Mother and child—it’s an ideal portrait. The kind they paint on church walls and immortalize in stained glass. There’s a reason why the first and most essential of human relationships has achieved iconic status: it’s a beautiful thing.
Regardless of the bump-nirvana that celeb weeklies peddle, motherhood is not the be-all and end-all of female development. In the real world, the biological imperative doesn’t always win out. And yet, many women still feel weirdly compelled to conform or address the picture-perfect ideal. Women that long to bear a child but can’t, or haven’t, feel somehow marked by society with a failing grade in femininity, while those that have consciously chosen not to become mothers feel defensive, as if they need to justify their alternative existence.
That defensiveness, however, may be trending downward. In an interview with Health this summer, Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks put her lack of maternal feelings in pretty simple terms: she and her husband just aren’t into it. “We’ve decided that we are not really interested in having children,” she told the mag.
The Cut recently culled quotes from 25 famous women on the topic of childlessness. Among the notable women quoted are Oprah, Gloria Steinem, Stevie Nicks, Anjelica Huston, Dolly Parton, Condoleeza Rice, Kim Cattrall and many others. Their remarks are prescribed reading for women who are sick to death of politely tolerating invasive personal questions and judgments about the state of their uterus. This quote by Helen Mirren justifies her Dame status.
“It was not my destiny, I kept thinking it would be, waiting for it to happen, but it never did, and I didn’t care what people thought … It was only boring old men [who would ask me]. And whenever they went, ‘What? No children? Well, you’d better get on with it, old girl,’ I’d say ‘No! F*** off!’”
But the list is far more than just an impolite middle finger to the insensitive, the nosy and the downright jerky; taken together, it’s also a poignant and tender compilation of emotion that reveals that the decision not to become a mother is as fraught as the decision to become one. Neither path is a guarantee to nirvana, no matter how pretty the stained glass.