So, I've always known that I wanted to be a mother. It's just never been a question for me. I don't think I can really explain why I have always wanted to be a mama, it just feels like my life would be incomplete if I never had (or adopted) a child. My brain tells me that motherhood is a choice, but my heart tells me that being a mom is the most important thing in my life.
I have many friends who feel the exact opposite. They have no desire whatsoever to have children. And that's totally their decision. Some of them have actual reasons for not wanting to be parents (i.e. would rather spend time on hobbies or with their partner), others can't explain their lack of desire for kids any more than I can explain why I want them.
It seems, however, that having a child or not is more than just a personal choice. In science, of course, there's a huge bias against men and especially women with families. I've always thought that this was primarily due to the tendancy for academic scientists to be fairly single-minded about their work. "If you have room in your life for other things, you don't love science as much as I do." But the family debate touches all professions. In recent years I have been shocked to see the resentment that many non-breeders hold for the latitude given to working mothers in particular... from maternity leave to flexible schedules.
In the not-too-distant past I had a discussion with several friends (including both future-breeders and non-breeders). The discussion was regarding people (implicitly female people) who take time off work to care for their sick children, or who can't work late because they have to pick up their kids from daycare. The non-breeders in the discussion felt that it was essentially special treatment for breeders when they aren't expected to work late, and they felt bitter for having to "pick up their slack." Why shouldn't the non-breeders get extra vacation days for all the days they don't miss work due to sick kids? Why should the breeders get to go pick up their kids from daycare while the non-breeders have to work late and miss out on movie night at their friends' house?
It's pretty difficult as a mom to hear that point of view. I guess I kind of always saw the world through some rose colored glasses, where raising a child really was an effort by the village... breeders and non-breeders alike. I figured that people work together to be part of a functioning society. And while maybe a non-breeder might be pissed that they have to "pick up the slack" for me when I have to pick up Bean from daycare, I'm not really willing to apologize for my priorities. The decision to go back to work ended up being a lot tougher than I ever thought it would be, but I know that I can be both a scientist and a mother... even if that means setting some definite limits on my time at work. And anyway, Bean could very well be their doctor or lawyer or accountant in 30 years, so maybe they should just shut the hell up and let me raise a productive member of the next generation.
I've certainly never wanted special treatment per se just because I decided to have a child. But I am also feeling more and more fiercely protective of my life outside of the lab, and I certainly won't feel guilty the first time I have to stay home from work to take care of a sick little Bean. Even if that means I have to ask someone to start a culture for me or put my blots on film or something.
The ironic thing is that in some ways, women are damned if they do and damned if they don't. Women who choose to go back to work can be criticized for abandoning their children (as the bus driver criticized me) or criticized for not being as available at work. Women who stay home are seen as either priviledged or lazy (or even "taking advantage of the system).
P.S. For a better discussion of the economic complexities of being a mother, whether in the workplace or at home, check out the book "The Price of Motherhood."
Tablet Blogging*: a lesson in humility
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