Israeli anthropologist Arna Donat, 44, had already interviewed those who were determined not to have children when he began to ask himself a question: Are there any women who regret being mothers?
He found no research on the matter and decided to ask questions in virtual forums, articles published in magazines, and academic conferences. Little by little, these women began to communicate. “I wanted to better understand this triangle between sadness, maternity / non-maternity and society. I wanted to know why nothing was written about the possibility of women being mothers,” she says.
During a survey conducted between 2008 and 2013, 23 women aged 26 to 73 asked one thing in common: they loved their children, but hated experience and responsibilities. Maternity. And for many it caused a lot of misery.
Donath explains that this is not a paradox because these mothers love their children as human beings and they want them to grow up happy and healthy. On the other hand, these women regret being pregnant and breastfeeding, hate being responsible for caring for children, and regretting having lost a previous life. According to her, this is called maternal repentance:
Maternal repentance is the discovery and realization of what you did wrong in bearing or adopting a child; For you, it feels like not all the difficulties that come with motherhood are worth it.
Israeli research became the book “Mes Arrependidas” (Civilização Brasileira), which was translated into many languages and generated controversy in many countries. In this interview The Complex, Donath seeks to reconstruct the barriers associated with maternal grief, showing that these are not “selfish” or “bad” women, but ordinary people with different experiences of motherhood. She talks about her own decision not to be a mother and the social pressures of forced motherhood.
Universa: In your research, you ‘ve heard of women from different groups and ages, including grandmothers who regret becoming mothers. How do women feel and feel this feeling? What is maternal repentance?
Arna Donat: Maternal repentance is the discovery and realization of what you did wrong in bearing or adopting a child; For you, it feels like not all the difficulties that come with motherhood are worth it.
Many women I interviewed emphasized the difference between their feelings about motherhood and their children: they regret being mothers, but they love their children.
This distinction states that they interact with their children individually and freely, and that human beings have the right to live. At the same time, they become mothers and regret being responsible for someone else’s life.
How does maternal repentance affect the lives of these women?
Mothers who do not want to be mothers seem to have a dual responsibility: for the well-being of their children, not only because of the personal and social expectation that they will be cared for, but also because of the responsibility to be a child.
So, while many mothers feel compelled to take care of others, to the extent that they destroy their own needs and feelings, it intensifies among other reasons because they regret becoming mothers.
In my study, the discrepancy between the desire to be a mother and your reality creates a controversy between identities because they are trying to do what they can to maintain their children.
Some women have been subjected to this conflict for years before speaking openly about not wanting motherhood. Can never be spoken by others. Why is it still banned?
This is still forbidden because not wanting to be a mother and regretting motherhood breaks down some of the central ideas of our contemporary society. First, it is evidence that motherhood has different meanings for different women and, contrary to what we have been told, is not an experience for everyone.
Second, because it considers motherhood as a relationship, not a mythical empire. Like any human relationship, it involves all sorts of emotions, such as joy, boredom, hatred, jealousy, love, anger, and yes.
Third, it reminds society that women are subjects with values of imagination, thought, feeling, and self-determination. The patriarchal society wanted to own all of these skills.
Fourth, maternal grief prevents a straightforward story, according to which it is a period before women want to respect their mothers and / or motherhood and recognize it as their only life essence. Repentant mothers – when some are already grandmothers – do not respond to the ‘happy ending’ catharsis: ‘We still feel about motherhood too, it was a mistake’.
Many of those interviewed said they love their children and grandchildren, but hate motherhood. How is this possible?
In fact, all of the women in the study loved their children as human beings, they wanted their children to be who they were, but as a mother they hated being in that relationship.
Since many of them have felt sad since the moment they were pregnant, we can understand that it is not about the personality of the baby, but about realizing that motherhood may not be right for them.
Considering motherhood as a dynamic and constantly changing relationship between two specific subjects allows all mothers to reject the expectation that their children and mothers will have the same feelings about themselves. Thus, we can better understand motherhood as part of the human spectrum of experiences and relationships, rather than mothers thinking of the unilateral bond that affects the lives of their children without being affected by motherhood.
Do you think maternal grief can be avoided?
I do not think there is a way to eliminate maternal grief, because repentance is human, and mothers are subject to their own needs, dreams, abilities and disabilities. But I think a lot of changes are needed to reduce the suffering in the lives of many women and mothers.
The first step is to reduce the pressure on women to become mothers. To remove this aggressive compulsion, it makes an unknown number of women mothers with consent, but against their will, let them be the owners of this decision.
Another aspect of maintenance work is the change in the way men socialize towards the father, and we must continue to call for urgent and necessary changes to alleviate some of the problems such as the importance of institutional support, tax incentives, affordable housing and child care. In other words, we must continue to understand the specific difficulties faced by low-income, single, black, lesbian or immigrant women, and mothers dealing with physical or mental disabilities.
Is repentance a personal or collective issue? How can the community support repentant mothers?
It is a personal and collective issue at the same time.
If we personalize grief, we will forget how many Western societies push women towards motherhood, just as some women fail to adapt to motherhood (these mothers are advised to try hard). In solitude they have to deal with its consequences.
I think the first step to being supportive is to recognize women as subjects and not as objects. Here I openly state in a patriarchal position — we are human beings, flesh and blood. It also means that we can make mistakes.
The second step is to recognize that motherhood is a relationship, not a mythical empire. One of the relationships many of us are involved in, like the others, can rely on all kinds of emotions. If those in this relationship want to listen carefully and sometimes apologize, it will not be a traumatic experience. Therefore, a ‘firm’ view of motherhood and motherhood will give women the ability to breathe better physically and emotionally, and this will reduce the suffering that can occur in the lives of themselves and their children.
Personally, how does research relate to your decision about motherhood?
At the age of 16, I realized I would never be a mother. I don’t think this is something that should ever be solved. It seemed logical to me that some women want to be mothers and others do not.
However, it did not take me long to realize that the community was related to me as if I had a problem. In my view, society is the problem, not my reluctance to have children.
Here in Israel, women who do not want to be mothers are still reprimanded, as if they were not ‘real women’, ‘feminists’, ‘childish’ and ‘selfish’. In several publications about me, they said I decided to research why I am tired of hearing the common threat to women who do not want to be mothers. I never said, never felt.
What happened was that as women, I was intrigued by the common threat and the political use of emotions to reconcile us with motherhood. I wanted to better understand this triangle between sadness, maternity / non-maternity community.
I wanted to know why nothing was written about the possibility of women regretting being mothers.
His book “Mes Arrependidas” has also been translated into Japanese. How was the text obtained in these countries?
Since 2015, when I gave my first interview about my study, there have been many discussions in different places, but they seem to involve heated discussions, ranging from condemning these mothers to numerous reassuring testimonies about women’s repentance. In addition, an unknown number of women and mothers, through repentance, reinforced the importance of becoming mothers or expressing their concerns about occupying the position of the main caregiver of their children.
Were you attacked because of your book or did you receive any threats? Why can reactions be so aggressive when women talk about maternal grief?
I did not receive any threats after the book was published, but some of the comments were actually very aggressive. Aggressive responses are associated with maternal grief being considered prohibited.
What is your current research?
I teach some courses on the social perspective of maternity and motherhood in some colleges in Israel. For the past four years, I have moderated groups of women who are not sure whether they want to be mothers or not. We meet for ten weeks and discuss their feelings and reactions together on the topic. In addition, I started a new study about the lives of non-maternal older women (70 to 86 years old).