This is what people will tell you about deciding to have kids:
It’s the best thing you’ll ever do.
Just don’t do it.
There’s no good time so you have to jump.
If you’re not sure, it’s not for you.
And, to those who know they don’t want kids: You’ll change your mind.
But even with the endless stream of advice so often hurled at the partnered and childless, I was still skeptical when I found out there is such a thing as a “motherhoodclarity coach.” Ann Davidman started working with women — those who weren’t sure whether they wanted kids — 25 years ago. Today, she runs an online course, both private and one-on-one, for those making that same decision.
When I started researching her, I’ll admit I even said out loud: “Well, if you have to pay someone $300+ to figure it out, maybe you don’t want kids.”
Unlike the women in Davidman’s course, however, I have always known I wanted kids. Yes, I’m currently child-free and unmarried, but when my boyfriend and I started dating, I definitely began our “let’s be exclusive” chat by telling him I want kids and I want to get married. That didn’t mean it had to be with him, but I knew that was the end goal for me. So I also knew that if he wasn’t on board, we had to go our separate ways.
I never related to people when they described a lightning-bolt moment of suddenly knowing their sexuality. As a kid, I assumed I was supposed to be attracted to boys because the women I knew had grown up and married…boys (er, men). The fact that I developed real, burning crushes on boys in adolescence feels as much a coincidence as anything else. I didn’t know I was straight as a kid. But I knew I wanted to be a mom.
Which is to say, I got on the phone with Davidman thinking of her career as some kind of vanity service for millennials who need a coach for everything — maybe the kinds of people who have, say, paid for a wedding hashtag or later for a baby-naming service. A group class with Davidman, after all, is as much as $357, and her rates for private coaching aren’t even listed on her website.
Of course, Davidman knows that there are plenty of already-decided women like me out there — and, she says, they won’t find her. That includes plenty of my counterparts, too: women who have always known, in the same fundamental way, that they never want to have children. None of either group of us will be attempting to Google ourselves to a decision-making point, reading through so many internet versions of the same kinds of advice: Just do it, or just don’t do it.
But, as Davidman tells me, her course is not about seeking external advice. It’s about looking inward.
“Most people get stuck in a gridlock because they try to figure out what they want andwhat they’re going to do at the same time,” she tells me. Her coaching is more focused on self-exploration, and delving into what she terms “unconscious recordings,” the kinds of things we build our lives around and aren’t aware of. By examining and unpacking them, and looking at things like the impact of families of origin, religion, and society, the course aims to leave women with a much deeper understanding of themselves and their own desires. Davidman also says she goes in with no agenda — and is often surprised where people wind up after the four months are over.
The coaching is so focused on inward desire, not external factors, that Davidman also instructs women not to talk to their partners, if they have them, about their “motherhood clarity” journey. She also does not take into consideration factors such as money and health. I balked at this when I read it on her website: aren’t those some pretty important things to consider? But Davidman’s explanation makes sense. The course isn’t as much about what you will do as what you want to do. The coaching isn’t about weighing pros and cons (fulfillment vs freedom to travel!) as much as it is looking inward at yourself.
While I have felt perhaps a bit smug about my razor-sharp clarity around motherhood, all the reasons Davidman gives me for being unclear make sense: families of origin that caused trauma, families of origin who expect babies, a society that assumes you will breed, a sense of doom about the future generally, a partner who challenges your decision. Davidman ticks off these examples and more with a kind of effortless ease; they feel at once specific and generalized. While Davidman does not, of course, discuss specific clients, the quickness with which she responds to the hypotheticals I throw at her lets me know she’s seen it all.
But it wasn’t until I asked one hypothetical that I think I really got it.
Do people go through the course, realize they want children, and then decide they won’t have them?
Yes, Davidman tells me. Maybe they realize, in their 50s, they actually did want to be moms at this point, but it’s too late for them. (Davidman also tells me that she has no agenda here and doesn’t think there is anything wrong with deciding to be a mom in your 50s). Maybe they realize they do want children, but not with the partner they have. Clients have ended relationships with the clarity they have gained over the course of the program. Maybe they will decide that they would want kids, but if their partner doesn’t, they would still choose to stay with their partner and remain childless. Or maybe they will realize they do want kids with a partner, but not with their current partner — and they may break up with their partner even though there are no guarantees of meeting someone new.
“No matter what choice anyone makes, there is loss,” Davidman tells me. “There’s always something to face.”
Too often, the question of whether someone decides to become a mother is discussed as if it hinges purely on their desire — not whether it actually makes sense for them. Maybe this is because the default for married women is the assumption that they will have children. Maybe it is because, despite how much the U.S. still lags behind the rest of the developed world in maternal health, we can still, generally speaking, expect healthy pregnancies and babies and children at rates that would have astounded our ancestors just a century or so ago. Maybe it’s life in late capitalism, and we are all docile consumers who believe we can find a way to access whatever it is we want.
At the same time, outside the motherhood-clarity-coaching realm, women do typically benefit from weighing practical concerns such childcare costs and housing when deciding whether to have kids. But, so often, rather than helping reach a more concrete decision, these factors simply muddy the waters. Those considerations are important, but at the end of the day, a decision like this can’t hinge on external factors. After all, there are plenty of wealthy, healthy people who opt not to have children — there are also people whom much of society thinks “shouldn’t” have kids (disabled folks, for example, or queer parents, according to conservatives), who are actually wonderful parents.
The reverse exists, too: People who tick all the boxes and look parent-perfect on paper, but who ultimately find themselves dissatisfied with parenthood or unfit for that role. And, of course, there are so many other kinds of parents and non-parents in between.
For so long, my desire to have children has made it feel like an eventuality. And I do believe that my conviction would lead me to pursue having children in ways that more ambivalent women may not. Before I met my boyfriend, I thought that the chance of my having a long-term partner was lower than my chances of having a child; finding a person to marry is a crapshoot, but I knew that if I were to find myself single in my mid- to late 30s, I would seek motherhood on my own.
Even knowing that, though, life is still uncertain. No one is promised a child. Even though Davidman’s course is not for women like me, it did help me imagine a future in which I could know I had always wanted to become a mom, but didn’t become a mom, and ended up totally fine.
Knowing I want to be a mom, that just means being aware of my desire — which is strong, but ultimately not the same as a decision. It is simply a kind of clarity that every woman, whatever choices she winds up making around child-rearing, deserves to have.
— Marshall Bright
This story originally appeared on SheKnows.