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Do women feel more social pressure to become mothers?

According to one recent study, it depends. The study, which was conducted from a national survey of nearly 1,200 American women of reproductive ages, but with no children, says women who choose to be permanently child-free perceive more social pressures to become mothers; however, they are also less distressed about their choice than women who are childless from infertility or other reasons.

Well duh! Did we really need a study to let us know that women do not all share the same goals, values and opinions in life?  And better yet, that women who made the choice to stay childless, more than likely won’t feel bad about themselves not being a mother than those women who want to conceive but can’t? Likewise, who are these horrible people knowingly bringing up the “baby issue” with a woman with infertility problems? However, there is one caveat to this study worth noting: Hispanic and African-American women were least likely to be voluntarily child-free and were more likely to have “biomedical fertility barriers” such as infertility. That pattern was the opposite for white women.

In other words, the black and Hispanic women surveyed of reproductive age actually desire children, however because of fertility issues, they couldn’t conceive whereas white women were more likely to voluntarily be childless, thus not concerned about social pressures to procreate. I found this interesting because I have long suspected that black women were more receptive and beholding to traditional gender roles including motherhood.

From my own experience, I do find there to be a kernel of truth to this finding. There is no other deity more revered in the black community than the black mother. If you ask the Afrocentric metaphysic types, she is thought to be the source of life and raiser of the next generation of kings and queens. Thug dudes would probably shoot you dead if you speak ill of her and college educated mommas boys often cite her advice that “Nobody is good enough for my son.” R&B male singers often write songs about her and mom dukes is the first person thanked by male rappers at award shows. And even how we relate to Michelle Obama has more to do with her being a good mother and wife than any of her career and professional achievements. Let’s be real, being a mother is a huge part of our collective cultural identity as black women. And with that kind of social pressure coming from within the community, it is no surprise why motherhood is seen as such an attractive option as well as a dire strait if you can physically produce children.

And as an option, there is nothing wrong with becoming a mother – if that is truly what you really want. I can share from first-hand experience that the suspicious glares you receive once it is discovered that you don’t have baby pictures and tales of bad-a** Kwami to share with the rest of the girl group is enough to send any woman running anxious to the first s***m donor. In fact, that’s almost what happened to me. I was 27 years old at a friend’s family BBQ. The men were outside grilling while we ladies were running our mouths in the living room. As usual, the group of women began sharing anecdotal stories of being wives and mothers.  While not being able to totally relate, I laughed and smiled with the rest of them, because even childless and ringless, I can appreciate a good story. Anyway, the host of the BBQ turned to me and said, “What about your kids?” I smiled graciously but told her infatuatedly, “Yeah I don’t have any children. Don’t plan on having any children. Bu I do have a cat though.” My host genuinely looked perplexed. “You don’t want children? And how old are you again?” I told her my age. “Well, I always believed that you can’t trust a woman who doesn’t have any children or a husband.” And I always believed that you can’t trust a woman who doesn’t know how to properly make potato salad. I mean, the potatoes aren’t suppose to be crunchy you know. I didn’t say that because at the time I didn’t think of it, but hindsight always brings out the better quips.

But what I did think about was that if I wasn’t much stronger in my conviction, or had really wanted children but couldn’t physically produce them naturally, this – being shunned by my peers – would probably break me. If I wasn’t strong, I would worry myself sick about why I lacked the maternal instinct to desire the joys of motherhood and make bad decisions with men all in the hopes of fitting in. But fortunately for me, my biological clock never was a loud ticker. In fact, I’m pretty sure it is broken because while most people look at baby pictures and coo, I look at baby pictures and think about the cost of baby clothing and doctor visits and having to come home from a long day of work to make them well-balanced meals, when really I would be content crashing on the couch with a Lean Pocket and a Capri Sun juice box. And I’m pretty sure of that despite the assurance of some distrustful women, who have told me over the years, “You’ll feel differently when you have them.” Yeah, right.

The good news is that there is some change in public attitudes toward childlessness, with 59 percent of adults disagreeing with the assertion that people without children “lead empty lives.” Moreover, the rates of childlessness among nonwhites has been rising, with black women and Hispanic women increasing their childless ranks by more than 30 percent, which probably means that we are exercising our choices to construct our own identities, whether it be as mothers or childless aunties, in our own image without heeding to, or even being distressed over, social pressures of what it means to be a real woman.


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