The Shame of Motherhood and Non-Motherhood

Are you going to have a natural birth or a caesarian section? 

This was the question I was asked most when I was pregnant. It was accompanied by other intrusive questions which, of course, annoyed me but this by far was the most personal one. I began by responding with “I don’t know” because I really didn’t for the first few months. I wasn’t set on any kind of delivery throughout my pregnancy because I didn’t believe either would make me feel inadequate in any way. I concentrated on soldiering on and making sure my son was healthy. As my due date grew closer, I ended up responding with “what’s it to you?”. When I was about 8 months along, one of my male bosses at work asked me and I told him that it was a very personal question with finality in my voice. He responded, baffled, that “it was just a question”. When my other boss, who was partially eavesdropping, asked us what was going on, I said:

“James asked me if I’m going to push my baby out of my vagina or get my stomach cut open via surgery”.

Needless to say, James was so embarrassed, claiming he didn’t ask that. I said matter-of-factly that’s exactly what is asked by that question. End of conversation. Last week, I shared on my Instagram stories my hatred for the judgment that comes with caesarians. I received so many responses from women agreeing with me. And it inspired me to finally share my distaste for the judgment others, and I, experience when it comes to being a mother. The reason why people ask is because they already have a “correct” answer in their head and how you end up answering will either warrant their judgment, or not.

Shortly after having Kai, I was asked at a braai if I enjoyed my pregnancy. I said no. Shock, horror. Some applauded me for being honest, the rest grimaced and their faces stank of judgment. But that was my experience, it didn’t mean I loved my child any less, I just didn’t enjoy the process of bringing him here (although I respect the hell out of it). I felt very alone when I was pregnant and those feelings of loneliness contributed to me not enjoying most of my time being pregnant. It’s a shame because I really do believe that if I had more honest conversations with mothers before me, I wouldn’t have felt as blindsided when it came to all of the pregnancy ups and downs I experienced. My friends who became moms before me only admitted to me once I was pregnant that they didn’t really enjoy their pregnancies either, but they didn’t tell anyone. It’s not something many say out loud, for fear of being judged, and I guess in order not to scare the non-mothers from continuing the species.

So I’m laying my cards on the table in this post. This is my space. I work hard in keeping it a safe place for me and other women to share our real experiences. So I’m going to be real, okay?


Natural birth vs. Caesarian

I honestly believe that c-sections have a worse rep than they actually are. I know that in the olden days the surgery incision was diabolical and recovery left you in pain for ages, but thankfully medicine has come a long way since then. If you have a reputable doctor and delivering your baby at a good hospital, it’s possible to have a good caesarian story. I trusted my doctor and my only goal at the end of my pregnancy was to safely bring my son into the world and if that was how I was going to do so, then so be it. Yes there are risks, but having a baby either way comes with risks and horror birth stories come from both types of delivery. What I’ve also noticed is the women who say “I had a caesarian, but it was for medical reasons” as if explaining their caesarian to people, to avoid the judgement, or at least lessen it. One woman at work, after hearing I was having a scheduled caesarian, actually tried to shame me into giving birth naturally! Women who have caesarians are no less womanly than those who have natural deliveries.

On the flip side, I was recently schooled that some women who’ve had caesarians shame those who’ve decided to have natural births. One follower told me that she was warned that she’ll suffer from bladder control issues, she was putting her baby at risk and that she was robbing her husband of the chance to play an active part in the birth. Not sure when we were supposed to be prioritising our husbands or partners parts in the delivery room. What’s best for you and your child? As mothers, that is and always should be our first priority. If that’s a caesarian, so be it. If it’s natural, go ahead. I mentioned this in my previous #MommyMonday post: it’s not how you brought your child into the world that matters, it’s that you did. It’s not ok for people to make us feel that the way our pregnancy journey ends nullifies that we created, nurtured and carried little humans into being.

Breastfeeding vs. Formula feeding

I knew that breastfeeding might not come easy for me was because my sister had a hard time with her milk supply and dried up very soon after having my niece. I didn’t set any expectations on myself because I knew that either way, I’d be able to feed my child – breast or not. But when I started breastfeeding Kai, my inner self judged me. You have milk, you can’t let it go to waste, how dare you consider giving up! But where did that come from? We could afford to buy formula, so we could’ve given him that, but I was killing myself holding onto the notion of breast is best, but it’s not the only way. It was a very painful and difficult journey full of feeling desperate and like a failure when he wasn’t latching well. I’m grateful that I didn’t give up and managed to find a resource that helped me (please watch this video if you’re not coping), but I totally understand why many women do. It’s f*cking hard! Cracked, bleeding nipples, burning engorged breasts, never mind constantly racking your brain trying to keep your supply up all while being sleep deprived and recovering from birth. Not enough people recognise and admit to how painful and soul destroying it can be, not being able to feed your child.

I’ve heard of women saying that mothers who formula feed are lazy, vain (the saggy boobs from breastfeeding thing), or just not trying hard enough. Maybe your experience with breastfeeding was smooth and easy. Your experience doesn’t speak for everyone. Thankfully there’s an alternative to breastfeeding, and if you take that route, know that as long as you’re feeding your child, you’re doing right by them. Tell me something, when you walk down the street, can you tell who was breastfed and who was formula fed?


Being a mother vs. Not being a mother

Then there’s the other side of parenthood that gets the absolute worst kind of judgment: non-parenthood. If you don’t know by now that many couples struggle to conceive, then I can’t help you. I’m always baffled when people ask couples when they’re going to have children, why they’re taking so long to do so etc. The worst is that the woman usually feels the brunt of it because it’s assumed that something’s wrong with her. Infertility plagues more couples than I think people understand, so asking one about their non-child status is incredibly insensitive. You have no idea how long they’ve been trying to conceive, how many miscarriages, or unsuccessful fertility treatments they might have had. I’ve been present when someone very close to me was questioned about her ‘decision’ to not have a child yet, even though back at the ranch she’d been trying unsuccessfully for years. I stepped in and told the person to back off but the damage had been done.

I really respect people who choose to not have children, because parenthood isn’t for everyone. I realised that the other day when I was in the middle of a bad mommy day, that this sh*t is hard, trying and really not for everyone. I absolutely love being a mom, I’ve always wanted children and I adore my son. But in order to be a good parent, you need to be ready to adjust your life, have or develop certain traits and well, make raising this human into a good person your priority…and not everyone can do that. If everyone who knew they weren’t going to make good parents didn’t have children, the world would be a much better place. Yet many succumb to the pressure because ‘it’s what you do’. It’s what’s expected of pretty much every woman, and definitely of every married couple. Some women have told me they were called selfish for deciding not to be mothers. Selfish? To who? Isn’t it better that someone admits and accepts that they’re not parent material and refrains from procreating rather than feeling like she owes the world another human and when said human arrives, she resents it for its whole life? Are you going to be there to financially support this woman or couple? Because children are expensive, and not everyone can afford them. Are you going to be there to clean up the baby’s poo explosion or wake up for the umpteenth time in the middle of the night to tend to this child? Because that takes a ton of patience, and not everyone has that either.

It’s bad enough that we live in a patriarchal world and men have made it extremely hard for us women to have the same share of the pie. I’m most saddened that women are involved in this shaming. We’re our own worst enemies. When are we going to start rooting for each other? What good is it to shame a mother who’s responsible for raising members of the next generation?

If we fail, no one wins. If mothers fail, no one wins.

Have you been shamed? What for and how did you handle it? Have you been lucky enough not to be shamed? Please weigh in below. I’d love to get your thoughts.

Photography: Melanie Wasser, Leandro Cesar Santana, Alex Hockett



  1. Faith
    March 20, 2018 / 1:59 pm

    I felt so ashamed and guilty after my c – section. Ashamed that my body had “failed” and guilty for robbing my son of an experience I thought I owed him – a natural birth. This article has given me peace and a new perspective. Thank you.

  2. Tammy
    March 20, 2018 / 8:56 am

    I was in the hospital room hours after my Sister-in-law gave birth and she turned to me and said, “they lie to you. Everything everyone told me was a lie.” I am grateful to my friends for having very real conversations about having children, trouble conceiving, difficult births and pregnancy and not wanting children at all. We recognize that we are all different and there is no shame. Now I’ve been called selfish for not knowing if I want kids (not sure how I’m being selfish), my parents think there is something medically wrong with me for being 36 with no kids. Isn’t more selfish and immature for someone who doesn’t want kids to have them and then resent them and their social circle for the rest of their life?

    • Aisha O'Reilly
      March 20, 2018 / 12:16 pm

      Tammy, I’m SO curious what your sis-in-law felt lied to about! But yes, I totally felt the same but when I was pregnant. By the time I had Kai I was like ‘ok, what’s next? What else don’t I know about?’ I’m glad you have a circle of friends who are real with each other, it’s very rare to find that. And yes, it’s definitely more selfish knowing you don’t want kids but having them anyways. Eish!

  3. Amanda
    March 19, 2018 / 7:52 pm

    What a wonderful post aisha! As women we really need to stop shaming one another! This may sound crazy but I have four children and keep getting asked..”are you done now”? (Insert shock and sarcasm). Even my gyane was insisting that I tie my tubes because having more than 4 would be ludicrous, Like having too many kids is a problem or the choice to have a big family is total madness! I feel blessed to have four kids at 32 and I respect women who have no kids at 32. Motherhood is NOT for everyone and how you choose to bring life into this world is certainly nobody’s business! I didn’t invite you into my bedroom when I made the baby so why would I consult you when I deliver? Women need to be more sensitive to each other’s choices. Thanks for the eye opening post.

    • Aisha O'Reilly
      March 20, 2018 / 12:14 pm

      I never even thought of that! I will put my hand up and say I’m guilty of this, so I apologise for the inconsideration behind it. Thanks for pointing that out 😉

  4. Obakeng
    March 19, 2018 / 3:17 pm

    I absolutely love your post. I’m 31 and no kids, almost everyone that finds out my age posses the question “when are you having kids” then they add “time is not on your side”.
    One of the great lessons I learned from Shonda Rhime’s book – Year of Yes, is that our happy endings are different. In the book she talks about how people spend their lives trying to follow the same path and live by the same rules…i.e get married, have kids…but there is no list of rules and we don’t have to follow the same path to find happiness. We need to live our lives in a way that makes us happy. Let’s all focus on our own paths and stop judging.

    Thank you again for this post😊

    • Aisha O'Reilly
      March 20, 2018 / 12:13 pm

      I absolutely LOVE Year of Yes! It was my 2018 kickstarter book and I actually plan on reading it again! That book is life. I’m glad this post resonated with you, you’re going through what many of my friends are currently going through. Even though some of them are opening businesses and enjoying other success, the question of their non-motherhood is what everyone is asking about. Sigh.

  5. Selly
    March 18, 2018 / 12:44 pm

    I had this one friend who’s sister couldn’t conceive and she was going on and on about how there are plenty of kids out there that could be adopted and she didn’t see the “need” to be so depressed about it. I for one always symphathise with women who can’t have kids because as a person who has had a lot of problems with my reproductive system,I understand how heavy the burden can be and how deep the pain runs. Thank you for this

    • Aisha O'Reilly
      March 20, 2018 / 9:55 am

      Thanks Selly. I always wonder how people can be so insensitive. It’s not like people don’t know that there are people out there who struggle. Maybe if there were more of us who called them out, they’d know it wasn’t a welcomed topic.

  6. March 7, 2018 / 10:03 pm

    Wow. this was definately an eye opener. This will help me do better next time I happen to get into a conversation about motherhood and pregnancy.
    I thought I was the only one who gets shamed for strongly leaning towards not bringing children into this world. People even shame me for my reasons by using mothers having trouble concieving. “Mvumi, there are people who can’t have children and you’re saying stuff like A B C”. Procreation anxiety is becoming a real thing as I’m getting older because of this.* sigh. . .people ruin things yazi. Thanks for opening up to us.

    Mvumikazi | Urban Mnguni

    • Aisha O'Reilly
      March 14, 2018 / 5:57 pm

      I’m glad you found this eye opening and aren’t being defensive about it 🙂 One thing I learned about feeling like I’m the only one in thinking/believing/feeling something…chances are someone else is going through the same thing.

  7. Michelle
    March 6, 2018 / 10:58 am

    Love your post👏

    I got shamed like tomorrow was not coming for saying I didn’t enjoy motherhood (it’s a hard life!). Some of the responses I got were:

    “Shame you will love your baby soon” 😳

    “You should go to the Dr to be checked for Postpartum depression “😤

    “Just give it time”🤥
    What does the fact that motherhood is hardwork have to do with loving my child 🤦‍♀️

    • Aisha O'Reilly
      March 7, 2018 / 4:46 pm

      It is hard work. So time to time, it’s not the most enjoyable thing. I certainly didn’t enjoy getting puked on, or not knowing why he was crying. But doesn’t mean I love him any less. It’s not always flowers and rainbows, and to feel whatever you feel just makes you human.

  8. Thandeka
    March 6, 2018 / 10:12 am

    Wow!!! Love it. 35 and no child yet. Praying to God it happens. Thank you

    • Aisha O'Reilly
      March 7, 2018 / 4:47 pm

      I pray it happens for you too Thandeka 😉

  9. March 6, 2018 / 9:14 am

    Aisha I loved this post, we were having this very same conversation at work the other day. It seems you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t *eye roll. I do not have a child and have never nor will I ever judge anyone. It’s your body and your baby, I always cringe when people are more concerned as to how you gave birth more than the well fare of the baby. I mean ugh. I got to a point last year where if someone asked me why I do not have a child, what if you don’t get married, time is going, I would just tell them it’s really none of their concern period. I’m only 33 mind you. But that in itself is an extremely personal question, there are many women struggling with gyneacological issues or have simply made the decision not to have a child and it is no ones business either.

    • Aisha O'Reilly
      March 7, 2018 / 4:50 pm

      It’s NO ONE’s business! I just can’t understand how people have the “balls” to even get into your personal life like that. They won’t ask you what you did over the weekend but they have no problem asking you why you’re not a mother. Smh.

  10. Chantal
    March 5, 2018 / 10:00 pm

    Love your post. I have been struggling with guilt and shame because of my infertility. You are absolutely right when you say we as woman are our own enemies, because I have been made to feel that I’m less of a woman only because I can’t fall pregnant as society dictates. I was told that “oh I also had ovarian problems but I fell pregnant straight away” or “maybe you dont have enough faith” amongst many other hurtful things. I’ve learned that there is power in speaking your truth, cause when you do, you take away the power of those who shame.

    • Aisha O'Reilly
      March 7, 2018 / 4:53 pm

      Thanks for sharing Chantal, what horrible things to hear when you’re in such a place in your life. I hope you succeed in conceiving, and take of yourself so that you can. I’m not an expert but I know that stress and anxiety can contribute, so I hope their hurtful comments are not getting to you. *Hugs*

  11. Karen
    March 5, 2018 / 8:07 pm

    Yup I was one of those women that hated pregnancy I didn’t even want baby shower. Which is ironic because it took us a while to fall pregnant. I knew from day 1 i was having a c section it was a conscious decision i hated breastfeeding and I never co slept. However it doesn’t mean I love my son any less. I am present with him all day. I have given up everything I was and did before to be fully present for him and it works for us. Yet the judgement is crazy because before I was a bad mom for all my decisions and now I’m a bad mom because I choose to be a stay at home so I’m putting all this pressure on hubby financially. There is no pleasing everyone so do what’s best for you and your family

    • Aisha O'Reilly
      March 7, 2018 / 4:57 pm

      Hey Karen, thanks for weighing in. It really does feel like like a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ type of situation. I just hate that the world has made us believe that we all have to have 100% great, glowing experiences. It really invalidates our real experiences.

  12. March 5, 2018 / 4:06 pm

    Love this – because I totally agree with all of it! My son has just turned one and I’m still dealing with and processing my own issues with momguilt and anxiety and a lot of that comes from society and how people have interacted with me before, during and after my pregnancy. Now I’m pregnant again and people are doing it all over again!

    I’ve always said that I wished more moms had been more honest with me before I fell pregnant, which is why I love it when moms are honest – so THANK YOU!

    • Aisha O'Reilly
      March 7, 2018 / 4:59 pm

      Thanks for commenting Kirsten. I’m prepping myself for when I have my second pregnancy. People should just stay away! I’m tired of censoring our experiences for the sake of other people perpetuating a false idea of motherhood.

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