Why I might have chosen the child-free life

During a recent radio interview with EWTN’s Sonrise Morning Show, we discussed how body image plays a role in keeping women from embracing pregnancy and becoming mothers. Our culture definitely perpetuates the whole I-don’t-want-to-do-that-to-my-body – “that” being pregnancy, otherwise known as granting your stomach and bum their very own zip codes and saying sayonara to your ankles for several months. This is my {hot} body and I’m not giving it up for a baby. Sacrificial love is out of style. And our bodies are mere objects rather than instruments we have the responsibility to take care of in order to fulfill our vocations.

I honestly thought we’d be discussing Time magazine’s recent “The Childfree Life” article, but I’m always up for a little body image talk. And as the conversation continued, it became clear that the fear of a woman losing her pre-mom bod ties in to the decision of more and more married couples to skip the whole procreation thing, and I did end up marbling in some of the the talking points I’d prepared into the conversation

I noticed Time cover story when I was sitting in the waiting room at the dentist. I don’t pay much attention to that “news” magazine, especially since I had a less-than-desirable personal experience with it. On the cover, there was a picture of a beautiful couple with toned bodies sunbathing with blissful smiles on their faces under the headline”The Childfree Life.” I thought of reading the article, but I decided to stick with checking out a chic pair of boots I had pulled up on my smartphone because I’m deep like that. Besides, I knew the cover and the article, which I did eventually check out online, had its own sensationalist agenda. Honestly, that toothy couple reminded me of advertising than journalism. Showing a good-lucking, childless couple was just another savvy marketing campaign. Forgo pregnancy, adoption, or any other way of acquiring soul-sucking, money pits, also known as children, and you, too, can travel the world, find the ultimate kind of happiness, and look like a movie star.

The cover definitely was suggesting choosing not to have children can be equated with more happiness, or in the very least, with more freedom to pursue things that might make you happy. On the flip side, the parenting camp has been guilty of using our own alluring marketing. Children are always blessings not burdens! You don’t know what real happiness is until you bring a child in to the world. They’re hard work, but they’re worth it. They give far more than they take! You think you’ll be fulfilled without them, but just wait when you’re old and there’s no one to take care of you! Have children, and you’ll have a different kind of happiness!

Upon closer examination, we see that child-free couples don’t have perfect careers or envy-worthy bodies, and they’re not always on vacation either. Their life is sometimes good and carefree, but I can bet sometimes it sucks. Just as parents’ lives sometimes do because of their kids or not. And children? Yes, of course they’re blessings, but sometimes they are a pain in the you-know-what. Children force us to live in the present, and usually this is put forward as a positive thing, but when that present involves poop all over your walls or a teenager screaming he hates you, you may wish you were anywhere but in that gut-wrenching, toxic moment. We love our children fiercely, but sometimes they disappoint us in little ways and in big ways, too. Or we disappoint ourselves because we don’t parent exactly the way we planned or desired. I’ve often wondered if my own parents have ever regretted having my older brother, who has given us hope but also plenty of despair throughout his lifelong struggle with addiction. I know they love him terribly and have invested many prayers in him and have also learned a lot from dealing with his sickness, but do they ever regret having him? I seriously doubt it. Anything worth creating exacts a prices from its creator, and sometimes the cost is very, very high. I should ask them. When I do, I’ll share what I find out.

I love being a mom, and I hold it to a very high esteem and yet, I can’t simply sugarcoat children or over-glorify motherhood anymore than someone who doesn’t choose to have kids can elevate the a life sans kiddos to one of hassle-free, money-flowing bliss. Nor can we making sweeping statements that people who choose to not have children are selfish. They are doing what they think will make them happy, and if we moms are honest, having children is something we pursue, in part, because we believe it would and does make us happy on some level. As Christian moms, our adversaries might even argue that we are “selfish” in that we are open to life because it serves as a conduit to grace or perhaps even a path to sainthood.

I’ve seen myriad responses to the Time magazine article – many of which have been guilty of accusing one side as being selfish or narrow-minded, but, again, it’s not so black and white, and both sides are idealizing their own realities. I’ve also seen arguments stripped of any emotions that simply present the practical and economic concerns of the dwindling birth rates in the United States. I have a friend who has more than half a dozen lovely children. She says that when approached about their super-sized family, her husband sometimes jokes that he’s just just trying to save Social Security. A funny way to deflect any potential judgment on the size of his family, yes, but there is some truth to it. We need young people to take care of the aging population.

To that end, Fr. Robert Barron discussed the problem with individualism when specifically applied to the decision to have children or not in his response to the Time article.

He writes,

What particularly struck me in this article was that none of the people interviewed ever moved outside of the ambit of his or her private desire. Some people, it seems, are into children, and others aren’t, just as some people like baseball and others prefer football. No childless couple would insist that every couple remain childless, and they would expect the same tolerance to be accorded to them from the other side. But never, in these discussions, was reference made to values that present themselves in their sheer objectivity to the subject, values that make a demand on freedom. Rather, the individual will was consistently construed as sovereign and self-disposing.

And this represents a sea change in cultural orientation. Up until very recent times, the decision whether or not to have children would never have been simply “up to the individual.” Rather, the individual choice would have been situated in the context of a whole series of values that properly condition and shape the will: family, neighborhood, society, culture, the human race, nature, and ultimately, God. We can see this so clearly in the initiation rituals of primal peoples and in the formation of young people in practically every culture on the planet until the modern period. Having children was about carrying on the family name and tradition; it was about contributing to the strength and integrity of one’s society; it was about perpetuating the great adventure of the human race; it was a participation in the dynamisms of nature itself. And finally, it was about cooperating with God’s desire that life flourish: “And you, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it” (Gen. 9:7). None of this is meant to be crushing to the will, but liberating. When these great values present themselves to our freedom, we are drawn out beyond ourselves and integrated into great realities that expand us and make us more alive.

It is finally with relief and a burst of joy that we realize that our lives are not about us. Traditionally, having children was one of the primary means by which this shift in consciousness took place. That increasingly this liberation is forestalled and that people are finding themselves locked in the cold space of what they sovereignly choose, I find rather sad.

Fr. Robert Barron is a master wordsmith, intellectual, and a great theologian, so I very much appreciate and respect his analysis, and, yes, as a mother myself I do find it sad that some people aren’t having kids. I know what they are missing. (I know I’m missing some things, too. We do trips around here, not vacations. There is a difference.) However, there’s something more than solipsism behind this new childless ethos in our culture: Fear.

I cannot help but think of women I know who have made the decision to not have children and how outwardly, their decisions seem to be based upon what they think will make them happy (and perhaps does) – their desire to travel, their brilliant careers, or just not wanting to be tied down. But I have had several childless friends who, perhaps after a few glasses of wine, have confided in me that the real reason they don’t want to bring children into the world is rooted in fear. They’re not being selfish. On the contrary, they’re being overly concerned with what might go wrong if they become a mother. They are fearful for the children they may never have. That fear is not self-seeking; it comes from a place of love and a desire to do what they think is right. And I’m not talking about the fear of losing her girlish figure like Jillian Michaels once admitted to. No, it’s something even scarier than acquiring stretch marks. She’s afraid she will be an awful mother, and she’s great at her career and being a wife, so why screw things up? Or she’s afraid her genetics will come back to haunt her, and her child will grow up to have an addiction, an eating disorder, or some other mental health disease. Or she will get leukemia. Or she will just grow up to hate her. Her co-workers don’t hate her. She doesn’t want to be hated. She wants to be loved, and there’s a chance that that vessel of hopes and dreams we parents call babies will be a disappointment or will turn out like that terrifying character in the haunting novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin.


I know another friend who does have a child and pondered having another one, but she just can’t make the jump. She makes things happen in the workplace; yet, she can’t make her child poop on the potty or do much of anything else. In a hushed whisper, she confesses she’d like to have another child, but she’s afraid – not just about finances and all that practical stuff – but because she feels like she’s sometimes a horrible mother. She knows the joy of being a mother and how it makes her a better person. But sometimes it makes her a worse person. Sometimes it hurts so viscerally, she’s not sure she can handle any more of it. She loves her child, but she doesn’t always love being a mother. She’s afraid she’s screwing up her kid.

Me, too, I whisper back. I’ve joked that at least with four kids one should turn out okay and will hopefully be a happy, selfless human being who remembers to call me on my birthday. But maybe not.

I know those fears intimately well. Lately, in fact, I’ve had more a lot of anxiety about my mothering. I don’t feel like I do too much right, and I’m worried that my children will share my own anxiety one day. I want them to be content and trusting and naturally happy – all these things that don’t come easy to me.

When my first child was put into my arms, I experienced profound joy, but I felt terrified, too. I wasn’t afraid of dropping my baby on her head or of SIDS, although trimming those tiny nails on those pink, delicate fingers made me nervous. My husband seemed to worry more about germs and all the potential physical dangers. My fears were more of the emotional variety. Before becoming a mother, I was aware of all those fears that were mostly about what I would lose once that squawking little one was placed in my arms – money, my body, the ability to travel, spontaneity, sleep. But even as I did start to lose some of those things just being pregnant, those weren’t the fears that kept me up at night. I was more afraid of what I might gain. Once I had a baby, I would have a new insight into my humanity, and I would be so invested in something I would love with all my being, but that love, well, it might not be enough. Wrapped right along with that sweet bundle of joy was the sometimes crippling fear that I’d be a horrible mother, that despite caring so much, maybe too much, I’d screw up big time.

It’s this fear that the Time magazine article and the child-free couples as well as parents seem to have completely overlooked as a reason for choosing not to have kids. They probably wouldn’t even admit that it ever came into play. There just was never a desire to have kids, they might argue. Maybe not, but fear has a funny way of burying every other feeling you’ve ever had. It can take over and is more invasive than the most noxious weed.

It’s this fear I have had to overcome every time I’ve given birth to a new life. It’s not wishing I could afford more designer jeans in my closet, hide away more money in our retirement savings account, or have more time to pursue writing that novel I’ve been dreaming about that would have kept me from procreating. If I had let anything prevent me from becoming a mother, it would have been fear that I’d be a dreadful mom, and my kids – because of what I did or didn’t do – would turn out to be miserable, in need of therapy, or not so nice.

G.K. Chesterton said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” But we don’t want to do things badly. Getting fired from a job stinks, but feeling like you nurtured a bad seed or raised a terribly unhappy child? I’m not sure I could handle that. But what if I’d caved in to those fears? What if we all did? Being a parent is worth it – even when you make mistakes. Which we do. All of the time.

Here’s the thing about us parents, more specifically Christian parents. If we believe in God, then we believe in hope. We believe in redemption. We believe in light being born out of darkness. We bank on God’s compassion when we, in our human weakness, don’t dole it out to our children very freely or when we’re not very compassionate with ourselves. We slip, we stumble, we screw up all the time as parents, but God somehow makes good out of the mess we create or that is created for us and is out of our control. We don’t always see evidence of the goodness, but we believe it is there. If we don’t, then we’re not really believers.

As for being imperfect parents to imperfect children, we don’t give up on our children or our lowly selves, but sometimes we do have to give our children and ourselves up to Him. Whether we’re worried about money, losing our identity, or just being a lousy parent, we turn to Him. We trust. We learn to be optimists even when the glass is glaringly empty. This isn’t easy for someone with melancholic tendencies such as myself, but I have to be a Pollyanna – my faith demands that of me – and I have to learn to not rely on my own strength but to be open to the Holy Spirit and to believe in the promises of Christ.

The primacy of self may be partly to blame for people choosing the childless life, but it’s sometimes to blame for choosing to have kids, too. We want the good without the bad. We want the cuddles and kisses without the poop, tantrums, or wayward older children. We want the teenagers without the hormones. We want to kiss a boo-boo and have it immediately be all better. We don’t want to hurt or see our kids hurt. We certainly don’t want to hurt our own kids. We invest in our children because that’s what parents do but also because we expect a return for our investment. We want to see the fruit of our work ripen well and become something beautiful. We want to bear virtuous and content people into the world; we don’t want to create slaves to addiction or depression or worldly desires for sons or daughters. But becoming a parent forces you to face your fears. It forces you to relinquish control, to trust, and to look beyond yourself as well as your own limitations. When we’re fearful of rejection or what may come of us or our children, we become more focused on ourselves and our own desires. We push our children or even the idea of parenthood further and further away because we’re a bunch of scaredy cats.

Recently, I was having a lousy day. My kids’ behavior was lackluster probably because they sensed that Mama was anxious. Well, a child or two was deserving of compassion that I did not give. Later that same day I wept and wondered how I could be so unkind to the people I love the most. I found myself wondering why the heck I was blessed with these children. How were my kids going to turn out having me as a mother? Then, not too long after my maternal misstep, I heard a child crying. Another child ran to her younger sister and reached out to her, “I am so sorry. Will you forgive me?” Not too long after the sincere apology and the mercy in return, they were playing together again. And I was hopeful. It is always hope that conquers my fears. When I feel like I’m sinking, I am buoyed by hope.

I wish I could convince all those couples contemplating having children that parenthood is the path to pure bliss, but that wouldn’t necessarily be true. Sometimes parenting a child is the path to heartbreaking sadness, financial woes, health worries, and more. Having a child makes you more vulnerable than ever before. I don’t know what the future holds for my own children – the ones who are here with me today and the ones who might end up under my care in the future. But if some of those subterranean fears surface and become a reality, I know what I must do. I must cast any blame aside. I’ll have to hold onto hope and detach myself from thinking I can save my child, or the belief that if I don’t save her or keep her from harm or unhappiness, that it’s because I am a lousy mother. I may have to let go of the very happiness our world lauds and says we are in control of and should seek. As Fr. Barron eloquently points out, our lives aren’t about us. We find freedom when we free ourselves from our own expectations and when we let go of the fear enough to let hope in.

Most of us who have chosen to have children (or it has been chosen for us and we have accepted it with grace and trust) probably do see children as bringing happiness and adding something meaningful to our lives. Children will grow up to be the adults who will someday save us all, we might tell our childless friends. Upon closer scrutiny, however, none of these things may actually end up being true at least not all of the time. Yet, every child we add to our families and communities serves as an ambassador of hope, a reminder that the future is worth investing in and sticking around for.

Having children sometimes brings happiness but it’s when it doesn’t that it becomes even more apparent that accepting the call to parenthood is one of the bravest and most hopeful things we can do.

A valediction forbidding mourning

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I fell in love with John Donne’s “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” when I was 15. Obviously, I was a super cool teenager. I’d read the poem over and over and at first, the melancholy would wash over me as I imagined myself parting from the imaginary lover I didn’t have (I didn’t have a prom date either) and how leaving this object of my affection would feel a lot like death. But as I continued to read, I’d feel hopeful as I realized that my love would be a higher, more spiritual love that distance could not destroy.

I’ve always been a hopeless romantic and a wee bit melodramatic. But the mood of those teenage years – the acute emotion, the assured sense of wisdom when I knew squat, the social butterfly who really craved quiet alienation from the superficialities of my peers – sometimes seems so far away that I can’t imagine I ever was a teen. There are moments, though, when I find my way back. Poems that I read for pleasure (or pain; do all teens tend toward masochism?), not just because I wanted to ace my AP English exam ticker through my head now and then.

Donne’s poem – or at least the title – came back to me when I suffered the malady of a broken heart in college (there was plenty of mourning then). Sometimes I’d think of Donne even when I had to say good-bye to someone I loved. On Wednesday evening when all the kids were asleep, I prepared bookbags for the first ever day of “real” school at the Wicker household. The soon-to-be valediction weighing heavily on my heart, I started to cry. Just a few tears here and there, but there was definitely more than a drop of mourning.

On Thursday – the very first day of school – I tried to forbid further mourning as my children departed, but it was easier said than done.

All week long I’ve been a wreck, anxious, and feeling like I made the wrong decision. My children have been my constant companions for over eight years now (I’m counting my pregnancy with my first). They have also been the object of so many of my fantasies and fears. Yesterday morning I had visions of my kids shining, but I had darker visions of their hearts breaking, too, or their creativity being crushed or them just being bored. Or some mean kid telling them it was stupid for a girl to like Star Wars or dinosaurs or pirates. Or, what if they loved it all and didn’t miss me a bit? On the eve of the first day and that morning, I wanted nothing more than to hold them close and tell them I’d made an awful mistake and that I’d keep them by my side forever.

I didn’t do this, of course. I did start crying during my early morning run. My friends were such good listeners and did not for one moment poke fun or roll their eyes at my heightened emotions. I did find a bottle of wine at my doorstep when I returned home from a dear friend with a note encouraging me as a mother and giving me permission to be sad. I did suck it up and put on a brave face. And I did even feel a swell of pride for my brave girls and their bright smiles.

Even the child who was most reluctant to start this new chapter appeared eager to see what lies ahead; yet, she hijacked my heart when she was not afraid to look back and give her Mama one last wave and “I love you.”

When I asked my 6-year-old if she wanted me to walk her to her class, she said emphatically, “No! You don’t even need to walk me in.” When I asked my 8-year-old, what she wanted, she said, “I’ll be fine, and I’ll check to make sure Rachel is fine, too.”

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And so I let go. (I had to; my husband gave me a kiss and said it would be okay and took the kids from me, truth be told.) I tried to not feel like a total homeschooling reject. A homeschooling mama’s words helped:

“Changing is not quitting, my friend. Often it takes more vision and courage to change than to continue in the same path.”

The change of watching my big girls walk out of my house (and it felt like out of my heart) provoked fear and uncertainty to swirl around inside of me. (But I always told myself I would never homeschool simply out of fear.) And there was the sadness, too. Oh, the all-over-aching sadness that came with a half-empty house. The two littles and I prepared not-so-healthy after-school snacks (the menu might have included chocolate truffles that melt in your mouth), and I felt like it was too quiet and not chaotic enough to only have two instead of four sous chefs at my side.

But the reunion was sweet. My children returned to me happy.

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That helped to forbid the mourning just a bit. Maybe in the midst of the hair-raising push-pull of rearing four children 8 and under, where my days are spent sifting through senseless disagreements and mounds of clothing and plastic toys, we’ve actually done something right. Maybe the emotional sediment of trying to do my best and apologizing when I fall way, way, way short is settling into place and making for a firm foundation. Maybe my kids are really connected to me and realize how much I love them and will be good, kind, confident people even when they’re off on their own. Maybe, when we part, we aren’t suffering a loss or gaining distance but growing and becoming closer despite the physical divide.

“endure not yet

A breach, but an expansion,”

{I remember several years ago reading a weepy blog post from a parent who was sending her daughter off to school for the first time and thinking it was a little overly dramatic. And here I am quoting John Donne poetry after waking up at 4:19 a.m. to cry my eyes out.}

It doesn’t help that my almost 2-year-old is nursing less and less or that one friend recently remarked that he was a little boy now and not a baby, and another friend saw my 8-year-old and couldn’t believe how much she’d changed and was looking more like a young woman than a little girl. There’s a lot of weaning going on around here.

When I held my first tiny treasure close to nine years ago now, I was afraid of the unknown then as well. It was new beginnings that were sometimes daunting – that first labor experience wondering if I could do it (I did! Four times!), learning how to nurse, watching my new walker toddle off and not worry she’d trip and crack her head open, figuring out how to nestle her into an Ergo.

Now all that seems easy. It’s not finding the right latch while nursing that I worry about; it’s that latch breaking and never happening again that makes me wince.

Years ago I wrote about how hard it was when my second abruptly stopped nursing. I thought she’d weaned for good since she didn’t nurse for around two weeks, but it did turn out to be a nursing strike (and also around the time I unexpectedly got pregnant with my third). It felt like the worse kind of rejection to have a little one choose to not nurse rather than the other way around or rather than have a slow, mutual, and gradual weaning process. I always have a hard time weaning – not just from the breast but just from my kids needing me less. There’s joy in knowing your child is becoming her own person, but there’s that fear and sadness again threatening to overshadow everything. This week I had to forget all of that. I had to hold my head high and trust and know that being a mother is just one long process of weaning. Motherhood reveals the inextricable double helix of love and heartache like nothing else.

I wrote this when I was faced with my second “weaning mommy,” and it seems to apply to the changes my family is going through right now as well:

First, newborns are weaned from their mother’s womb. Then, arms open wide, they’re sailing down a hill on their bikes and we’re screaming, “Keep your hands on those handlebars!” Before we know it the very children we thought would never sleep through the night or get out of diapers are heading off to college with an assured (and perhaps inflated) sense of wisdom.

To be a parent is to teach my children to be less dependent on me and more dependent on themselves. This is just one of the ciphers of parenting: to figure out when you need to hold on and when it’s time to let go. I’m only just discovering that the holding on is much, much easier to do.

My two oldest weren’t going off to college this week, but it did feel monumental sending them to a small, safe school just down the road, and the letting go was scary and yes, sad for me, and I could not forbid all mourning. How quickly the time has come to say good-bye to two older children while there’s no longer a baby wedged on my hip, flapping fat fingers at the departing sisters while babbling, “Bye-bye.” There was a 4-year-old with neatly coiffed hair and a toddler hugging my leg, but I felt like my kids were the fastest moving timepieces that were ever created on that first morning of school. Tick, tock, Tick, tock.

So, yes, there were some more tears. (A friend asked me on Facebook if I cried. My response? “Affirmative.”)

But there was hope, too. There was the belief that I’ve raised two happy, confident kids who set goals for this year that included being kind, giving their best, and staying true to themselves. I can’t control everything. They might get teased. They might learn the natural consequences of forgetting something at home. They might be bored sometimes. They might feel left out or find themselves missing home and me. Here’s the thing, though. I wasn’t in control when I was homeschooling either. I’ll never be able to control everything. I can’t guarantee a happy, carefree life for my kids. What I can do is teach that there’s redemption in suffering. I can keep on loving. I can try to always give my best just like my kids are trying to do in that new building today, and I can trust that my kids and I – with God as our guide – have a fixed kind of love that transcends the proximity and frequency of cuddles, that “endures not a breach but an expansion,” and remains constant even in the wake of big, big change.

My sweet children, life is sometimes hard and always, always changing, even when it’s not so obvious like it’s been this week. But one thing won’t ever change and it is this: I love you, you love me, God loves all of us, and this was so before you were born into this world, and it will always be so whether you’re here with me or far away from my reach.

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What the media’s fat-shaming of pregnant Kim Kardashian is saying to our children

So today I was part of a virtual discussion for HuffPost Live about fat-shaming during pregnancy and the recent hateful headlines about the pregnant Kim Kardashian. Whenever I have live interviews whether via the Internet or on the radio, I worry a child might interrupt, but my dad distracted the kids and enjoyed their company. Too bad my needy dog started going crazy because I put her in the backyard after hearing her bark at every passing pedestrian or squirrel outside of our window. She’s still hyperventilating, and she’s on Prozac. Really. Then my Internet went down not once but three times. I tried to join the conversation when I could, but I missed parts of it, and it all felt a little disjointed. It was yet another humbling experience where I find myself frustrated that I can’t do more, and I have to just let things go.

From what I was able to hear, the conversation focused largely on the fact that pregnancy is something to be celebrated and that women should not feel shame or see it as a time for body-bashing. Some people don’t care that Kim Kardashian is being scrutinized. I don’t know all that much about her and don’t follow reality television, but I don’t care whether you’re a public figure or not. No one deserves that kind of vitriol. In an Internet meme, Kim is shown in a black and white dressed juxtaposed with an orca whale. That’s just wrong.

But seeing that kind of “news” story, while it makes me sick, isn’t likely to force me to collapse into a heap of self-doubt (or turn down that chocolate egg my daughter just offered me). I’m a big girl. I’ve recovered from an eating disorder. I have tough days, body image blues, but for the most part I’ve arrived at a healthy place. I’ve also carried four babies to full-term. I’ve dealt with all the “joys” of pregnancy – the hemorrhoids, the weight gain, the varicose veins. I’ve had my share of struggles given my past eating disorders, but pregnancy and especially labor have also helped me like nothing else to see my body more as an instrument than an object that needs to be tweaked and fixed.

So I can handle the media’s hate and fat-shaming of pregnant women. I don’t like it, and I still feel sorry for the women whose pregnant forms are constantly examined and talked about. I know it’s part of the deal as a public figure, but it seems women celebrities can’t win. If Kim wasn’t gaining enough weight, they’d be attacking her for jeopardizing her baby’s health and being more concerned with her status as a sex symbol.

Still, what bothers me more than how these kinds of headlines impact me personally or the celebrities they showcase is what kind of messages are being delivered to my daughters and all young girls (and young boys, too). We can monitor our children’s media diets, but we can’t keep their wandering eyes from noticing the word “FAT” next to a pregnant woman who still looks lovely while we’re checking out at the grocery store.

We can tell pregnant women to focus on health during pregnancy and to celebrate those miraculous nine months, and many will. Some won’t though. Some will struggle with their changing body and their postpartum mushiness. We’ll see those headlines either of the supermodel who lost her baby weight a mere eight weeks after giving birth or the ones pointing fingers at the “fat” preggo celeb. Yes, big girls like me sometimes find it difficult to resist the siren song of beauty and thinness frequently portrayed in media. How can we expect our young children, then, to not turn to the mirror for affirmation?

“Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” they ask, and they’re not playing pretend. Our children are exposed to air-brushed and sexualized images of beautiful people everywhere—from billboards to magazines in the pediatrician’s office. And now they’re being exposed to pregnant women being called whales.

“Diet Secrets of the Stars,” “Lose Ten Pounds in a Week,” “Miracle Wrinkle Cream Erases Crow’s-Feet.” The headlines rotate, but the theme remains the same: If you lose those last five, ten, fifteen, or twenty-plus pounds, embrace a starlet’s measurements and beauty routine, stop aging in its tracks, and don’t gain much weight during pregnancy, you’ll be happier. 
You’ll be better.

And so the brainwashing begins young. The mirror becomes distorted. By the time we reach adulthood and often much earlier, we no longer see our bodies for what they can do but only for how they look.

That’s the problem here. It’s not about your opinion of Kim or how you personally feel during pregnancy or how much weight you gain. It’s about the young girls in our lives equating their worth with how sexy they are or how much they weigh.

The young, impressionable girls in our lives don’t know Kim snaked her way into the spotlight with a sex tape (I hope). They won’t read between the lines or connect the imaginary dots that people are just eager to shame Kim for anything. Kim might not be every woman; HuffPost Live was criticized for suggesting this with the title of our discussion. But she does represent something to our daughters. She’s a pretty woman who is being called fat – when she’s pregnant. The young women in our lives, no matter whether they know who the reality star is or not, will likely see a pretty woman who is pregnant and is being lambasted for gaining too much weight. Is her worth only tied to her sex appeal or the number on the scale? Is this how we measure a woman’s value? Is the only path to receiving positive feedback to be beautiful and thin?

The author of the blog post that spurred the HuffPost Live discussion wrote: “When will we acknowledge that all of us, even Kim Kardashian, deserve to spend our lives thinking less about how we look and more about what we can do — and that the former definitely gets in the way of the latter?”

I’d take it a step further. Not only do we need to stop seeing women as a number on a scale or an object, but we need to pay more attention to the person the woman is – not what her figure looks like or her professional accolades. We are human beings – not human bodies or human doings. We are more than the sum of our body parts or our career. There’s an incredible amount of pressure being piled on our girls to do it all – and at the same time, too! – all while maintaining their girlish figures.

The hyper-focus on Kim and other pregnant celebrities’ changing bodies isn’t only denigrating to all women, but it’s also a subtle way of undermining motherhood and suggesting pregnancy and being a mom is more of a burden than a blessing. This is another message our girls are going to pick up on: That being a mother robs you of a lot of things – including your attractiveness and figure.

Being a mom – whether you work outside of the home or not (we all work) – is undervalued in society. Sure, we give motherhood plenty of lip service – how it’s the most important job in the world – yet, the role of mothers is often reduced to a string of tedious, mindless tasks like laundry, diaper changes, chauffeuring children, and serving meals. There’s the whole mommy brain cliche, too. Women, particularly those who stay home to care for young children, don’t partake in stimulating conversations. Their brains turn to mush from all those Barney songs. While everyone else is out in the world making things happen, they’re stuck at home leading dull lives devoid of intellectual stimulation.

Now headlines calling women who were once the media’s delicious eye-candy are suggesting something else: Motherhood and attractiveness are mutually exclusive. As soon as you pee on a stick and get that positive pregnancy test, get ready to say good-bye to your life, identity, and your body as you know it. Motherhood brings little soul-sucking, fat-adding beasties into your life who will hijack your flat abs and change you into a yeti since you’ll never have time to shave or shower anymore.

I say shame on the media. Shame on them for being cruel to a pregnant woman and again, I don’t care what she stands for or who she is; she doesn’t deserve that kind of hateful scrutiny. Shame on them for perpetuating the idea that women only have as much value as the amount of positive attention her body and looks grab for her. And shame on them for distorting motherhood as something that takes more than it gives. This is the message I’d like to send to all young girls: Being sexy is not the same as being beautiful. You may think your worth hinges upon how attractive you are. You’re sexy. Men (and women, too) notice. Therefore, you must be beautiful and valuable. Nope. It’s the other way around. As a woman, you need to believe in your value and your worth. When you do embrace your femininity and dignity, it’s beautiful, and this beauty can’t help but attract.

As for pregnancy and motherhood, yes, it does change your life and shift things around physically and in other ways, too. But it’s not for the worse. Becoming a mom doesn’t mean you transform into an unattractive, unthinking lump, but anything worth creating bids a price from its creator. There will be sacrifices and changes ahead, but there will be joy, too, and sticky kisses and spontaneous hugs and yes, even power. Motherhood is the ultimate form of girl power. The laborious processes of growing a human and nurturing aren’t always easy to recognize or even to assign value to, but they are what is building the future. There’s nothing quite like raising a child to make you feel strong.

No matter her age, a woman’s worth is tied to whom she is – not how she looks and not even what she does. And if a woman becomes a mother, this is a gift, not a burden. This is the critical message we need to be delivering to our society, to our daughters.

 

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