It is a taboo topic but it is the truth. Many mothers regret motherhood.
I’ve been hinting on this ever since I started this column but it is only now that I am able to muster up the courage to actually talk about it. As I sit here, penning down my thoughts on a topic that carries so much weight and controversy, I can’t help but feel a mix of apprehension and determination. I know my mother will message me right away. I know the Mariteses on social media will put a scarlet letter on my forehead. Boo! Bad mom! But I really want to address this with sincere honesty, not to discredit the joys and rewards of parenthood, but to shed light on the emotional turmoil that some of us face in silence.
It’s a subject that’s often tiptoed around, rarely voiced out loud. Then I discovered a brave book by Orna Donath entitled Regretting Motherhood: A Study (2015). Donath is an Israeli sociologist, lecturer, writer, and uhm, I’m hesitant to mention this next description because I’m sure it’s going to raise some eyebrows or confirm negative misconception but yes, she is a feminist activist.
It all began when Donath, who opted not to become a parent and grew tired of being seen as an anomaly in a nation where the average woman has three children, conducted a research which drew from conversations with 23 Israeli mothers who found themselves regretting their decision to have children. In this study, she posits that while motherhood can indeed bring personal satisfaction, joy, love, contentment, and pride, it can also be a source of distress, frustration, helplessness, and disappointment. Additionally, she highlights that it can serve as a stage for subordination and oppression.
Of course, it sparked a debate. When the book was translated into various languages, a study entitled “International Responses to Regretting Motherhood, in Women’s Lived Experiences of the Gender Gap” illustrated how this dialogue unfolded in Germany, Spain, and English-speaking nations. Expressing maternal regret was deemed “unimaginable and regretful mothers were deemed self-centred, shameless and cold-hearted.” Yet, these admissions also sparked compassionate conversations, revealing that these mothers faced immense strain and fatigue due to societal pressures of perfect motherhood. The absence of support, especially for employed mothers, exacerbated these difficulties. Meanwhile in Japan, Hakuhodo and Mama Sutajiamu’s study revealed 40% have regretted giving birth at least once and 1 ⁄ 4 of mothers numerous times.
Donath’s study was not designed to merely allow mothers to voice mixed feelings about motherhood. Personally, I don’t even think it’s warranted to use this as a prompt to discuss the other much taboo topic: abortion. Instead, its purpose was to create a platform for those mothers who genuinely desire to reverse the act of becoming a parent—a phenomenon Donath refers to as an “uncharted maternal sentiment.”
After reading the book and the reviews, I can’t help but wonder about the Filipino mothers’ response to this phenomenon. I am a member of several Facebook groups for mothers of all kinds: breastfeeding moms, Davao moms, work from home moms, moms with picky eaters, moms of kids with special needs, etc. And I noticed that in these groups, I would often see a cry for help or a lament on their struggles on motherhood every now and then. But upon close reading of their constructed text, I can’t help but feel some restraint in their messages. I suspect that they’re expressing but not really exposing. And I think I know why. Just a quick scroll-up of the comments section will show you a general dismissive reaction best verbalized by the popular cheer “laban lang, inahan!” which translates to “Just fight, mother!” But I can’t help but read the subtext as: That’s motherhood so deal with it.
Motherhood in the Filipino context is sacred. It’s almost like a mortal sin to feel any regret on motherhood when you’re a Filipino mother. Marian faith has a lot to do with it. Motherhood is deemed as a sacrifice a Filipino woman must wholeheartedly accept, like Mama Mary. I don’t have anything against that. But ironically, this piety and reverence to “the idea of motherhood” doesn’t translate to actually caring for mothers. Our laws are proof to that.
Let me get this straight. Maternal regret is not rejection of the child. And this was true in the study.
When I first held my rainbow baby in my arms, a surge of emotions overwhelmed me—love and awe unlike anything I had ever experienced. Something was also switched on – an instinct to protect and care for her no matter what. I had wanted this especially after losing two children before, and yet, as the days turned into weeks and the weeks into years, I found myself grappling with a reality that didn’t match the picturesque scenes that are often portrayed and promised. The worst part is dealing with that guilt.
So what am I really regretting?
I regret believing that poignant Johnson’s Baby Powder ad. I regret believing that having a rainbow baby will end my grief. I regret believing all those success stories of working moms often featured on magazines who claimed they were able to juggle career and child care. It was all a lie. It takes a village to raise a child but the reality is the village doesn’t exist anymore. Motherhood is life on a hill. People romanticize as they look at you up there but little do they know that it is very lonely.
These regrets are varied. I can only speak for myself. And I do hope that more mothers sharing their real stories as well.
Jill Palarca is a licensed professional teacher specializing in Media and Information Literacy and is also currently the chairperson of Media Educators of Mindanao. She is mom to angels Meryl and Lyanna, and rainbow baby, Andrea.
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