Motherhood: A Natural Desire or Taught by Society?

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In 2010 I was required to write a short essay on a controversial topic while in college. I chose to explore motherhood and they way it is seen by society as a biological desire.

Motherhood: A Natural Desire or Taught by Society?


Motherhood is pushed upon women from an early age. There are baby dolls, small kitchens, and even tiny irons and ironing boards to perpetuate the idea that a woman must be a mother. They are trained through play as toddlers, and then encouraged to babysit in the teenage years. In adulthood they are told that being a mother is every woman’s instinct, it’s as natural as going to the bathroom. What if you don’t feel the need? Then society tells you that you will later, you’ll change your mind. But is the desire for motherhood as instinctual as we are lead to believe, or is more of the instinct to be accepted by your peers? Childless women are often pitied, the women who are mothers whispering about how they just feel so bad for her. That is unless the women is childfree, which is what people who chose not to have children call themselves. Then the whispers of pity turn ugly. Everyone wonders how a woman could not feel the urge to give birth and nature another human being. As Betty Rolin points out in her essay Motherhood: Who Needs It? motherhood is an exclusive club.  If you do not have a child, you often sit and watch as pregnant friends are showered with attention. Then after the children are born you may start to get called less or not invited to lunch as much because you don’t have anything baby related to talk about.


 I believe that motherhood is not an innate desire that all women possess but rather a socially constructed want. Even as a modern society where women have equal rights, we still think a woman is destined to be a mom, rather she realizes it now or not. The tabloids scrutinize celebrity photos, proclaiming any bit of a tummy is a baby bump. Even successful and wealthy actress, Jennifer Aniston, is portrayed as desperate for a baby and lonely. Every other week there are tabloid headlines claiming she is finally pregnant with the baby that she has been longing for. Why is it so hard for us to believe she might be happy with the way her life is? Surely she could afford adoption or fertility treatments.Further fueling the fire that Jenn is obsessed with having a child, is ex-husband Brad Pitt. The public is often leaded to believe that Brad Pitt left Jenifer Aniston because he wanted to have children, and that is why he ended up with Angelina Jolie. He now has a total of six biological and adoptive children with Jolie, whose behavior was often considered controversial. However after the adoption of her first child the media no longer depicted her as a wild child but rather a successful mother. Because we start this ideal at such a young age it easy to believe that motherhood is an instinct


Preferences of gender based toys begin around age one .Stereotypes are reinforced when we encourage girls to play with “feminine” toys such as baby dolls, strollers, and doll houses. The preferences children begin to show is from becoming aware that they are a boy or a girl and how their parents and other family members expect them to act. Parents often continue to plug the idea of motherhood to girls, suggesting that their first job should be a babysitting job or instructing them to look after younger siblings while they are away. Once again teaching them that a woman’s job is to look after children. On the other hand most young boys often mow lawns or paint houses to earn cash in their adolescence. This idea is clearly present even in professional child care; only four percent of men are employed in the child care industry (Frean). That may have to do with the fact that people are often against hiring a man to look after their children. As adults we feel that a woman is better suited to look after a child than a man. We often stereotype women as caring, nurturing and that every woman loves to be around children while we think of men as clueless when it comes to kids, and more useful for their paycheck and their ability to pick up heavy object than for their parental skills. This is often referenced in films and TV for entertainment. For example in the film, The Pacifier, when a tough NAVY seal is assigned to watch after children hijinks insure. Or we think that the only good male nanny must be a homosexual which is the case in the novel The Manny Files.


Certainly there is evidence that contradicts that every woman is an instant grow mommy. Even with a tremendous amount of pressure put on them by others they are women who simply do not want children. Simply look to the number of abortion clinics, adoption agencies, and the safe haven infant drop off locations.  Tisdale feels abortion proves that women are not made to be a mother by nature:


In a literal sense, abortion exists because we are able to ask such questions, able to assign a value to the fetus which can shift with changing circumstances. If the human bond to a child were as primitive and unflinchingly narrow as that of other animals, there would be no abortion. There would be no abortion because there would be nothing more important than caring for the young and perpetuating the species, no reason for sex but to make babies. (751)


Every year hundreds of women seek an abortion to get rid of the inconvenience of a child. Some may feel anxious or guilty about going through with it but they do. Because any guilt or remorse they will have will also be accompanied by the relief of not having to have a child that they don’t want or feel a desire to have. In a survey of women who were getting an abortion, seventy four percent indicated the reason for the abortion as “having a baby would dramatically change my life” (Jones). If there was nothing but an overwhelming desire then seventy four percent of the abortions performed wouldn’t be because a baby will change a woman’s life. 


The more shocking evidence that motherhood is a taught desire is when mothers kill their own children. Think back to 1994, when Susan Smith reported that she had been carjacked by a man who took off while her young children were still strapped into the backseat.  She was shown on the news crying and pleading to the man that took her children to please bring them back safely. Later she confessed that she left the children in the car while she let her car roll into a lake. One may jump to the conclusion that she most of had post-partum or some other psychosis. However she was determined guilty and sentenced to life in prison. The prosecution also alleged her motive for killing her children, was that she had recently received a letter from ex-lover Tom Findlay expressing his desire to have a relationship with her but that he didn’t want children.  If motherhood was something that was embedded in our DNA we wouldn’t have cases of children who are murdered at the hands of their own mothers. The desire to nurture them would overcome anything else.


Death by the hands of a mother is more common than one may think. Safe Haven laws have been enacted in every state which allows a newborn to be left anonymously at designated locations, commonly hospitals, fire, and police stations, without the mother being charged with abandonment (Infant Abandonment).These laws were enacted to help reduce the number of babies who would otherwise become victims of infanticide. The laws were based on Mobile Alabama’s Secret Place locations, which also let a scared woman drop off the child at an emergency room anonymously instead of abandoning or harming the infant.  The organization was founded after reporter Jodi Brooks covered stories of infants being abandoned in dumpsters, canals, and even left out in the woods.  Brooks then had to cover a trail in which a mother helped her daughter drown her newborn son in a toilet. What was the reason that the well off, well-educated and religious women gave for murdering the baby? The feared that if anyone knew the daughter had a child out of wedlock that others would look down at them and gossip about them(Nagy).


  If we have to enact laws so that women can abandon their children rather than murder them, there is no way we can go on believing that all women want to nurture and take care of another human being.  While it is true that some women genuinely enjoy children and long for one of their own, it does not necessarily mean that this is a biological imperative. If a woman is unable or unwilling to have a child, she will still go on living and breathing, they only thing harmed might be her social standing.  Ultimately, as a society we need to recognize that not all women feel a desire to reproduce and we shouldn’t pressure women who don’t feel the need to.  Without that pressure, the number of children abandoned and placed in the system to be adopted would be reduced dramatically, as would the number of infant deaths.And why wouldn’t we want that?


Works Cited


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Hill, Amelia. “Who needs, you baby?” The Observer. The Observer, 21 July 2002. Web.


2 Aug. 2010.


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Jones, Rachel, et al. “Reasons U.S. women have abortions: quantative and qualitative


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Nagy, John. “Reporters Query Begets Safe Havens for Abandoned Infants.” Stateline.


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Pesta, Abigail. “To Breed or Not to Breed?” Marie Claire. Hearst Communication Inc.,


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Rollin, Betty. “ Motherhood: Who Needs It?” The Norton Reader: An Anthology of Non-


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“Susan Smith.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Aug. 2010. Web. 22 July 2010.


The Pacifier. Dir. Adam Shankman. 2005. Disney DVD. 2005. DVD.


Tisdale, Sallie. “We Do Abortions Here: A Nurse’s Story?” The Norton Reader: An


Anthology ofNon-Fiction. Ed. Linda H. Peterson and John C. Brereton. New


York: Norton, 2008. 747-754. Print.

Submitted: January 08, 2018

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