By Erica L. Bergmann
Midway through the first essay in Nobody’s Mother: Life Without Kids, it’s apparent how one-size-fits-all will not apply to any of its 21 unique contributors. This anthology is primarily written by Canadian and some American women on how or why they chose not to have children. It offers encouragement to those who may find themselves ambivalent about parenthood or choosing to go against the societal norm (partnership + offspring = fulfillment), while avoiding alienation of those who’ve found joy by including children in their lives. In fact, the majority of the writers are aunts, stepmothers, godmothers and mentors.
Complete in their Own Skin
Contributors vary in age, race and class, and allow themselves to not only be vulnerable but seen as imperfect. While a few considered becoming mothers, biologically or through adoption, some actually became pregnant and chose termination or ultimately, miscarried. A commonality that’s obvious, however, is that everyone feels complete in their own skin. Lorna Crozier, a professor and poet, speaks to this in the essay, “A Woman Without”: “In some ways I chose not to have children; in other ways, I didn’t make that choice as much as it made me.” She continues, “Do I regret not having children? First, let me say again … My life has been a gathering, not a giving up.”
Unspoken Freedom & Understanding Pitfalls
Nobody’s Mother: Life Without Kids has broad appeal. Not a beach read by any means, but easily digestible, it succeeds in highlighting the unspoken freedom that not having children often yields. Each chapter offers a unique spoonful of hope and inspiration, whether it be the ability to travel the world, immerse oneself in study, volunteer for a righteous cause or pursue an entrepreneurial path. Van Luven generously packs the book with enough umami to satisfy even the most of finicky palettes.
Women who don’t choose parenthood understand the pitfalls of flowing against the stream. Those who have made this choice have been subjected to phrases like, “It’s different when they’re your own”; “What about the family name?”; “But it’s the most important job in the world.” Relentlessly pestered by relatives, friends, and strangers alike, entering the premenopausal 40’s can often feel a welcome respite from this exhausting, albeit well-meaning, chatter. In the essay, “Who Wants to be a Mommy?” Jennifer Wise, an associate professor, explains why her big birthday didn’t become her Get Out of Jail Free card as she expected. “Advances in obstetrics, combined with my juvenile taste in clothes, have conspired to prolong such questions…”
Serving Up an Alternate & Optimistic Narrative
If anything is wanting, it’s the slightly apologetic tone threading its way through many of the essays. While not out of the ordinary for a work of this genre and therefore forgivable, such apologies only perpetuate the self-negating myth that a woman’s choice to not have children must always be justified.
Misconceptions of women with no children by choice are endless. Labeled as selfish, eccentric, lonely and too ambitious or career-minded, this book serves up an alternate and optimistic narrative which champions personal values over public expectations and does so often with a welcome sense of humor. From Patricia Frank’s poignant essay, “Autumn Fruit”: “Some smart psychotherapist or geneticist will have to explain why I was born without the urge to reproduce. When other women’s biological clocks began ticking, my clock moved silently; in fact, so silently that it bore an ‘Out-of-Order’ sign.” A friendly reminder that not all roads lead to womb.
Erica L. Bergmann is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.
Thank you, Erica!