"Regretting Motherhood": 6 Key Learning Points for Doulas and Parents


You know when you think you’re not that hungry, only to start eating and find out you’re ravenous?

This is exactly how it was for me reading Regretting Motherhood by Orna Donath. After many not-that-exciting motherhood related reads in 2023, once I got my teeth into this one I devoured it. I didn’t want it to end, and found myself doing the reading version of “licking the bowl”, i.e. studying the reference list in detail!

If you are a feminist, someone who works with mothers, or a feminist who works with mothers, do yourself a favour and read this book. Donath’s voice is a powerful one. She unflinchingly, respectfully and thoughtfully shares the words and experiences of her study’s participants. There is no fluff here, and no overcomplicating simple, powerful statements to "sound smart". Every word choice is intentional and every sentence earns its place.

As the name suggests, Regretting Motherhood discusses maternal regret, one of the most taboo topics "western" pronatalist societies want to pathologise and sweep under the rug. Yet these are the lived experiences of women - experiences that deserve to be seen, heard and known.(1) They also hold implications for doula practice. While I strongly encourage you to read the text for yourself (I put in a purchase request to my local library, and having read the book will likely now get a copy for my own bookshelf), there are a six key takeaways we as parents and parent supporters can be aware of from the get go.

  1. Regretting becoming a mother is not the same as regretting the existence of the children who made a woman or individual a mother. Donath gives the example of an ex-boyfriend, where we may not wish death upon them, but wish that person had pursued a relationship with someone else. Likewise, a mother who regrets motherhood may not wish her children didn’t exist, but would prefer they had been born to someone else.
  2. Regretting motherhood should not be automatically conflated with a desire or likelihood to neglect or harm one’s children. Mothers who regret motherhood can still be nurturing, caring, protective and effective parents who seek to meet and exceed the needs of their children.
  3. Impressions of what it’s like to be a mother are formed through personal interactions, pop culture, social media etc. Some women regret becoming mothers after finding motherhood is “not at all what the label said it would be like.” We all have a responsibility to our friends/daughters/anyone without kids who can see our socials to paint a holistic, nuanced portrait of motherhood, including its challenges and drawbacks, rather than a 2D, aspirational, rose-coloured glasses one. This will allow those around us to make a more informed choice as to whether they would or would not like to pursue having children of their own.
  4. Expressing regret for motherhood does not necessarily mean a mother has postnatal depression. As doulas and support people we need be aware of mental health flags, but also not pathologise what is a potentially normal response to an experience you can’t “try before you buy”.
  5. Sometimes we tend to view “difficulties adjusting to motherhood” as simply part of the identity shifting process of matrescence. If we only accept this model, it assumes the associated discomfort will be alleviated over time. However, the testimonies of participants in this study demonstrate that even if decades have passed since the early mothering years some women still regret becoming mothers, and do not develop a restrospective belief that the labour of motherhood was “all worth it in the end.”
  6. Sometimes we tend to view “difficulties adjusting to motherhood” as due to contextual hardships, and assume that maternal regret would dissipate with adequate emotional, practical, financial and spiritual supports. However, even if all material and support conditions are met to make the work of raising children more manageable, some women still regret becoming mothers.

Does the notion that some mothers experience not just ambivalence but deep-seated regret surprise, intrigue, enrage or resonate with you?  Do yourself a favour and read the book.(2) It’s a cracker.


1. I found it confronting to begin, continue reading and also publicly write about this book, written by an Israeli author studying Israeli mothers, as the IDF attack on Gaza rages. A friend reminded me that this book is an important challenge to Zionism, as Israeli society is heavily pronatalist, both historically and now. In a 2015 journal article, Donath notes “Addressing the emotional stance of regret cannot be taken for granted given the pronatalist social climate prevalent in numerous countries, including Israel. Total fertility rates in Israel are the highest in the developed world...” For reference, the birth rate in Israel in 2020 was 2.9 births per woman, compared to Australia’s 1.58, UK 1.56, US 1.64, Russia 1.5, China 1.28, Japan 1.34, Spain 1.28, France 1.83 (numbers sourced from Google).

This article titled “Be Fruitful and Multiply”: The Role of Israeli Pronatalist Policy in the Pursuit of Jewish Demographic Dominance in the Holy Land from The Yale Review of International Studies in 2018 offers the following insights into the impetus historically placed on Israeli women to become mothers:

“David Ben-Gurion, the first Israeli Prime Minister, obsessed over Jewish demographic superiority in his new nation: he wrote in his autobiography, “For the survival and security of the State of Israel, a higher birthrate and increased immigration are essential”, and he “likened Jewish women with less than four children to draftees who evade military service.”


2. If you would prefer to engage in the topic without purchasing/reading the book directly, Donath has also been featured on the subject of motherhood regret across a variety of podcasts and YouTube interviews.


There are no comments yet. Be the first one to leave a comment!