world. It doesn’t even belong to my husband. It is mine and mine alone, and my womb should be free to live life as MY nature intended.”
When I was growing up in the 80s, it never even occurred to me that having children was a decision. Sure, I could also be a doctor or lawyer, but that came in addition to being a mom. You grow up, go to college, get a job, get married, and have children. That’s just what you did.
But that mentality is slowly changing, thanks to women like Bryant. Girls are growing up with different ideas about what it means to be a woman and, as a result, are carefully evaluating whether or not motherhood is the right choice for them.
“Motherhood, in all its beautiful significance, is a job I do not want,” writes Bryant. “It doesn’t matter how great my résumé is or how many glowing recommendations I receive. I don’t need to be a mother in order to be fulfilled in my life.”
Not only do I whole-heartedly agree with that statement, but I know, as a mother myself, that this is not a gig suited for everyone.
Having spent the last seven years of my life losing an identity that took me 33 years to create, I understand well the personal cost of having children. Yes, it’s fulfilling. Yes, I was born to be a mother. Yes, I feel like my children are my main reason for living. But I can also very easily understand how someone else would opt out of that in search of different, equally important reasons for living.
Why is motherhood the default? It is assumed that a girl will grow up to be a mother, but it should be the other way around. Not having children should be the assumed course, and only once a woman reaches a certain age and has thought long and hard about her life, should a personal and rational decision about children be made.
We’ve all witnessed the unfortunate and even tragic consequences of what happens when women who don’t want children become mothers. We’ve seen the unwanted children, the neglected children, the abused children, we’ve read the essays of women filled with hatred and regret, written under the cloak of anonymity.
“I would change it all. Because, in my heart of hearts, I don’t like being a mother,” wrote one mom in a Scary Mommy post. “I love my children, I do, and I write these words anonymously so they never find out the horrible feelings I feel. But I have to get them off of my chest somehow; the burden has become too much to bear. Ever since becoming a mother 12 years ago, and every day since, I haven’t been able to escape the sinking feeling that I shouldn’t be one.”
We celebrate those who have children, even if we know in our hearts they should not be having them. Yet a smart, savvy woman who knows herself well enough to make the decision not to have kids is questioned and criticized by family and strangers alike.
“But you’ll be such a good mother!”
“You’d have such beautiful kids.”
“Your clock is ticking!”
“You’ll regret not having kids!”
Having children does not create or complete a woman. Motherhood is a choice women should proudly make in the same way as those who choose not to become mothers.
Because the problem isn’t a woman choosing to be childless, it’s society judging her for it.