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Maya, a university lecturer in Washington, reflects on the different social pressures associated with motherhood in the United States and Lebanon, her home country, where assisted fertilization is a common practice strongly encouraged, consistent with the view of motherhood as a constitutive identity element of being a woman. Maya questions herself on her position: on the one hand, she has not yet become pregnant; on the other hand, despite her insecurities, she thinks that having children is naturally her destiny, pressured by her family of origin and the common social narrative that tends to idealize motherhood.

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MAYA: «So, my name is Maya Aghasi. I’m a university professor but I’m originally from Lebanon and so I’m very interested in this idea of parenting, especially motherhood and childlessness as there’s a great social pressure especially in Lebanon to have a lot… Well not a lot, but to have children. And so essentially you feel defined by being a mother, if you’re a woman.
It’s very interesting and contradictory because in Lebanon at the moment the economy isn’t good. So, both mothers and fathers are working and yet… mothers bear a lot of the burden, like looking after the children at home.
And so, in spite of money pressures, in spite of all the difficulty and exhaustion that mothers feel, in Lebanon, being mothers… there’s still so much social pressure to become a mother. So, this is why it’s very interesting to me.
The thing I really wanted to talk about also is how normalized IVF is. So, especially if you’re in a heterosexual relationship which is the only normal possible relationship in Lebanon, you have to have children. So essentially IVF becomes OK because the end game is essentially to have children. You hear stories of people having IVF all the time, it’s really cheap because medical care is public in Lebanon in most cases. And so, you can get IVF from anywhere between 2000 to 3000 dollars.
It’s very normalized, you hear stories of women having it all the time and they, informally, of course, share their stories about, “How did you feel when you took the injections?” “How did you feel when they did the extraction?” And so, it becomes like a… it’s like a bonding thing, but it’s just normal. But then again, the end goal is that women have children.
On childless women, so of course, you know, if they want to be childless it’s their choice. I will talk about how society views childless women and how that could translate to pressure on women to have children.
So, it’s always like “oh poor thing”, at home. She doesn’t have any children”. Oh “Dayie” which means like “oh what a waste of her”, like she could have had more children. And so, this is again more pressure to want to have children, so you don’t get that negative stigma of childless or poor thing or “what a waste of her life”.
Sometimes it’s not a choice. Some women just can’t have children, others don’t want to have children. Other women just so happens, they don’t have children. I don’t think that’s a problem at all.
My grandmother or mother would not agree with that statement. I have a funny anecdote that my mom told me a while back about her experience with her mother. The war broke out in Lebanon when my mom was graduating from high school, and she wanted to finish high school, but her mom was like “You don’t need that. Ugly woman get an education, you’ are pretty, you will marry and have kids and is going to be fine”.
My mother was a little more open minded about having an education. But for my mother everything is about children, like you live for the children and now the pressure’s on me: “why don’t you have children yet? I want more grandchildren”. They would not agree and I hope they don’t see this documentary and don’t get mad.
I’ve tried to have children, but some bodies are different than others and mine so far doesn’t want to have babies. So yeah, I don’t know. It’s a fertility thing, I guess. I do feel the pressure.
So, you know, what I was talking about in terms of IVF: “why don’t you do it? It’s so simple, just a bunch of injections and you can do this.”
So, now it’s like that pressure to go in that direction.
And the question is like: Do I want children? I think about it as now it’s such an active process. Like if I were to go the IVF route it would be more choice. If I have a choice, how much control over that choice do I have? So yeah… I don’t know. Thinking about it.
There is a difference, I think in the US people are more accepting of not having children. My husband is American and so he tells me like “If it’s not going to work out, ok. We don’t need children”. And so, he doesn’t feel the pressure that I feel to have children.
So, I don’t know, it’s very interesting, for me it’s… a very good question. I don’t know if I actually want.
I think babies are cute, I do want babies but it’s always a long-term commitment. So, I don’t know how I feel about that. This all discussion mainly as I’m like in the midst of it now. So it’s like… the importance of motherhood, the idealization of it, but also the ugly practicality of it, the reality of it. Yeah, just this whole idea about being a mother and how is stigmatized in society.
The discussions that we’re having here in terms of just representations of motherhood in literature, representations of childless mothers.
This is what we’ve been talking about, so looking at it from different facets, but for me, would I have these conversations?
Yes, I would have a lot of these conversations mainly with my girlfriends, with my sister, with my mother and everyone has a different response. But I think a lot of people internalize how beautiful motherhood is, so the end message is always “you should do it, it’s really beautiful or it’s an amazing experience, or you should try it, or when you try it? When you get there you’ll understand”. So, this always comes up.
It makes it feel as if all of these explorations are for me to get there one day. So, I’m not sure I’m going to get there anyway. That’s where it’s coming from.
I actually haven’t heard of this project. I had heard of things going on in Italy, a couple of years ago, I think. There were advertisements about mothers having children for the benefit of the country. Women having children for the benefit of the country. I hadn’t heard of this project, and it’s genius the way you talk about it. There isn’t a word for a woman without children like she’s either without children or unmarried or childless.»

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