by Rosemary L. Bray

It is the morning from hell. To my left, my 2-week-old son, screaming with hunger, roots wildly for my breast. At the foot of the bed, my 3-year-old son rocks forlornly in our glider, kicking the ottoman just hard enough to hurt my ears, and whines for his breakfast too. To my right, lies my husband, desperate for sleep after a night divided between a newborn, a displaced preschooler and his postpartum wife. And in the next room, on a desk in my messy office, sit two overdue articles, an incomplete book manuscript, unanswered letters. And it is only 8 A.M.

So what’s right with this picture?

We almost never celebrate those women
who have made the choices we would not
or could not make. But perhaps we should.

Overwrought as they might make me, these are some of the ingredients of my freely chosen life. As a woman – and a womanist – I am committed to every woman’s right to choose the direction her life will take. As an African American, history has taught me how scarce the commodity of genuine choice really is, how dependent it is on your class, your race, your gender, on the level of power at your command. As progressive people, we have sometimes focused our vision of choice on those things we have decided not to do. Most of American society has acknowledged by now that to be full and free people, women need not marry, or have children, or be heterosexual, or be in a relationship at all. I am young enough to regard such freedom of choice as unremarkable, though for the women who first dared to assert such freedom, theirs were acts of heresy.

It’s especially ridiculous, in light of such recent history, to note the quiet scorn among otherwise politically progressive women about the choices many of us make. Those of us sitting in judgment are doing it much more subtlety – but we are still doing it. The mothers among us feel sorry for the childless, as though women without children had been deprived of air and water, rather than 20 years of focused responsibility for other human beings. Child-free women liken the maternal state to brainwashed drudgery and sometimes berate women for selfless sacrifice, without a thought for the fun and fulfillment that are part of the task.

We critique each other’s choices about sexuality, about relationships, about political beliefs. We almost never celebrate those women who have made the choices we would not or could not make. But perhaps we should. At the very least, we ought to honor each other more – for our clarity about ourselves and our needs. We ought to have faith that the substance of our lives – as we live them – is a contribution to the women’s movement that guides and inspires us. One of the most inspirational parts, for me, has always been an insistence on a woman’s right to self-determination. When we can give up prescribing what a free woman’s life looks like, we’ll be more than halfway home.