The conception of woman as mother continues to endure, despite the advances gained for women by the feminist movement and the increasing diversity of options available to them. Ideals of American self-determinism, while alive and strong in the encouragement of a woman to do anything she chooses in life, hit a stone wall when motherhood is expected to be among the things she chooses. The forces of pronatalism in society, in medicine, in psychological theories about women, in our religions, in the media, in the rewards and incentives for childbearing and in the minutia of day-to-day interactions between people, continue to link woman’s identity to reproductive function and define motherhood as woman’s destiny and purpose for being, making invisible or marginalizing those who choose a different path. Despite the transformation of our culture over recent decades into one of frank openness where everything and anything is discussed with abandon, silence remains on the downside of being a mother, the losses incurred in the selection of that lifestyle and the viability and attractiveness of the alternative childfree lifestyle. Motherhood continues to be glorified as the sole path to ultimate fulfillment for women, despite the growing numbers of women leading happy and fulfilling lives free its constraints.
For many women, motherhood is an experience whose rewards and advantages are deemed to outweigh the costs and sacrifices involved in being a mother. Similarly, for a growing number of women, the childfree lifestyle is rewarding with its own set of advantages which are deemed to outweigh any costs incurred in selecting this lifestyle. As women continue to make advances and expand avenues of growth, opportunity and freedom, our ideas of womanhood must also expand beyond the current limiting gender constructions which bind women so tightly to reproduction. Only when motherhood becomes an option instead of a mandate, and when a woman’s choice to reproduce is made freely in an environment where alternative paths are equally encouraged and nurtured and where the costs and benefits of each lifestyle path are presented openly, will all women enjoy the full spectrum of womanhood - and more importantly, of personhood.