I am sorry you received such vitriol about this. I am a pediatrician and am privileged to know a wide range of families and mothers. And there are many women who have discussed their regrets about different aspects of motherhood with me. Mothers are human and with that comes a complexity of emotion that is never as simple or straightforward as the cultural narrative we are told. Keep up the good work!!!

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You know you’ve hit on something when folks have such a visceral, unreasonable reaction. As always, what you write is well-articulated and should make sense to anyone who is able to read and hold two thoughts at once. Thank you for writing this.

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As always, very thoughtful and well written. I also thought of that Cheryl Strayed essay when I read your tweets (and those responses, yikes)! It could just be sitting at home for a year, but the idea of a "sister life" has been on my mind lately.

Sometimes I wonder if a less contentious starting point into these discussions is the negative toll on women's physical health. It seems more common, more quantifiable, and slightly less fraught with complications around not hurting children's feelings. And if physical effects are acceptable, maybe larger emotional effects could follow. (Personally, pregnancy was not good to my mother, and I'm convinced that she would have lived longer and had fewer health problems later in life if she hadn't had children.)

Have you read A Life's Work, a memoir by Rachel Cusk? She doesn't exactly regret motherhood, but she is very frank about the toll it takes on her idea of herself as a human being. It came out in 2002, and she was absolutely pilloried for it.

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What a thoughtful piece of writing. Thank you.

Your piece made me get out paper and pencil and do some back-of-envelope calculating. Roughly speaking: a man’s ejaculate will contain somewhere between 20 to 100 million sperm per milliliter, with about 1-5 milliliters produced during intercourse, meaning there are somewhere between 20 to 500 million sperm on a journey to meet the one (usually one) egg. Out of those 20 to 500 million possible combinations, only one will be realized when sperm and egg meet, setting events on a course that, over months and years, will then become a person (for example) we know as Jill Filipovic, who matures into adulthood and who writes words for a living, and who published a piece on Substack on May 11, 2021.

But in terms of ghosts, going back to just the one seminal event that got the ball rolling and resulted in our Jill Filipovic ball rolling, there are somewhere between 19,999,999 and 499,999,999 other possible combinations of sperm and egg that didn’t come into being. What lives they may have lived, and what stories they may have had to tell—all unknowable. Also, in a way, ghosts like the ones you describe.

It's all so full of chance. And random. And it doesn't even yet fold in the enormous influences and impacts of all that takes place during gestation, let alone what then happens after birth. The possibilities are practically endless for the “I” -- the self -- we believe ourselves to be.

And so, bravo, and thank you for your courage in encouraging us all to be open and more imaginative and accepting of ALL the ways that we might think and feel about parenting and children and “a child” and who we are, or might have been, or never were. We are sometimes weighed down by social and cultural edicts and prescriptions that “It is thus” or “it must be like this.” It’s refreshing to breathe in all the possibilities of what might be felt and thought about the whole experience of being human.

Brilliant piece, Jill. A pleasure to read. Thank you.

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Excellent article. Thank you for speaking to the nuanced emotions one can have about motherhood/parenthood. We live in a society where nuance is a struggle for many. I think it’s because of the unresolved wounds people carry therefore they are triggered by nuance. That’s another conversation. We need to make more room for women to discuss the challenges of raising children. It will only help them be better parents to the next generation. Don’t we want that? Of course, we do. When C. Strayed posted The Ghost Ship article, I remember commenting on it because it was refreshing to read about the undecided. I’ve been working with the undecided for 30 years. There was little to none to read about 30 years ago. Today there isn’t much more written about it. I think the undecided or ambivalent about parenthood are the most invisible population. The judgement and shame they face if they don’t know what to do or what they want leaves them silent. When I guide women and men through my Parenthood Clarity Courses, I tell them that they cannot know how they will feel in the future. They can only know what they want and why they want it. They can only know how they want it to unfold. In my opinion when someone fears regret about something in the future, no matter how big the decision is, it is more about an unresolved wound in their past (through no fault of their own) that needs their attention. There is likely some loss that didn’t get to be that needs to be grieved. A bit of self-exploration will help one make a decision not from a place of fear but from a place of desire or at least knowing why they are making the decision they’re making.

Please know there is an oasis for motherhood and fatherhood clarity seekers. You are not alone, nor do you need to be silent about your ambivalence. Thank you again. I will share your refreshing article. Anyone wanting help with decision-making please reach out: IsParenthoodForMe.com or AnnDavidman.com

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what i deeply regret is the america cares so little about women and even less about our children. need proof? why has universal quality childcare never been first on any political agenda. ever. i love the sister ship idea, but it is largely fantasyland- the life where help, solace and information is free for all. all my motherhood regrets are all about the tragedy of inadequate childcare and the slippery slope of 2nd best alternatives. the damages, the steel fingers that squeezed my heart and the ransomed pleasures of parenthood - these i deeply regret.

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