'I know I'm not supposed to say this – but I wish I had never had my children'

By Kirstin Buick
08 March 2017

"I couldn't walk away and still live with myself, but I also couldn't stand it."

"I regret having kids."

It's a statement you couldn't imagine hearing in mommy circles; women are expected to handle everything motherhood throws at them – and be blissfully happy doing it.

But is this reality?

Mariëtte du Preez* of Pretoria told YOU she loves her son but if she could choose again she’d have ended her pregnancy.

Anton* is physically and mentally disabled and at 29 is unable to walk, talk or even eat on his own. He wears a nappy and is dependent on Mariëtte 24 hours a day.

Read more: A mom’s story: I regret keeping my baby

But Mariëtte certainly isn't the only mom who feels this way – even mothers of perfectly healthy children admit they wouldn't have kids if they could do it all over.

In a moving feature by Marie Claire several women open up, on condition of anonymity, about their feelings of maternal regret.

One of them is Laura*, a 37-year-old LA-based journalist, who reveals she always thought she'd wanted children – until she actually had one.

"The regret hit me when the grandmas went home and my husband went back to the office and I was on my own with him," she says. "I realised that this was my life now – and it was unbearable."

And what at first appeared to be symptoms of postpartum depression never lifted.

"I hated, hated, hated the situation I found myself in," she admits.

"I think the word for what I felt is 'trapped'. After I had a kid I realised I hated being the mother to an infant, but by then it was too late.

"I couldn't walk away and still live with myself, but I also couldn't stand it. I felt like my life was basically a middle-class prison." The candid piece by the outlet's Sarah Treleaven references communities on forums Quora and Reddit for women who feel similarly to Laura. There's even a Facebook page called I Regret Having Children. It has more than 5 000 members. "Seeing all my single friends, or married friends without children made me jealous," one of the Facebook community's members wrote. "It's like I died, and I lost my previous life. I entered a new life with much less joy, sex, sleep, FUN. In reality you lose 99% of your freedom."

Another woman spoke out on Reddit: "I wish I could have two lives: one with the husband and four children, and one as a single woman.

"I really love the life I have, but the other one would have been nice as well. Either way, I would still have imagined myself in the other life from time to time. Whatever you decide to do, just love the life you do choose."

While it may seem to be a growing movement (for want of a better term), the issue of maternal regret is certainly nothing new.

In 2005, author Ayelet Waldman wrote an article for The New York Times about how she loved her husband more than her kids.

“Yes, I have four children . . . But I’m not in love with any of them,” she declared. “I am in love with my husband.”

As NY Mag points out, Ayelet was then invited to appear on Oprah – where the audience of mothers screamed at her.

In 2013, now 60-year-old Isabella Dutton penned a bold piece for The Daily Mail in which she declared she felt similarly.

"My son Stuart was five days old when the realisation hit me like a physical blow: having a child had been the biggest mistake of my life."

She went on to have another child, Jo ("I believe it is utterly selfish to have an only one"), and experienced the same feelings of "detachment" and "indifference".

"Whenever I've told friends I wished I'd never had them, they've gasped with shock. 'You can't mean that?' But, of course, I do."

In 2015 Orna Donath, whom The Guardian describes as an Israeli sociologist, "who decided not to have children and was fed up with being considered an aberration", explored the complicated, still-taboo issue of maternal regret.

She published a study based on interviews with 23 Israeli mothers, some of whom already had grandchildren. These weren't women who felt ambivalent about motherhood, she explained – these were women who actually wished to "undo" it.

She acknowledged motherhood “may be a font of personal fulfillment, pleasure, love, pride, contentment and joy”– but that's not the case for many women.

"[Motherhood] may simultaneously be a realm of distress, helplessness, frustration, hostility and disappointment, as well as an arena of oppression and subordination."

Orna's report unleashed international fury. One German columnist, Harald Martenstein, wrote that these “motherhood regretters” were actually guilty of committing child abuse if they confront their own children with their negative feelings about motherhood.

But for some of the desperately unhappy women opening up on the the growing number of online forums, it actually has nothing to do with the children themselves – and it's something they'd never dream of telling their kids.

"Yes, I absolutely regret it," one such mom wrote on Reddit. "I can NEVER say these things out loud, and never will. I need to preface this with saying that my absolute priority in all things is to never let my son know how I feel; it's not his fault."

Do you feel similarly? We want to know how you feel, even if you want to remain anonymous. Click here to have your say.

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*Not their real names

Sources: NY Mag, Marie Claire, Mail Online, The Guardian

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