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Motherhood …on our own terms

May 13, 2010

May 9th was the 50th anniversary of the FDA’s first announcement it would approve the pill.  The pill’s 50th birthday has generated plenty of buzz.  It’s part of my job to keep up with the news on birth control, abortion, and all things reproductive health, so perhaps I am more aware of the volume of “Happy 50th Birthday to The Pill” stories out there than others. I’d like to say I have been incredibly diligent and read every word of every article about the pill’s fabulous 50th.   I haven’t. (An avalanche of stories about a SCOTUS nominee are also vying for my attention this week.) 

However, I have read more than a few interesting commentaries about the pill and its impact on our lives.  One of my favorites, The pill: Making motherhood better for 50 yearsappeared in the Washington Post on Sunday. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the history of the pill or family planning, this commentary by Elaine Tyler May provides a good (quick) overview.  But it’s not May’s history lesson, or the stats, or the references to music that drew me in.  It’s her statement in the first paragraph:

“its great accomplishment was not in preventing motherhood, but in making it better by allowing women to have children on their own terms.”

Motherhood on our own terms.  That sings to me.  Access to contraception gives women the freedom to embrace (or reject) motherhood as we see fit.  The pill has been around my entire life.  Unlike the women of the generation before me, I grew up knowing that there was a safe, reliable way for me to prevent pregnancy until I was ready.  And, for much of my 20’s, I thought that I would never be ready. I had no interest in getting married and didn’t think I ever wanted to have kids—I had other plans.

When I turned 30, my plans changed.  Now, in my 40’s, I view my childbearing years as being behind me.  I am the mother of an only child; my only child is a teenager.  When it comes to kids, I am quite a happily a “one and done” mom. Like other working moms, I juggle.  At various points in my son’s life this juggling has been easier than at others.

The pill (and the great options that came after, like the patch and the ring) makes it possible for women to exercise real power over when, and how many (if any) children we have.  But, as May points out,

“it doesn’t solve the problem of how to combine caring for children with going to work.”

This sings to me too. It also doesn’t solve the problem of getting society to trust women and respect our decisions about marriage and family.  50 years after the pill and there are still people who have a hard time accepting that some women choose not to get married or not to have children.

Whether you are 40, or 30, or 20, these gender stereotypes can be frustrating. When the three of us who blog here first discussed the idea of motherhood on our own terms,  Trista said she doesn’t think she ever wants to have children.  She followed this up with “when I say that, people always tell me I will change my mind.”  Wow, talk about a gender stereotype. So, I thought a minute and then responded: “maybe you will, maybe you won’t.  Only you can decide.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Amy Ulness permalink
    May 14, 2010 12:32 pm

    Great article Lisa. Here’s one that has some good historical data on the pill–dispelling the myth that the pill caused the sexual revolution or somehow caused women (who otherwise would have not have been) to become promiscuous. I didn’t realize how many states even into the 1970s wouldn’t sell the pill to single women.

  2. Carolyn permalink
    May 14, 2010 2:41 pm

    “Trista said she doesn’t think she ever wants to have children. She followed this up with ‘when I say that, people always tell me I will change my mind.'”

    And they will never stop telling you that! The first time I saw what childbirth really entailed – the full on truth of it – I knew I never wanted to do it; I was 21 at the time. And the god of my understanding actually gave me a condition that would make it very hard for me to conceive even if I ever wanted to to. Into my early 40’s when I told other women(in response to their asking) that I didn’t have children, I was met with the phrase “You still have time.”

    I turned 45 this year. Now when the subject comes up, I’m told by these same women that I shouldn’t worry – I can always adopt. BUT I DON’T WANT TO BE A MOTHER. And I’ve chosen a partner that doesn’t want to be a father. We both know this as sure as we know our names. I wish the rest of society would just be accepting of it. I have endless respect for the women who choose to become mothers – I would just like also to be respected as the relatively fully-formed adult woman that I am despite not having chosen motherhood.

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