Regretting Motherhood by Orna Donath: Book summary & review

A note about book reviews from the archive:
These book ‘reviews’ can range from book notes to summaries to my thoughts on the book as a whole. Anything written before 2019 is considered ‘from the archive’, and therefore may not be as polished or complete as I would like it to be. However, I have still decided to post them as I work to improve their content and structure.


This book shows motherhood in a new light, as it discusses the notion that having children is something that can be regretted by a woman. There are many interviews featured and direct quotes given, which give the reader a clear idea of what these women were trying to convey in their own words.

About the author

Qualitative sociological research on women who became mothers and regretted it
Did previous research about Israeli-Jewish women and men who had no desire to be parents


Misconceptions about motherhood, the fact that it is possible to even regret being a mother
Many complex feelings associated with regretting motherhood, not just black and white
It is possible to feel negatively towards being a mother and still loving your children
How society tells women it is their logical and natural progression to be a mother, that women will regret it only if they don’t have children

Paths to Motherhood

Difference between choosing to be a mother: you can consent to it but it can also be against your will ex. if your partner pressures you
It’s not always your partner pressuring you though, you can do it to yourself because society has conditioned you to think that motherhood is what you should be doing next so you pressure yourself in a way
Many women even say they knew they didn’t want to be mothers but outside influences as life progressed ‘changed their mind’: rather it made them feel like their feelings were incorrect
Religion, society, familial pressures
Partners can threaten divorce, attempts to save a marriage, don’t even talk about it with their partner it just happens because they don’t actively prevent it or plan for it, “going with the flow”, finding a purpose in life, devoting their time to something bigger than themselves

Demanding Motherhood

“You will come to terms with it…stop whining…at least they dared to have children…it’s a beautiful journey isn’t it…you have to behave a certain way in order to be a good mother…”
Everything falls on the mother, to do emotional and cognitive training, support
A woman can’t even admit to not liking being a mother, there is a single narrative and people ask rhetorical questions that you seemingly have no choice but to agree or disagree to ex. how is being a new mom? One would have to answer something positive rather than admit to hating it or being unhappy
These feelings are recognized but always said that they will pass eventually: once the child is born, once it takes its first steps, etc. and you will finally see how rewarding and lucky you are to be a mother
Women can simultaneously love and hate being a mother all at once, love their children and hate their children, and these conflicting emotions can have more of a potent effect on the woman than simply recognizing she hates her children and her role as a mother sometimes
Post-Partum Depression now being more greatly recognized and discussed
You can be a good mom and hate it
Mothers are expected to feel certain ways and anything outside of the normal scope is not validated and therefore leaves the women with confusion and internal conflict

Regretting Motherhood

Regret deals with past and present, tangible and remembered; involves looking back and analyzing
Time is seen in Western societies as linear; like one is not supposed to look back, keep moving forward, “what’s done is done”
Regret can be individual or collective, based on feelings that if only I could’ve done something else, the outcome would be different
Has a legal component, showing regret or remorse in court can lead to leniency in sentencing, can get someone a lighter punishment; reason being is that someone who is willing to admit fault and show regret is seemingly less likely to commit a similar offence in the future and be more careful of their actions
As long as you regret things that favor society’s standards ex. regretting not exercising or regretting not eating healthy, then regret is a legitimized emotion, but as far as regretting something against societal norms ex. not having children, then your regret is looked at negatively
“Women have an innate female connection to pregnancy, which negates the possibility of wishing to avoid its results”
Many women made the clear distinction that if they could go back with the information they know now they wouldn’t become mothers, however some said if they didn’t have the information they would still probably be mothers just because they wanted to fit in or felt like they had to etc.
Many said they can’t say they wish their child had never been born because they love their children as human beings but they don’t like the responsibility of being their mother and that being their entire focus for the rest of their lives
Sigmund Freud research and him saying mothers are just background players in someone else’s movie
Advantages and disadvantages to motherhood: disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Partly, society told these women a child’s smile would be worth it all, but like one lady said, you can smile at a child in the street, you don’t necessarily need to be responsible for their infancy and care all the way to adulthood. Many said it made them a better person, they learned compassion and care, and some really connect with their children, helping them with homework and everything. But many really believe it is not worth it. All the bad days for the few good ones.

Living With an Illicit Emotion

Women think/fantasize about killing their kids, divorcing their partners, leaving like the stories of husbands that leave their wives
One lady talked about how her husband is great for her, excellent partner great match for her, but she considered divorce so she could give up her children
Some don’t leave because again it is a social stigma, their families would not accept it, they might not be able to live with their actions
Many still care about their children even though they wish they didn’t exist. Ex. some women fight for custody of their children even though they don’t want them because they know the husband would not take proper care of them and it conflicts them because they are fighting for something they do not even want
Fathers and how they have more social freedom to take the night off or have a far lesser role in rearing the children or doing anything in general that means caring for them; women are not afforded those same freedoms
Even the woman who has a husband that is the ‘mom’ of the house, she still is exhausted by the children
Motherhood can be traumatic, and women, even the ones that love their children and are happy to have them, on some level may be sad about losing their previous selves or previous lives
Why they had more kids: some believed society’s “it will be better the second time”, some felt they could correct past mistakes from their first born, some felt it was doing a disservice to their only child
Why they didn’t: they couldn’t bear it, they knew what they went through and were not happy with the experience
The disappointment of motherhood not being what they imagined it would be, some women thought it would be different and that’s why they have less kids then they thought they wanted

But What About the Children?

Is it fair to not tell your kids that they were not wanted? That you regret they ever existed?
Some women say they keep silent on their opinions, to their kids, families, coworkers
Some because they are silenced when they try to talk about it, others afraid of the consequences and relationship breakdown that could happen if they bring it up so they keep it to themselves
Others: what’s the point? Why should my child know this? How would that benefit them in any way other than hurt them
Some women’s families and friends know, some of them aren’t happy about it but others understand
Some have told their children, and try to make it clear that even if they could go back and not have kids they would but they still love their children and care for them
Others that have considered telling their kids in the future ‘when the time is right’ say that they were be a failure as a mother if their daughter went through life and did the exact same thing they did, become a mother and regret it
Others say kids ‘know’, articles written by kids who were blamed for their mothers ‘losing out on their lives’ said that it was a burden put on their shoulders as a kid but once you grow up you realize that mothers are just humans and you can’t really blame them for their actions because they are just a person too
One lady said she tells her kid everything. He’s only 2 but she just tells him how she felt about things and it’s better to not hide anything, full disclosure.
Many women encourage other women who don’t have children to wait, think about it, say it’s not necessary, and encourage the women that don’t want kids and tell them it’s okay to live that way and believe that
The idea that if women were born to be mothers would we need an entire culture to direct them that way and make sure they do it or wouldn’t it just happen naturally
What is a mother’s responsibility? To herself? To her children? Why are they not allowed to speak out about their experiences? Why is it such a problem for some people and why do people have opinions on other people’s feelings when they choose to express them?

Mothers as Subjects

Mothering Index-index of countries that gives some insight into how “easy” or [insert adjective] mothering is for those mothers
Besides the fact of just being someone’s mother, many other factors go into it ex. being poor, disabled, person of color, young, etc. Are these factors the only reason that these women regret being a mother?
Struggle for balance between paid work outside of the home and unpaid work inside of the home
For some women in poverty, their children are their only reason to live; others, it is the reason they are living how they are and they are not satisfied
Nowadays everyone is seeking to be perfect, and today’s perfection equates to being average; just like everyone else
There can be a change in life circumstances between when the women want to have the children and when they actually do; even between the time they become pregnant and have the child, etc. The point is things can always be changing: lose house, accidents, partner is no longer there/reliable. Difference between expectation and reality
One woman says it is all on women’s shoulders, we are all alone because no one judges men.
My own thought-we need to get men to be held accountable. And how society generalizes men, it is the same as generalizing women. We are all people, and it is up to the individual to create the whole. One can meet a great man who is willing to care for you, be with you. He may not be perfect but he might be worth it in what he is willing to let you do. Learned a lot from a room of mixed kids, sitting at the woman table and hearing what they were talking about, and listening into the living room to hear what the men talk about
Even what the women say, they were bold with their men. Telling each other what is going on in their relationships, and casually yelling things to them in the living room. But they wait for their men to propose, to have kids, do what they’re doing. I could have little snippets of what I’ve learned and how I’ve learned them. I’m a great writer, and even when talking to Carrie I realize that I will tell an entire story just to illustrate my point which is not always a bad thing
The idea that women have to choose between having a career and having children is also inaccurate for some, as there are women that want to have neither. One woman wrote in a blog for women who don’t want to be mothers and aren’t that she wants to make money doing things she loved so she could continue to do things she loved to do
Another study on Canadian nonparents says that the people that chose not to be parents were satisfied not because it allowed them to be free to choose a career, but because it allowed them to be free not to
One lady on the forum said that when there is something inside of you that just doesn’t want something, it doesn’t matter how much help you would get, how easy it would be, you just wouldn’t want it. And there’s some women that it doesn’t matter how easy the pregnancy, how simple the birth, how much extra help, being a mother does not interest them
Society sees mothers as a function for others, a supporting role to the children’s lives; forgets/negates the fact that mothers are still women, people, human beings; with feelings, emotions, ideas, passions, interests
This idea of a “good mother” is not attainable for most because it forces the woman to abandon everything about her life in favor of the life of the child—what is the point? Why give up your life for the life of someone else?
The idea of motherhood and mothers is constantly changing, whether influenced by religion, politics, or for economic reasons
Mothers regretting motherhood conflicts with the idea that mothers are nurturing, selfless, caring, emotional caregivers, and instead paints a picture that some women may not be interested in providing all of those things; separation between public sphere, which is capitalism—individualistic, rational, competitive, impersonal; vs. the private sphere, where everything is supposed to be emotional, loving, and caring


The study led the author to explore deeper things than just regretting motherhood; led to illumination on feeling rules, the idea that the past is inaccessible and has no effect on the present, “emotions progress on the axis of time”, “the way we are encouraged to selectively forget”
“When people don’t believe that regretting motherhood exists, or when they feel rage toward it, what they’re actually saying is that it is dangerous for society when women look back and evaluate the transition to motherhood as not worthwhile”
Roots of distrust and non-acknowledgement of regretting motherhood can partially be attributed to society’s idea that women are fulfilled once they have children, that they will eventually learn to love it and if not love it then appreciate the deeper aspects of it; and if they are unable to do even that, it is the woman’s fault, not society’s romanticized projection of what it will be like
Mothers in gender stereotypes: either so emotional they can’t control themselves or cold-blooded, unfeminine, and unfeeling
What is the use of talking about it? Some women wanted a written copy of the transcript in order to see how they felt and document their journey, a platform to express their feelings, and be able to share their experiences with others, “save people”
How regretting motherhood is different than other types of regret: in court, regret means sanity and ownership of responsibility; for mothers, regret means insanity and renunciation of responsibility
Motherhood is seen as the destination, society says be a mother or you’re useless, then once the women become mothers and express any negative feelings, society says it was their choice so they should deal with it
Women need to be able to own themselves, their lives, their feelings


Like I said in the beginning, this is a list of notes I took away from the book when I first read it. Eventually, I hope re-read it, and write a cohesive essay on what I gained. If you are confused by my notes or want to find out more, I encourage you to read the book for yourself. It is full of insight and different perspectives, and I would definitely recommend this book to anyone.

Leave a Reply