Admitting that becoming a mother is tough remains a taboo / Oleksandr Briagin

Speaking openly about the difficulties of motherhood is still a taboo

From the pain of childbirth to teaching a little one how to navigate our messy world, being a mother is a tough and unrelenting job that transforms a woman’s life overnight. 

And yet, speaking openly about the difficulties of motherhood is still a taboo, while admitting you regret having children altogether is regarded as beyond the pale. A recent initial study on 23 mothers by Orna Donath, a sociologist at Ben-Gurion University, Israel, recently sparked a fierce debate after it highlighted that unknown numbers of mothers regret having childrem, and tried to distinguish between ambivalence and firm regret. 

For women struggling to cope with feelings of regret, the internet is a refuge where they can speak anonymously about issues from lifestyle changes to money. The ‘I Regret Having Children’ Facebook page is filled with such accounts.

One stay at home mother to a 7-year-old and a four-year old wrote that she has “big regrets”. 

“I love them but I’m not happy. They have taken all my freedom, I can’t get a job, my husband barely makes enough for holidays. I was a flight stewardess, free as a bird before having kids. Now I’m just doing never ending house duties.”

Another wrote of how she is struggling with her three-year-old daughter who does not sleep. Describing an incident where she vomited from stress after her daughter only slept for two hours, she said: “We have no life. My husband helps so much, but even he is close to collapsing. We have no family and friends. No support network. What do I do?” 

What's your biggest regret?

On Mumsnet one despairing woman wrote: "I loved my old life. My husband really wanted a child and I put it off for so long, just knowing that it's not my calling. I gave in after so many rows thinking I would adjust.

"I feel like my wonderful life has turned upside down. I still do not feel like a mother. I miss my old life so much I just feel like walking out and leaving my husband and son."

Someone who posted similar thoughts signed off with the plea: "Please don't hate me, is what I'm really trying to say. I actually consider myself quite a loving person."

Other mothers have written how their regret comes down to the father of their child. One such woman wrote on the question-and-answer website Quora, that she “desperately” wanted to have a baby but partly found parenting tough when she realised her husband became a "compulsive liar, abusive and controlling."

“I still feel loads of guilt because I regret being a parent. Not because I failed but because I don’t want to be a parent. I can’t really explain why I feel that way, I just do.” 

Robin Simon, Professor of Sociology at Wake Forest University who specialises in the mental health effects of parenthood, says it is difficult to admit such emotions because it “defies social norms about the sanctity of motherhood."

Arabella Russell, a counsellor at relationship advice charity Relate, chimes that there is a common view that having a baby will be “fantastic” but that the reality "can be a real shock to the system." 

“It’s completely normal to feel regretful, stressed, tired, bored and frustrated,” she says, adding that the appearance that other women are taking to motherhood “like a duck to water” can be deceiving, as people feel guilty about admitting their true feelings. 

“If you are finding being a mum difficult, don’t bottle it up. It’s really important to be able to talk to your partner or a family member about it,” stresses Russell. Speaking on forums including Mumsnet and Netmums, and using services such as Relate, can also help.

She advices other parents or family members who are concerned about the well-being of a woman to encourage her to discuss her feelings in order to "normalise" her emotions.

“Be careful not to judge them as these are very difficult feelings and can make people feel guilty. If it persists and talking about it doesn’t alleviate it over a period of time you could suggest that they go to their GP. Watch out for any signs of post-natal depression though, which is a different issue and needs to be treated."

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