Why Have Kids? A Daring Discussion on Motherhood

Our culture glamorizes being a mommy, but also frequently reminds women that they can’t “have it all.” So if parenting makes so many Americans unhappy, why do it?

| January 2013

  • Why Have Kids?
    “Why Have Kids?” presents a critical evaluation of the social constructs surrounding parenthood in modern America.
    Cover Courtesy Amazon Publishing/New Harvest
  • Jessica Valenti
    In “Why Have Kids?” Jessica Valenti explores the controversial question through on-the-ground reporting, startling new research, and her own unique experiences as a mom. She moves beyond the black and white “mommy wars” over natural parenting, discipline, and work-life balance to explore a more nuanced reality: one filled with ambivalence, joy, guilt, and exhaustion. A must read for parents as well as those considering starting a family, the book is largely reviewed as an explosive addition to the conversation about modern parenthood.
    Photo Courtesy Amazon Publishing/New Harvest

  • Why Have Kids?
  • Jessica Valenti

Feministing.com founder Jessica Valenti, a new mother the New York Times calls “a gutsy young third-wave feminist,” daringly examines everything from “mommy wars” to “tiger moms” in Why Have Kids? A New Mom Explores the Truth about Parenting and Happiness (Amazon Publishing/New Harvest, 2012), aiming to provide a thought-provoking resource for those who want to have children, and those who don’t. In the following excerpt from the book’s introduction, Valenti discusses the thorny truth—and unsettling consequences—of the socialization and heavy “expectation of perfection” for parenthood, especially motherhood.  

Most people get flowers when they give birth—I got a two-pound baby and a failing liver. Thanks to a critical bout of preeclampsia, my foray into parenthood was marked with medical urgency rather than congratulations. There were no balloons or cigars passed around, just worried glances and the hum of machines checking vital signs.

When I went in for a routine exam during my twenty-eighth week of pregnancy, I felt fine. The look on my doctor’s face when she took my blood pressure for the third time, however, made it clear that I was far from the healthy, glowing pregnant woman I imagined myself to be. Even after I was admitted to the hospital a mere ten minutes later, my husband and I figured it was all a fluke. After all, I didn’t feel sick, and we had months to go before our daughter was due.

But within two days, my liver was in danger of failing from a second pregnancy complication called HELLP syndrome, and I was rushed in for an emergency C-section. It was twenty-four hours before I was well enough to see my daughter, Layla, and almost a week before I could touch or hold her. She spent eight weeks in the hospital, over which time she endured more medical invasiveness than most adults could bear. During that time, we held it together—mostly because we had to.

Once the immediate danger was over—when my husband and I knew that Layla would be fine—that’s when my real trouble began. I was incredibly grateful to have my daughter and my health, but I couldn’t stop mourning the pregnancy and childbirth I thought I was going to have. I desperately wanted the entrance into parenthood that I expected, the one I had planned so carefully for.

Just two days before I was hospitalized I had been leisurely touring St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital wondering what kind of birth experience I wanted. I was torn between the birth center—relaxation tubs and bragging rights on giving birth “naturally”—or a hospital room, where there were sweet, sweet epidurals. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to choose what circumstances my daughter would be born under, and it certainly never crossed my mind that I could end up with a sick baby.

Edina Kurdi
6/13/2013 5:35:44 AM

There has been an increase in voluntary childlessness in developed countries recently. As part of my Master's degree I am undertaking a research project about childless intentions. I am looking for participants, to fill out an online questionnaire, who are - women aged 35+ - living in the UK - do not desire to have children OR - did not desire to have children but changed their minds at some point. Please feel free to share this information among your social networks. In addition to an online survey, in depth interviews will be conducted to further explore childless intentions. If you are happy to share your experience, please send me an email or leave your contact details at the end of the survey. If you would like any further information on this project please contact Edina Kurdi at e.kurdi@mdx.ac.uk Link to the 15-minute online questionnaire: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/childless_intentions

Pia Elworthy
1/30/2013 7:23:48 AM

The first sentence in this article hits the nail very accurately on the head. Parenting has been glamorized by the media for over a decade now, and for no other purpose than to expand customer marketing within the childcare arena. The problem with this has been that in showing upwardly mobile parents and celebrities with their newborn (or young) children, they do not present a realistic perception of parenting. I recall back in the mid-2000's the news mentioned a study that asked 1000 couples from within the U.S., that if given the choice to make over, would they have children again? As I recall the verdict was about 86% would not. I was one of those mother's who tried to offer my children every possible advantage I could, but in having a career to do so my early adult sons found me wanting as a parent and I'm still being castigated for it. It might be smart if health education in high schools not only taught sex ed. but also child-rearing.

Frances Rice
1/25/2013 9:20:40 PM

Parenting has its challenges, and is fairly inconvenient. However....personally I could never regret having my two sons. I love them to pieces even when they're driving me crazy!

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