Writer and mother-of-one Jaclyn Clemente Koppe shares her experience with motherhood and why we should respect each other’s choices
While I am every inch the strong, modern woman that my parents raised, the other side of that coin is very much a reflection of traditional Filipino family values. Find a good man and get married. Start a family and raise them with the same principles my parents passed on to me and my sisters, along with learnings I picked up on my own along the way. Therefore, while I was trained to be a self-thinking, self-sufficient woman—a product of my progressive generation that grew up on “girl power” and Oprah—I knew that having it all was an option. The man, the family, and everything else that comes before and after.
I would have never guessed that I would be one of those women who would say that being a mother was what completed them. However, now I can say with both pride and humility that I did not feel like I had a real purpose until I had my daughter. Yes, I had a life before her. I had people who depended on me for different things, and I was a contributing member of my community. Still, nothing quite compares to the indescribable satisfaction and the colossal responsibility that comes with motherhood.
That being said, I understand how there are many of us who would not want to have children. There is a mountain of reasons and all of them are perfectly valid, even the one which others might judge as selfish. “I just don’t want them,” some women say. That, too, I believe, is really a good enough reason. The decision to have children is a lifelong commitment, and so imagine being stuck with something all your life that you never wanted to begin with. Painting your walls a different colour takes some thought and discussion. Shouldn’t the prospect of producing another human being fall under that same category of “Things I Really Want?”
Sometimes, too, we forget that not all women are biologically capable of having children. I suffered an ectopic pregnancy before I had my daughter, and so the year and a half when we were trying to get pregnant after was filled with uncertainty and fear that having children was not in my cards. At first, when people would ask when my husband and I were going to have kids, I would offer a smile and say something funny to somehow defuse the situation. But, later on, I just decided to take a more honest approach: “Actually, I’m not sure if I can have kids.” Then, depending on my mood, I really rub it in by explaining in vivid detail the state of my reproductive system. Because of my own pregnancy journey, I have since restrained myself from asking other couples about their plans to have children. Because frankly, whether they simply do not want to or they cannot, it really is nobody else’s business.
The state of being pregnant is also a different experience for each woman. I would always say: “I was not an earth mother.” I was not that perfect picture of glowing ethereal beauty, with a permanently peaceful smile on her face as she gently strokes the growing life in her belly. I was bloated from day one. I felt hot and sweaty constantly, and I just was not feeling ethereal at all. There is a Filipino belief that when a mother has a beautiful glow during pregnancy, she is carrying a baby girl. Many told me I was definitely having a boy. From the fifth month of my pregnancy onwards, it felt like I was kicked in the groin. Eventually, I gave birth to an 11-pound baby girl which I literally felt explained a lot.
In my opinion, knowing that you do not want children is so much better than having them for the wrong reasons. Having a child is not something you aspire for when you are lonely. For that, a dog or a cat will do. You do not decide to have children based solely on the reason that your parents asked for them. The decision to raise other humans should not depend on the whims of others who will only see your children on weekends and promptly return them after they have been fed ten pounds of chocolate. And, most of all, children will not fix a broken relationship. Adding another human being into the equation will simply multiply your issues, not neutralize them. Couple’s therapy would be a more sensible option.
Children are gifts to those who have them, so they say. More accurately, I believe, they are blessings to those who want them. Likewise, women who have the sincere desire to become mothers—biologically or otherwise—will be able to raise their children with the love and compassion they deserve. And for those who decide that motherhood is not for them—we should leave them be and wish them well. Their happiness and sense of purpose lie elsewhere, and that is perfectly okay.
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