Female Heroes and the Many Forms of Motherhood
By Francesca Sullivan
It’s come to that time of the year when families all over the world celebrate Mother’s Day, an important date on the calendar especially in Egypt, where the role of the mother is traditionally revered. But what of women who, voluntarily or not, don’t have children? There are many ways of being a mother, and not all of them involve giving birth. The skills and qualities that mothers utilize, whether through compassion for others, nurturing or simply good organization, can be used in numerous alternative ways. Cairo West Magazine talked to five childfree (not childless) women, about their lives without children.
Anne, Marketing Executive
I was raised in a country with limited societal pressure to marry and have kids, and since I never met anyone I wanted to settle down with, it never happened. But if I had the choice now I would still opt not to; I’d be too concerned about their chances of flourishing in an environment in which global systems are disintegrating in so many ways. I prefer to give my time and resources to helping improve conditions for kids that have already been born, rather than adding to the burden, and I strongly believe in adoption and fostering.
Some women will rush into marriage with someone they don’t love just because the biological clock is ticking down. There are so many positive ways in which one can use maternal feelings without having children: whether through charity, or through helping underprivileged people with children who are desperate for food, clothing and education. Or through practical means – I spent eight years teaching children English as a second language. Not to mention taking care of pets, and even bringing a nurturing aspect into the work environment.
Roweda, Fashion Designer and Business Woman.
When I was a child I always assumed I’d have a family of my own when I grew up. But when I became pregnant with my first husband I was abroad and he was Syrian, so I knew that the child would not be able to take the Egyptian nationality. I was already realizing that the marriage wouldn’t last, so I decided to terminate. Life then took me in another direction, and when I returned to Egypt I had to work and build a new career for myself. So it never worked out for me to have children of my own, but nevertheless I am surrounded by children whom I love.
I have a very close relationship with my sisters and their children; they’ve grown up around me and I also help to support them financially. They see me as a confidante and often tell me things they cannot tell their own mothers. I actually feel lucky because I see myself as having the best of both worlds: having kids but not having to suffer for them!
I’m the kind of person who finds it difficult not to take on too much responsibility, so probably if I’d had my own children I would have been so preoccupied with them I wouldn’t have had the time and energy to build my own business. As it is, my employees see me as a maternal figure – especially the younger ones – and often come to me with their problems. I am happy to be in a position to have time for them. I really abhor the fact that women here in Egypt keep on having more children when their lives are already difficult enough, even though they know very well they will never be able to give their children all that they need.
Dina, Designer and Business Woman
I probably thought that by the time I was thirty I’d be married with two kids, but it never happened. It crosses my mind from time to time even now, and with the biological clock ticking hard I sometimes panic, thinking I should do it before it’s too late. But then I think equally that I shouldn’t.
To be honest I never met someone I thought worth having kids with, and although there have been moments when it’s crossed my mind to go through it alone, I don’t really believe in that. My parents divorced when I was young and coming from that background, not having felt protected as a child, I wouldn’t want to be a single parent.
I also look at the world and see so many wrong things that I don’t like, that I would never be able to protect a child from. On the other hand, there are positive things about being without children: less responsibility. I’ve always spent a lot of time travelling for my business and it would certainly have been much harder to have that kind of freedom. There’s no doubt it’s been easier to build a career this way.
Sophia, Company Director
I’m 48 years old and unmarried. I am from the kind of culture where there is no stigma attached to not having children, and I never found a man I wanted to marry. In Egyptian society a woman feels she needs to get married to be accepted, even if the marriage ends in divorce – and they often do! Sometimes it’s just a way to get out of the parents’ home and have a more independent life. I have lived here for fifteen years and Egyptian men are not for me, so that’s that. I never had a ticking clock.
As for substituting pets for children I have a Rottweiler and two horses and they’re all male, so for me I think it’s more about obedience and control than wanting to nurture something. The relationship I have with my animals is a working one. I’m not into cutesy stuff and even when I was a child I hated the idea of being pregnant.
I see the need to reproduce as being a selfish one. The world is overpopulated enough as it is, and in a country like Egypt there are so many needy children already out there. But it’s also not possible to adopt here, and I don’t believe in the idea of raising a child on my own. Some people seem to want to produce children to show off their superior genes, comparing their children’s achievements with others. And if you are married and don’t have children it’s always assumed there’s something wrong with you.
I’m an aunt and I enjoy that, having the fun of being with my nieces without the responsibility for them. I haven’t regretted for one minute not being a mother myself.
Julia, Educational Consultant
I didn’t have an unhappy childhood, though having an adopted brother created a sense of awareness in me that there are too many unwanted children in the world. I was married but my husband never pressured me into having children, and the marriage ended. I threw myself into work and then began travelling, realizing my skills from bringing up younger siblings and also teaching at Sunday School by applying for a job in Egypt as a nanny. Later I took a TEFAL course and began working in education in Egypt; in effect I fell in love with Egyptian children! I taught in a language school, ran a nursery for twenty years, and looking back I realize that if I’d had my own children I would never have had the energy to put into practice all that I’ve done.
Each and every child’s future has been important to me, and I’ve formed many deep bonds with the children that have been in my care – I’m like a grandmother to their children now. You can definitely have an important maternal role without having children of your own.