Name: Ann Davidman
Title: Motherhood clarity mentor
J.: You were a marriage and family therapist for many years, but you quickly realized that one issue was becoming more of a focus. What was it?
Ann Davidman: I became a therapist in 1991. I was an intern with another woman named Denise Carlini, and it was her idea to lead support groups helping women decide whether or not to have children. In her practice, she noticed women asking this question a lot, while I noticed people really working on their childhoods. I wanted to create a place where the decision to have children should be thought about ahead of time. I found that when people were working on their early childhood trauma or that they felt unwanted, even if they might have been wanted, that’s what got internalized from their environment.
Why is this such a hard decision?
People hold that there’s a right and wrong answer. And certainly there’s shame in not knowing, which adds so much weight to it. People fear there’s regret in either decision, and there’s this myth that you should just know, because that’s what it looks like on the outside. If you don’t automatically know, you feel broken or that there’s something wrong with you.
Why do you think there is so much judgment around it?
Religion and economics are two big factors, and the fact that women are designed to procreate. There was a time when we needed to populate the planet. Even though it’s no longer necessary and people have free will, our bodies are designed to do that. We’re only coming into a time where people are saying it’s OK to be child-free, or be proud that they decided not to have a child. Only now you see that in the press. Rarely do you see anyone talking about not knowing. That’s the bigger taboo than choosing not to.
What about men? Do you work with them as well?
The course I do and the book we wrote is designed for women, but of course men can use both as well. [Early on] we heard that most men would be happy either way; they’d go with what their partner wanted. Now we get a lot more calls from men who either want children and their partner doesn’t, or men who are unclear about their relationships. I think there’s less pressure on men, as they can be fathers much later in life, if they’re having a biological child.
You and Carlini wrote “Motherhood: Is It for Me? Your Step-by-Step Guide to Clarity” (2016). Why did you decide to write the book?
I don’t know anyone else doing this work, and I’m only one person [Carlini has since moved out of the country]. I can’t see everybody who needs help with this. I lead online groups but I wanted the impact of this work to live beyond me. I love this work and wanted to create this resource for people.
Do Jewish women feel more pressure to have children than other women?
For Jewish women, there’s tremendous pressure of doing the right thing. For Japanese and Chinese and Indian-American women, there’s tremendous pressure from disappointing their parents; those are the top groups of people where there’s inheritance and pressure to carry on the lineage of the family. But no matter what, they still come to their own truth. With Jewish women, there’s this pressure to make more Jews; maybe not even from their parents, but from the Jewish community as a whole.
What about your personal story makes this topic so resonant for you?
I grew up in a Jewish middle-class family that loved me, but there was so much going on in my parents’ divorce when I was 7. I was loved and wanted but I grew up feeling low self-esteem and not worth fighting for because of how the divorce happened. Nonetheless, I had always wanted to be a mother, but I married a man who died shortly into our marriage. Even after he died, I tried to get pregnant, but it didn’t work. Now at 60, the thought of being mom to a teenager makes my head spin; I’m grateful I didn’t get pregnant. For me, being a mother was about impacting the next generation, as I knew I had so much love to give. But in my work, I’ve impacted the next generation many times over, and I have oodles of nieces and nephews and great-nieces and great-nephews that I’ve impacted again and again.