Right at the start of the video call, Orna Donath, 46, is worried if I’m recording her, as she usually only does these kinds of email interviews. “This subject is so sensitive that it is imperative that my statements be recorded exactly as I intend them to.” Her sponsorship is understandable, because in every country where Sorry about motherhood (2017), her book causes great consternation. The book features 23 women who, if they could go back in time, would not have preferred not to be mothers.
Not a book I would have dared read on the train, a friend replied when I told her so. I understand her annoyance. But the fact that this topic is taboo shows, according to Orna Donath, that there is a missing layer in debates about motherhood. She believes “something that may not have had a language before.”
Women who do not want to be mothers are often told that they will regret it. She says Donath struggled with the dichotomy inherent in this note. This regret was, on the one hand, a weapon to intimidate women, and on the other, it prevented the possibility of regret after having children. She decided to dedicate her PhD research to the topic.
praised and righteous
In 2015 she published a scientific article about her research. In her wildest imagination, it would become, in more detail, a general book in Hebrew. With luck there will be an English translation. But when Donath gave an interview to a German newspaper that same year, it looked like a bomb had gone off. A stormy discussion erupted online under the hashtag #regrettingmotherhood, which quickly spread to other countries. She has received interview requests from all over the world, and her book is now on sale in 17 countries and languages. Thousands of responses followed. From anger and disbelief to relief and gratitude, Donath is praised, cursed, and in extreme cases burned at the stake. But she doesn’t let that stop her. She uses extreme reactions in her lectures at Ben-Gurion University and Tel Aviv University. “I make screen prints out of it to show my students what mothers have to deal with when they dare to speak out about their regrets.”
Why is it important to learn about unfortunate mothers’ stories?
“We are often told that having a baby is a wonderful experience, something you don’t want to miss. Under it is the false assumption that it will be a positive experience for every woman. Women who do not want children are often told that they might regret it. Many women see this as It’s a threat. We push women into motherhood, but when it proves to be a hard and lonely path, we judge them for it. I don’t think a woman can freely decide whether to become a mother if she doesn’t understand the complexities of this reality. Moreover, the stories of Remorseful mothers are more than just the fact of his existence. It’s a social and political story to listen to.”
What is this bigger story?
“The testimonies of the women who took part in my study were not only about motherhood but also about how politics uses emotions. This is how we as a society tend to control, manipulate, interfere with or suppress human emotions. Remember that women who give birth are important to a country. For all kinds of reasons, such as economics, capitalism, etc. Making room for women who refuse motherhood gives women the freedom to make their own decisions about their own bodies, thoughts, memories, emotions and needs.And it could be a threat to a society that for centuries has relied on women becoming mothers without questioning it too much “.
You’ve known from a young age that you don’t want children.
“I was sixteen years old when I heard my friends imagine how many children they would have and what names they would call them. Listening to their conversations, I found myself not envisioning such a future for myself. Motherhood was not something I was turning toward. Thirty years later, I Grateful that I felt so well at that age – and that I listened to my feelings, because it was still the right decision for me. What I didn’t know at the time was that society believed this was a problem that needed to be resolved.”
Are they judged by your environment?
“Not through my family, I am from a nice family in which we respect each other’s opinions. By others who don’t know me. In a live TV interview in Israel, the host asked who hit me when I was a child to prevent me from becoming a mother. I once read on the Internet that Someone wrote that I posted a lot on this subject because of the “bleeding wound” caused by my parents’ divorce. But my parents are still together, and I have no childhood trauma. It’s amazing how childhood trauma, and in my case even fabricated, is used as an explanation for choosing not to become a mother.”
It struck me that all the women I spoke to loved their children but hated the role of mother. Can you explain that?
“It’s like when you get divorced after a long relationship. Even then, you can still love that person, but they’re no longer in the partner role. The women I met usually think their kids are smart, funny, and kind, but at the same time condemn the relationship they have with them. They were They would prefer someone else to be their mother. It is important that we begin to think and talk about motherhood as a human relationship, not a role or a sanctuary. When we see it as a role, there is often only one scenario, which is about acting as the “ideal mother.” In contrast , if we think of it as a relationship, mothers are the people who evaluate, test, and evaluate their own situation to determine if it was worth it. Only then is there room for the full range of feelings that come with a relationship, from deep love to ambivalence and regret.”
Most of the women I spoke to did so anonymously, skeptical that they would ever dare talk about it with their children. Would it be wise to do so?
“Emotions are like water. If we ban them or ignore them, there will surely come a time when they explode. An honest conversation about this can be beneficial to a child, provided he has reached the age of understanding. After a lecture, I was approached by a young woman who told me that only now she understood her mother’s remorse.” This was the first time her mother also saw a woman in society; as someone who was pushed into a relationship that didn’t suit her. As a result, she suddenly felt sympathy for her mother, not just anger and disappointment. These last feelings are justified, but maybe it’s time to see our mothers Not only as mothers but also as individuals in their own right.”
What do you have in the future?
“As long as we live in a heterogeneous patriarchal society, it is difficult to be optimistic. At the same time, I want to contribute to giving more and more women from different social groups the freedom to live their lives the way they want to express themselves as they like. In some Sometimes we make mistakes and regret. This is part of freedom.”
A version of this article also appeared in the October 14, 2022 newspaper