Feminist Reflections on Motherhood


I always knew I wanted kids. I never fantasized about my wedding day, but I knew I would be a mom—ideally through birthing my own baby, but adoption was also a consideration. Because I was raised by a single mother and never knew my father, my desire for kids wasn't contingent upon someone to have them with.

Once I started working as a "professional feminist," I began to question my inclination toward having kids: was it a "choice" or a programmed response from my gendered conditioning? By the time I had kids, I was surrounded by many people who clearly made the choice to become parents, most pronounced among gay male couples adopting babies at birth. They certainly weren't following a biological dictate; though in most instances I witnessed, they were likely fulfilling society's expectation for middle class couples, even if those relationships were "alternative."

When I started writing Opting In: Having a Child without Losing Yourself—a to-be-published book on motherhood's relationship to feminism—I prodded myself and others about why the majority of us want children and did this choice preclude us from truly being equal to men, as was hinted at in past generations. Most clarity came from those who didn't want to become parents—knowing that they were making different choices made my choice more likely to be truly my own. I think we often have to reject the assumptions or cast away "natural" choices—be it kids or make-up—and then re-choose what we want. That process of rejecting and challenging often exposed authenticity.

But, how did feminism get a bad rap when it came to supporting procreation and motherhood in the first place? Feminism's history is one of campaigning for alternatives to "feminine" expectations, which led many people to conclude that women's liberation was a marketing campaign against all things feminine. Saying that women should be free to romp around without getting knocked up got interpreted as women should never get knocked up. Of course, only certain women are "allowed" to be sexually liberated; black and Latina women who do so are labeled irresponsible and oversexed.

The other confusion is that most people don't distinguish between reproductive rights, which encompass mothering issues, and abortion rights. At Planned Parenthood New York City, for instance, family planning accounts for majority of their services (48%), while abortions account only for 21%. But the organization's more public persona as the face of the abortion rights movement leads people to believe that these experiences can't be mutually expressed. The "pro-choice" concern is that emphasizing motherhood will overshadow abortion, which is a more vulnerable right. And yet, being pregnant when you want to be and being able to terminate a pregnancy when you don't want to be can never be disentangled. And sometimes they are the same thing—for instance, when I "selectively reduced" from triplets to a one baby pregnancy.

But, even with this clarity, there are new things to wrangle me. For instance, why as a straight, middle-class person, don't I have to justify my parenting or explain what makes me a good parent? If you are straight and fertile, you don't have to argue your right to be a parent, but those who seek fertility help, pursue adoption, are single or in same-sex relationships have to detail what makes them suitable parents. I'm also challenged on my decision to have two children. Replacement value has long been an eco-friendly goal, but my children will devour more natural resources than children in under-developed countries, so shouldn't the United States have a lower birth rate given our over-consumption?

And I'm sure once I begin to gain perspective on these questions, new ones will arise. That's the natural feminist progression—once a problem is remedied or at least theorized, new ones emerge and what one generation fights so hard for, the next one takes for granted.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with Amy Richards please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • loren

    You draw out some really interesting threads…I can't wait to read the book. It's so important to explore the nuance and underpinnings of these issues, and it sounds like you are doing just that.