(Liya Rechtman)– here are four new babies born into my extended family in the past year. In making the holiday rounds, I had the pleasure of holding each one and trying to keep them away from pulling at my boobs/bangs/glasses. I was told, on more than one occasion, that these babies were going to be closer in age to my babies than to me. HA. Because I’m 19, and baby-making isn’t TOO far away anymore.
I didn’t really have a curfew growing up. When my mom found out that I had once tried smoking weed, it wasn’t really a big deal. My parents weren’t generally so big on arbitrary “parenting” rules. Similarly, when I came out, neither of them blinked noticeably. In fact, all my dad really had to say on the matter was a reminder of the Big Three – that is, the three things expected out of me in life if I want to have a place in the future of my family:
1. Get an education
2. Get married
3. Have Jewish babies
Until recently, I never questioned this value system. Well, getting an education, obviously in choosing to come to Amherst I was on that path. We’ll see what I can do with a degree in religion, but luckily “get a job” is not one of the conditional clauses to my good standing in the community. Marriage, it should be clarified, has never been limited to heterosexual, Christian concept of marriage and therefore generally poses no problem for me. Anyway No. 2 is a much, MUCH lower priority for my parents than Nos. 1 and 3. Marriage could potentially be bypassed in extenuating circumstances, such as the death of a spouse in a freak plane crash, alien abduction, or their spontaneous decision to join the Latter Day Saints in Utah.
The question that I’ve been thinking about most in these past few months is the issue of motherhood. A male friend of mine, who is strongly against the idea of ever having children, sent me a link called The Motherhood Myth. Basically, in 1970 Betty Rollin wrote that motherhood was a patriarchal scheme (constructed by the great male conspiracy running from St. Augustine to Planned Parenthood), which is oppressive to women. She says that “feminists” who yearn to be mothers, have merely bought into yet another system to keep women down. Any woman’s justification, such as the “maternal instinct” is basically brainwashing. In a particularly coarse metaphor, Rollin writes of feminist mothers: “Like heavy-bellied ostriches, they grounded their heads in the sands of motherhood, only coming up for air to say how utterly happy and fulfilled they were.”
At the time of reading the motherhood myth, I was taken aback. I felt like something sacred was being ruined, torn to pieces on the page. I felt this very strong impulse to call my friend yelling about he didn’t understand this expectation that was essential to my very being, my core value. What is there, really, what experience is more valuable than that of motherhood? What ideal could be more noble?
In asking some of my female friends about their conceptions of motherhood, I got the following responses:
A) Mother love is real, can make one happy, but yes, does involve sacrifice. Love is hard, and so is mothering, but that doesn’t preclude it from being real, honest love of an Other (in this case, a child). Motherhood (according to my mother, speaking from her experiences) has been a joyful time in her life. Not always, but generally speaking. The very sacrifice and selflessness of motherhood, outside of the reach of our individualistic/capitalist society, leads to a Buddhist sense of nirvana for some.
B) Motherhood is feminist and powerful. We should take advantage of what our bodies can do. Isn’t it cool that men can’t create like this, that science has not yet advanced to the level of what our bodies naturally do?
As one friend wrote: “I want to take advantage of what my body can offer. I would like to view my boobs as more than decoration. and I would like to one day be thankful for my period.”
And another: “How awesome is it to be a self-replicating machine? Engineers have been working towards that goal for, like, ever, and our bodies can do it. I think for anyone that values creation over destruction motherhood is appealing. Of course it’s not easy. Destruction is always easier. But you get to make a new person!”
C) Parenting gives you power over the next generation, an opportunity to pass down (in my case Jewish) traditions, and cultural values. Perhaps on a less selfish note, it allows you to “introduce the world to someone.”
Yes, yes, yes. All of these arguments made sense to me. However, there are plenty of kinds of love that I want to experience in my life. Most of them involve sacrifice, all of them are special, but there are certainly some things that require the exclusion of others (a life-long, monogamous partner, for example, would hinder me from long-term extramarital affairs…) Similarly, as my roommate said on the subject “just because I have it [the ability to reproduce], just because I can, doesn’t mean I should.” And there are other ways to show someone the world, to pass on values, perhaps more effective ways, than rattling about Jewish traditions in the car every morning for 10 minutes on the way to school.
In thinking further about it, what began to scare me was less the rude imposition of Rollin’s ideas on my life plan, and more my impulsive reaction, my immediate rejection of a challenge to my ideal.
In the same way that I felt I needed to take some time off from Judaism before committing myself to Jewish practice on a more mature (warier) level, I think everyone should occasionally step back from their belief systems to re-examine them. We’re in college. Every girl is bisexual for at least 30 seconds one night, everyone tastes tofu, pulls an all-nighter, and vomits once from drinking. More to the point: this is the time when we get to question everything, all of our ideals should be thrown up in the air and shot, at the first light of dawn. The ones we have left at graduation we know are true.
Who the FUCK knows if I’ll get married or be a mother. When push comes to shove, my parents probably won’t disown me if I break the golden rules. And anyway, I have a couple years left (like 16-20 years) before I really have to start working that out.
For now, here’s to smart friends and many more periods!
Thanks to JJames, CZ, Cherry and BKflamebroiled