Regretting Motherhood: A Study

Regretting Motherhood: A Study

by Orna Donath


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Women who opt not to be mothers are frequently warned that they will regret their decision later in life, yet we rarely talk about the possibility that the opposite might also be true—that women who have children might regret it. Drawing on years of research interviewing women from a variety of socioeconomic, educational, and professional backgrounds, sociologist Orna Donath treats regret as a feminist issue: as regret marks the road not taken, we need to consider whether alternative paths for women currently are blocked off. She asks that we pay attention to what is forbidden by rules governing motherhood, time, and emotion, including the cultural assumption that motherhood is a “natural” role for women—for the sake of all women, not just those who regret becoming mothers.

If we are disturbed by the idea that a woman might regret becoming a mother, Donath says, our response should not be to silence and shame these women; rather, we need to ask honest and difficult questions about how society pushes women into motherhood and why those who reconsider it are still seen as a danger to the status quo. Groundbreaking, thoughtful, and provocative, this is an especially needed book in our current political climate, as women's reproductive rights continue to be at the forefront of national debates.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781623171377
Publisher: North Atlantic Books
Publication date: 07/11/2017
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 185,500
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

ORNA DONATH is a sociologist and anthropologist whose work focuses on reproduction, motherhood, and non-motherhood; she currently lectures at several universities in Israel. Her previous book, Making a Choice: Being Childfree in Israel, was published in 2011. Donath has also served as chair of the Hasharon Rape Crisis Center in Raanana, where she continues to volunteer.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction xiii

What Are We Talking about When We Talk about Regret? xviii

The Study xxi

A Roadmap of the Book xxvi

1 Paths to Motherhood: What Society Dictates versus Women's Own Experiences 1

"Nature's Way" or the "Freedom of Choice" 3

Going with the Flow 10

Hidden Reasons for Having Children 17

Consenting to Motherhood against One's Will 21

2 Demanding Motherhood: How Mothers Should Look, Act, and Feel 29

"Good Mothers" and "Bad Mothers": They Are Always after the Mothers 31

Maternal Ambivalence 41

3 Regretting Motherhood: If Only I Could Be Nobody's Mom 47

Time and Memory 48

Regret: The Wish to Undo the Irreversible 52

Politics of Regret, Reproduction, and Motherhood 56

"It Was a Terrible Mistake" 60

Regretting Motherhood, but Not the Children 71

Moments of Realization 77

Advantages and Disadvantages of Motherhood 88

4 Living With an Illicit Emotion: Experiences of Motherhood and Expressions of Regret 99

Who I Was and Who I Am 100

Motherhood as a Traumatic Experience 106

Bonds and Fetters of Motherly Love 110

Obligated to Care 114

Being a Mother: A Never-Ending Story 119

Where Are the Fathers? 125

Fantasies of Vanishing 131

Living Apart from One's Children 140

Having More Children or Not 147

5 But What About the Children?: Regretting Motherhood between Silence and Speech 157

Trying to Talk; Being Silenced 161

"Do the Children Know?" 168

Protecting the Children by Silencing Regret 171

Protecting the Children by Letting Them Know 177

6 Mothers As Subjects: Learning from Regret 189

Reaching Out to Mothers: Advantages and Shortcomings 190

Satisfaction in Motherhood: Only a Matter of Conditions? 195

From Objects to Subjects: Mothers as Humans, Motherhood as a Relationship 210

Epilogue 217

Endnotes 225

Index 241

About the Author 244

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