Motherhood is Not A Woman's Greatest Achievement!

Mother and ChildFar in the hinterlands of Ghana, in some remote village, a woman is being celebrated. She has just given birth to her 10th child. If he’s a boy, he’ll be called Adu. If she’s a girl, I’m not quite sure what they’ll call her. But, there is one thing of which I am certain, there is a celebration happening at this very moment. The women of the village are dancing, their feet doing the pet-a-pet to the rhythms of the drumbeat. The men are nodding their heads in approval, cloths swung over their shoulders in egotistical fashion. The man who planted the 10th seed is the one bobbing his head the most. He has finally achieved too, he married well. Having an eleventh mouth to feed is the least of his concerns. For now, he just wants to enjoy the attention, the honor, the singing and the dancing.

Yes, some place far away from here, child birth is being celebrated as one woman’s highest achievement. Goats and cows have been slaughtered. Women have donned their best outfits and their finest jewelry, and are singing the praises of Adu Maame - which is what she will be called from here on out; all traces of her previous existence essentially erased as she takes on the identity of her highest achievement. Many women aspire to achieve this honor. Time and time again, they lay writhing in pain, cursing the day their husbands were born, berating the children who came before and swearing never to have to endure such inside splitting pain again. And yet, year after year, they dream of the day they’ll be honored with the singing and dancing of their village clansmen and women who would come to help them celebrate. This is the dream of the woman with nothing higher to attain to. She has probably never been to school. She was probably married at the age of 16, or maybe a little older if her parents had a little money and therefore had no immediate need for a dowry. She probably works her husband’s farm from dawn to dusk, her back constantly bent over as she pulls weeds from the corn fields. She is maybe one of three wives, one of two if she’s lucky. None of these additional wives had anything to do with her fertility, obviously. She has proven she is a woman. Motherhood has shined favorably on her and made her worthy. This, is her dream. This is what she lives for. This is what she calls an achievement. And in a place where women give birth without the help of epidural, a 10th child is certainly an accomplishment worth the fanfare. Matter of fact, any childbirth without the aid of epidural is worthy of being called an achievement.

But, not in these parts of the world, not in a place where a woman’s opportunities are unlimited and her range of freedoms and choices are innumerable. In such a place as this, I find it difficult to see motherhood as a woman’s highest achievement, as was argued by two of my educated friends not too long ago. Neither one of them fits the profile of Adu Maame. One holds a Master’s Degree in a field originally reserved for men. The other holds a Bachelor’s Degree and is very vocal and intelligent. To hear them argue their lack of achievement based solely on the fact that they are single and childless left me confused and, admittedly, a little sad. I did not attend either of their graduations, but I remember my own. My parents flew all the way from Ghana to be with me in Virginia. They threw me a party and stood proudly (my father more than my mother) by as they watched me celebrate with my friends. That was my highest achievement then.

And this is now. I have since gone on to start a publication, I am working to get my writing career off the ground, I live on my own and, I pay my own bills. When trouble lands on my doorstep, I either handle it to the best of my ability or I reign in my loved ones for support. Someday, I do hope to be married, and I certainly would love to have children; preferably two, maybe even three. And when that day comes, I plan to celebrate that too, not as my greatest achievement, but as one of many special moments that deserve celebrating. Babies will not erase the accomplishments that came (and would continue to come) before them and will definitely not define my level of accomplishment. An accomplishment is something the majority does not attain. Any woman (if not all) can become a mother, but not all women have the guts to work hard to attain what is considered unattainable.

I know too many wives and too many mothers, they are everywhere I turn. Some are 13 years –old, some are 50. Many of them had painless births – nothing to write home about. However, I know very few women who have made a success out of a publication that has lasted for generations. I know very few women (Ghanaian women for that matter) who can call themselves accomplished writers; who have dreamed of dreams outside of babies and gone after those dreams. I know very few women who have reached for the best they can pull out of themselves. I know too few women willing to stand up and fight for their rights and/or for the rights of others. I know very few women who can honestly look themselves in the mirror and say “I dreamed of a life bigger than the usual and I have achieved it; plus the added bonus of marriage and babies.”

I know too many women who gave up dreams to become wives and mothers. Today they are the ones offering me what they consider words of wisdom that they themselves were too hasty to heed. They say things like, “take your time Nana, it’s not all it is cranked up to be.” Or things like, “hmm, it is not easy. I wish I had waited a little longer.” They tell me they envy my freedom to go after the things I want out of life, to go where I want without constraints. And in many ways I feel sorry for them. I may envy them sometimes, but I feel sorry for them more often than I’m envious. Envy comes only when all seems right in their world from the glimpses they offer me from the outside. That envy, however, is usually a flash reaction reflected in a specific frustrating moment when I wonder if a husband and children will somehow make my life easier and, maybe, even happier – like either of the two is a fix for exasperating moments.

Motherhood is indisputably every woman’s desire - well, maybe not every woman - but it is always a sad day when a woman capable of so much more than being Adu Maame calls herself a failure because she has not quite worked up to her highest achievement of being a mother!

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