Regretting Motherhood: A Study

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North Atlantic Books, Jul 11, 2017 - Social Science - 272 pages
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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 a woman who becomes a mother might regret it. Sociologist Orna Donath dispels the silence around this profoundly taboo subject in a powerful work that draws from her years of research interviewing women who wish they had never become mothers.

Donath treats regret as a feminist issue: as regret marks the road not taken, we need to consider whether alternative paths for women may currently be blocked off. Donath asks that we pay attention to what is forbidden by our contemporary 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.  

Donath finds that the women in her study became mothers for a wide variety of reasons: some did so to avoid divorce, exclusion from their family, or alienation from their friends; others did not think about it at all, but accepted it as the “next step” of what society considers to be a normal and natural life course. Others experienced regret despite initially having an strong desire to become mothers. Though they may love their children, these women each describe the agonizing guilt and suffering they have experienced as a result of becoming mothers, and consider the different ways they have each come to recognize and deal with these conflicts.

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 nationwide debates.

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About the author (2017)

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.

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