Wall – Feminist researcher Orna Donath, who lives in Tel Aviv, interviewed 23 women aged 26-73 from different walks of life who regretted being mothers between 2008 and 2013. The study became a book in 2017. İletişim Publishing also published the work with a translation by Bilge Yalçın, entitled ‘Repentance of Motherhood’ in February 2022.
Orna Donath’s starting point sentence is ‘you will regret later’, which is said for those who do not want to be a mother. We talked to Donat about what it means to be sorry for motherhood, the challenges of talking about remorse, and the empowerment of sharing that feeling.
‘They say they regret motherhood, not their children’
What does it mean to regret motherhood? You explained the feeling of remorse for a significant part of the book, but what happens when that emotion is associated with the feeling / experience of motherhood?
Repentance about motherhood means knowing and feeling that you have made a mistake in your decision to have children and raise them. In fact, it means knowing and feeling that all those difficulties with every mom are not ‘worth everything’ for you. Of course, many women have vague and conflicting feelings about motherhood. There is a culturally expected consideration that motherhood is acceptable and therefore inviolable for those who want to achieve it. Repentance embodies the identity of the woman, who demonstrates a different approach from this assessment.
But most of the mothers interviewed in the survey emphasized that their feelings about motherhood are not the same as their feelings towards their children. They say they are sorry for the motherhood, not their children. They love their children. The difference here shows that the mothers I interviewed are concerned with their children’s right to life as separate and independent animals. But they regret being mothers and being responsible for their children’s lives.
There are different moments to notice the remorse of the women you meet. Some people experience it during pregnancy, some after their second / third child. There are also women who began to express this feeling when they were grandmothers. What does it say about society’s expectations of motherhood and still being able to express its regrets?
Motherhood can have different meanings for every woman. Contrary to Jade and what is said to mean women, motherhood is not experienced by all women as ‘despite the value of effort’. In the first place, speaking of remorse also hinders a linear story that women want to be mothers, want to appreciate motherhood and want to take it as the ‘only essence’ of their lives is only a matter of time. For example, those who regret motherhood – some mothers have already become grandmothers – do not provide a ‘happy ending’ catharsis and say, ‘No, time has passed and we still feel the same way about motherhood. It was a mistake on our part. ‘
It is precisely this realization of remorse that can lead us to motherhood as a form of relationship, not to motherhood as a mythical state. It is a human relationship that involves most of us, and like any other interdisciplinary relationship it can include all kinds of emotions like joy, loneliness, hatred, jealousy, love, anger and yes, remorse. Remorse reminds society of women’s ability to remember, evaluate, imagine, think, feel, and make decisions for themselves as subjects. However, patriarchal society prefers to have all these qualifications.
In the study, I was drawn to the ‘way of dealing’ with women with this emotion. Imagine a disappearance in him. How does this fantasy find a response in the lives of women?
Many mothers can and do imagine alternative realities and unused paths (which are sometimes on their minds even if they do not have children), even if they cannot go back to the time when they were not mothers or lost contact with their children. . In these fantasies defined by women in my research, women share whether they have regrets for motherhood, and these fantasies can be expressed by mothers in different ways. But at the same time, these fantasies are in an impossible place. Even if the children are ‘already here’ and the children are left behind, the spirit of motherhood remains. Sometimes, every hour of every day, this awareness of existence reminds them that they are ‘someone’s mother’. For example, even if mothers want to distance themselves from the family equation, they do not see any time-out, opportunity, or exit point that would remove them from being mothers.
‘Society responds with relative silence to father’s departure’
What is the process for fathers in the same situation?
Fathers are treated differently. Yes, fathers who keep themselves away from their children are also hated. But in the same situation, women are not the ones who face the cruel condemnation. Many more fathers leave home after divorce than mothers do, and most of the time social-women, men, mental health professionals, lawyers, etc. – respond to their father’s divorce with relative silence, escaping their parental responsibilities.
In the children’s section, there are women who do not share their feelings of remorse for protecting their children. But we also see women who share their regrets to protect their children. Tell me?
Most babies have never heard their mother say they are sorry for being a mother. The women took part in the study, who said they would keep the “secret” in the grave so that their children would not know how they really felt. Others say they are considering discussing the matter with their older children. They think so because they differentiate between loving their children and regretting motherhood, among many other reasons.
How does this difference work for those who are considering saying this? What is the importance of intergenerational dialogue here?
They want to present this integrated mental roadmap so that ‘crime’ does not fall on the shoulders of children. In other words, talking to children about regrets is an opportunity to convey the message that their children did nothing. Sharing this situation may stem from a desire to protect them. At the same time, they feel that sharing the potential for parenting may not be as fulfilling as described. From this point of view, being a good mother means opening up as many different paths as possible for your children and not collaborating with a mythical figure that can cause pain. Also, trying to reduce the pain in her children’s lives and protecting them is like being a good mother.
A few years ago, one of my students came to me after class and told me that her mother realized that she regretted being a mother ‘at that moment’. She explained that for the first time in her life, she realized that her mother was a woman in society who at first did not want to be a mother but was later pushed. Seeing her mother not just as her mother, but as an independent woman did not cause her anger, resentment or frustration. On the contrary, seeing his mother as a subject allows him to be empathetic. Which I understand very well is why we girls can feel anger and frustration towards our mothers – and we have a right to feel it – yet we need to have a place for our mothers to be seen as feminist, not just as mothers. In their own right
‘Repentance forces society to reconsider rules’
You describe your book as a political business. What exactly is a policy of remorse?
One of the purposes of my work was to shed light on the political practices of emotion. How is emotion used to get women on the ‘right path’? One question was I broadened and deepened the social norm created by saying ‘motherhood is a natural phenomenon’ by adding regrets about motherhood and social reactions against it, because according to this rule, a woman’s desire to be a mother is a ‘normal’ return to being a woman. ; A mentally and physically healthy woman ‘naturally’ knows what to do after the birth of her child; ‘Naturally’ a woman interprets motherhood as an important change in her own life and brings it as a ‘happy ending’ in social life and this is the ultimate ‘essence’ of her own existence because she is a woman.
However, the fact that women can tell their own stories of remorse forces society to reconsider the rules that serve the interests of race, economy, capitalist reasoning, religious rule, and patriarchal heterogeneity. There are women who do not find peace in motherhood and regret it; Giving women the freedom to own their own bodies, thoughts, memories, feelings, aspirations and needs and allowing these women to ‘work’ without question is clearly ‘dangerous’ for a co-operative society.
But if we consider remorse as an inability to adapt to motherhood and personal failure (and if we suggest that these mothers try harder), we will be indifferent to the fact that many Western societies not only force women into motherhood but also into loneliness. Is running. When they cannot deal with the consequences of this persuasion.
You conclude this book: ‘We need to widen some of the road stones. We have to. We are women who need to take care of their bodies and lives. Your own thoughts, feelings and dreams, of course. Nothing can be cured without it. ‘ Shortly after reading the book, on the night of March 6, while walking, I saw this banner: ‘Women will rewrite the fate that they say goes from mother to daughter’. These two expressions sound very close to each other. What do you think of this?
It reminds me of Adrian Rich’s book ‘Born of Women’ where he calls mothers. Wealthy mothers are requested to let their daughters go wherever they please, even if they suffer in a patriarchal society. This means disobedience to the social norms that harm us as women — that is, acts of love. It protects each other from pain while being next to each other অর্থাৎ that is, an act of love. From daughter to mother. Mother to daughter. And of course friends.
I know that the book caused a great deal of controversy in Germany. So what kind of feedback will you get from readers in 2022?
In recent years, I have seen hundreds of controversies in different countries. Women have expressed their wider responses, ranging from angry, aggressive, denial-based responses to praise and comfort. It is a meaningful change from a time when no remorse for motherhood has been spoken of or almost condemned.
‘Study lets observe how investments are made in forbidden emotions’
At the end of the book, you explain that criticism of the study has turned into an accusation against your decision not to be a mother. What was the significance of the work for you?
‘Repentance of motherhood’ not only lamented motherhood, but also voiced motherhood and the social dominance around it. My job is not to ‘instill’ in mothers the urge to repent, when they do not repent, or to glorify repentance as all mothers should now repent.
My hope is that further dialogue on motherly remorse will continue and allow for a discussion on the ‘path not chosen’ lament. In other words, my hope from this study is that it will allow us to observe how society invests, even how deeply it invests in feelings that are perceived but forbidden to speak, blocking the paths chosen by women, such as not being one. . Mothers such conversations will enable us to discuss the fact that we again own our desires, dreams and bodies. We alone have the right to determine whether motherhood is precious to us.
‘I know my words can be scary’
Finally, what do you want to say to your readers in Turkey?
I express my deep gratitude to every woman in Turkey who has read this interview or this book. I don’t take any of my words lightly because I know these words can shake the ground under their feet and it can be horrible. I hope the women of Turkey see that my words are a good companion for them. For those who don’t want to be mothers, for those who aren’t sure if they want to be mothers or for those who regret motherhood and for those who don’t …