Wednesday, October 8, 2008

To Be or Not to Be a Mother, That is the Question

(portrait of Laura Bassi, Italian professor)

I am entering the sunset phase of my reproductive years and for the first time, I hear the clock ticking.

Should I succumb to the age old call of passing down my genes? Are my genes good enough to pass down? Or should I select a child who is already here, adopt someone who is lost its mother? Would I be a good mom or would I drive my child into years of therapy?

Do most women question whether they should go ahead and turn their bodies and their lives over to another human being? How are they so willing to relinquish control over to their creation? Aren't they afraid it will turn on them as Mary Shelly's Frankenstein or Gertrude Bell's Iraq did?

I have many hesitations to willingly giving birth to a child and I suspect I am not alone in my ambivalence. I've read the countless tales of talented women artists who never produced another painting after they had children. Granted, many of these women lived in an era when child raising and housekeeping consumed one's entire day and energy. Today more women seem to balance creativity and childrearing. I suspect the secret of their success lies with a support network.

I am impressed by the number of "working mom" and mom entrepreneur chat room and websites that exist. It seems that half of the women websites and women blogs are a resource for working mothers. This gives me hope. One organization I've used to help me understand internet marketing is led by Alice Seba, called Internet Working Moms. This is one of many great resources for women who are creating innovative careers that allow them to balance the needs of family with the needs as a financial provider.

Each time my mother asks for grandchildren, I remind her that I am busy trying to get my writing career off the ground and to make money in business. I tell her my female heroes didn't have children, including Georgia O'Keeffe, Edith Wharton, Jane Addams, Gertrude Bell, and Eva Hesse. I remember how much Sylvia Plath struggled to balance family and work, and how she lost that struggle.

But then my mother reminds me of other women I admire who managed to pull it off. Jessie Fremont (1824-1902), an abolitionist, writer, and political campaigner had a couple of children.
Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) who is credited as the first American feminist had six children.

I was most surprised to learn of the first female physics professor at the University of Bologna in Italy. Laura Bassi (1711-1778) was described as "a figure of the greatest importance in the intellectually flourishing Bologna of the eighteenth century" * The University of Bologna was one of the premier universities in Europe. Bologna itself was a hotbed for female progress, housing several famous female painters after the Italian Renaissance.

Bassi had at least eight children with her husband Giuseppe Veratti. Her husband also taught at the university but his position was ranked lower than hers. Bassi negotiated an arrangement with the university that not only allowed her to lead lectures from her home but to also receive higher pay. She was a champion of Newtonian physics and is credited with bringing Isaac Newton's physics to Italy.* She is definitely a role model for mothers who also have an established professional career.

The study of these women still hasn't led me to a decision, so I guess I'll continue to listen to that clock tick as I wrestle in my ambivalence.

Looking for more?

Laura Bassi biography page

Internet Working Moms

Allison Frederick believes that Role Modeling is one of the most effective ways to launch a program, improve a product, and personally achieve a higher level of success and goals.


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