I'm Ambivalent about Motherhood and That Makes Me Feel Like Less of a Woman

What kind of woman does that make me if I'm settling into the idea that I'd be fine — more than fine — if I never become someone's mother?
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Nneka Okona
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What kind of woman does that make me if I'm settling into the idea that I'd be fine — more than fine — if I never become someone's mother?

My 30th birthday is nigh. In a little over two months, the weekend before Memorial Day weekend, I'll celebrate three decades of life and bid adieu to my twenties. 

Before each birthday, I tend to get reflective and thinking deeply about the lessons and growth I've encountered in the previous year. But this year — this birthday — feels decidedly different.

Thirty is a landmark, milestone birthday. It's almost like the quintessential marker of being a full-fledged adult. And it has me rethinking a lot of things I thought I for sure wanted but am now ambivalent about.

My mother was married at 25 and had me, the oldest of four girls, when she was 28. When she was my age, almost 30, she had a toddler and was about to reach five years of marriage to my father. Our lives have clearly taken very different trajectories, as I am single and childless — and also unsure on whether I will change the latter.

As I've gotten older, I've noticed a trend: high school or college classmates and childhood friends checking off the boxes of adulthood. Graduating with degrees, heading into graduate or pre-professional schools, getting that first real-deal adult job, getting engaged and then married, having children. It's gotten to the point that whenever I log on to Facebook, I expect to see a new something on my news feed: an engagement announcement, a wedding photo set, a sonogram announcing a new baby on the way.

I'm supposed to feel some sort of pang, especially when seeing the sonograms, baby photos from newborns at the hospital, or cute photos of children celebrating their single-digit birthdays. The truth is, however, I tend to feel nothing at all — no longing to have my own, no sadness because that hasn't quite materialized for me yet, and no sense of urgency to make having a baby a top priority.

It's a running joke with my friends that my biological clock is broken. Many of the women my age who are also single and childless seem to be in a frenzied panic to find their life partner and start a family, to have their happily ever after, before or soon after entering in their third decade. Instead, I wrestle with feeling like something is wrong with me because although I definitely desire to be married one day, I'm ambivalent and unsure if being a mother is something I want, chiefly because the multitude of sacrifices motherhood entails don't seem worth it to me.

Confronting this truth is hard because as a woman, as a Black woman, as a Nigerian woman and the oldest of four girls, someone who was raised to believe that being a woman was intertwined with motherhood and being a spouse — belonging to someone in some capacity and my worth being solely defined by my relationships and who needs me — there's no reconciliation. Who am I and who will I be if I never become someone's mother? And what kind of woman does that make me if I'm slowly settling into the idea that I'd be fine — more than fine — if I never become someone's mother?

Me being a big sister.

Me being a big sister.

All my life, womanhood was never about me. It wasn't about choices, agency, autonomy or individuality. It wasn't about being gut-wrenchingly honest about what I wanted and how I wanted my life to go. It was about implicit sacrifice, extending myself to all these roles, categories, and expectations I had to fulfill. Womanhood, as I was taught, was never about remembering my voice as powerful — nor my thoughts, opinions, wants and desires. Womanhood was about yielding to everyone else, getting lost in the shuffle and waiting until some point later in life when I could rediscover it, maybe when I was retired and the kids are grown.

This means I don't really have a working definition of womanhood for myself, and because of that, because I know I don't live up to the definition and example provided for me, I feel like an anomaly, and it makes me feel insecure. There aren't any women in my life to show me otherwise, to instill in me a little more faith and confidence that I'm doing okay, that I'm not a failure, weirdo or a sore thumb because my life isn't designed from the mold of status quo.

All I have as I look towards 30 are my own lessons I've learned the past few years as I've prioritized my mental, emotional, spiritual and psychological well-being; as I went to therapy and committed to healing both new and old wounds with a trusted companio; as I made a fierce commitment to never forget about putting myself first and what I need to feel happy, healthy and whole. And I just know, as the only thing I know now, that being someone's mother and making another fierce, lifetime commitment to being their trusted companion on this living, breathing, shifting, sometimes crazy world, is not a vow I'm sure I want to make.

And somehow, maybe, hopefully, at some point in the future, I'll make yet another commitment, a solemn promise to myself, a kind and gentle assurance to myself, and begin to make peace with that and practice some self-acceptance.