Culture, Family, Gender & Identity, Life

Motherhood does not have to define womanhood

Just because I am not sure if I want to experience motherhood or not doesn't change femininity or womanhood.

All my life I’ve expected to be a mother and wife. They just went hand-in-hand. Growing up, whenever I did something wrong, the first thing I would be asked by Aunties is, “Is that what you will do in your husband’s house?” Through comments like these, I was taught that my misbehavior wasn’t detrimental to what I could accomplish on my own, it was detrimental to my success as a wife. Being a wife but not experiencing motherhood was unthinkable. One without the other suggested that you were a failure or defective in some way. 

Let me be clear, I was allowed to aspire to greatness, to put my best foot forward and be ambitious. However, that ambition and tenacity were always intertwined with what was expected of me because of my gender. I would mention, offhandedly, my dreams of a corner office and almost immediately be bombarded with advice about maintaining a work/life balance, including how to take care of kids while maintaining excellence in a career. In my mind, I would always ask myself “but what if I don’t actually want kids?” I knew if I asked that out loud I would either be ignored or smugly told that I’d change my mind. I wouldn’t be taken seriously. 

I jokingly pitched the idea of avoiding motherhood altogether amongst older women once. I was met with a combination of radio silence and shocked stares. This is because Nigeria is an extremely conservative society. No matter what you achieve, none of it can be complete without children. As a woman living in Nigeria, this type of thinking was impossible for me to escape. I saw it in media, experienced it in church, and rolled my eyes through it in conversations with my family. 

That question is one I only asked myself seriously when I turned 21.  I always assumed that I wanted kids. But I would look at young children and feel no maternal instinct. I never once experienced “baby fever” even looking at the cutest of children.  I definitely felt tenderness whenever a toddler would stretch a pudgy arm up, asking me to hold them, but that was about it.

Knowing all this about myself, I still felt the need to have them. The idea of “leaving something behind in the world” was too strong. You’re expected to leave a legacy and proof that you were here. My grandfather may have died but the eyes he had are the same ones his children, grandchildren and maybe great-grandchildren may have. Didn’t I want that as well? This argument is one I wrestled with on and off for four years.

Then, in a fortunate stroke of serendipity, I came across a Naomi Campbell interview. She was asked about motherhood and she responded with all the models who she helped, the up-and-comers and those already established. Those women are her stamp on the world. The lives you touch throughout your life can be your legacy and your shot at living forever even when you’re gone. Love can be found in all sorts of places and not only in the traditional nuclear family structure.

I don’t know if I want to be a mother not. I still have a lot of living to do and maybe I will change my mind in the years to come. What I do know is that I refuse to let outdated ideas surrounding womanhood control or define me. My worth isn’t determined by my ability to procreate and neither is my womanhood.