On Tuesday, May 19, a group of powHERful women converged on Lakeview’s Pizzeria Serio‘s second floor to continue a conversation that ABOUT WOMEN founder Nikki Nigl began over a year ago. Speakers Rebecca Waterstone Halperin,Martii Kuznicki, Nora Fox Handler, Julie Roberts and Erin Waitz – women from different walks of life with varying experiences – took to the stage to share their stories of motherhood.
The question of whether to bear or raise children, despite a modern 21st Century world that affords women heretofore unthinkable opportunity, remains a sticky sociopolitical one. While recent decades have witnessed remarkable advances in family planning options and professional development for our gender, it’s impossible to ignore the loud and abundant opinions from all corners about what with we should do with our bodies and what our sex is “meant” to accomplish.
While having arrived at different personal decisions about what is right for them, the five speakers were united under a common theme of uncertainty. For those that opted to have children, there was ambiguity about career development, marital prioritization and in Handler’s case, concerns about a genetic irregularity that could impact childhood development. The speakers who were either unable biologically, or had made a conscious decision to skip motherhood, faced the possibility of regret or society’s judgment of them as “selfish.” The undecided, such as Waitz, are left to balance personal health concerns while trying to grow comfortable with the ambivalence.
While introducing the topic for the evening, Nigl informed the crowd that “To Have Kids or Not To Have Kids” was ABOUT WOMEN’s first repeat study alongside the ongoing body image conversation. Given the diversity of experiences shared by the speakers and attendees, it is easy to understand why. Either decision is, in its own way, a commitment. Kuznicki freely admitted of her choice to forgo childbearing, “Yes, I’m being selfish because somebody has to. I want to do me.” While Halperin spoke of the constant lack of control one must accept as a parent as such, “The best and biggest things are never what you thought they’d be – the feelings or the experience – and somehow that’s ok.”
I walked into Pizzeria Serio’s upstairs room that evening struggling with parental thoughts of my own. It was my distant, mentally ill 60 year-old father’s birthday and as I reflected upon my own tough upbringing, I wondered what drives people to make the decisions they do to bring lives into the world. As I suspected, the perspective and pressures are different for everyone, with more elements factoring into a decision either way than are found on the periodic table.
I didn’t come away with any definitive answers, because frankly, there are none to be found around this deeply personal and complex debate. But I did receive this stupendous piece of wisdom from Roberts, part of the evening’s amazing and brave panel: “No one is less because of what happens by nature or choice. No one.”