Choosing to have children is a private decision with global consequences. Other Than Mother explores the decision-making process around not having children. It is in three parts:
Part I The Worldly Winds explores the backdrop to deciding whether or not to have children, including the cultural changes brought about by a rise in voluntary/intentional childlessness.
Part II A Private Decision with Global Consequences explores the pros and cons in the decision-making process, including ecological and environmental considerations.
Part III New Horizons and Baby-sized Projects explores living with the decision.
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
I found this book a useful guide to life in general, of living together with all sentient beings, including the Earth herself, in harmony and compassion, helping to create a fairer world and healthier planet, even though Kamalamani points out in the introduction to 'Other than Mother' that it is primarily a text for those weighing up the pros and cons of deciding whether or not to have children. Kamalamani, who decided long ago not to bear children herself for various reasons takes us, sometimes painstakingly, through the minutiae of her decision so that we may be informed of nuances of making such a choice. As part of the wider view, she also brings into question cultural attitudes towards women in general and seeks to reclaim what are considered 'natural' lifestyle choices, advocating validity and a full and rich existence with or without children. Refreshingly, she talks of the realm of not having children as a positive thing and challenges the notion of Womanhood equaling Motherhood along with a wish for open dialogue between those that are parents and those that aren't, so that the wealth of experience of both can be heard wholeheartedly. She helps us to get to know the 'Worldly Winds', the pains and pleasures that blow through all of of our lives, in a way that graces us with a deeper experience of life on Earth. ~ Cheryl Tipple, 'She Who Knows' magazine
Other Than Mother is the more philosophical book (Other Than Mother is reviewed here alongside Jody Day's Living the Live Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children). The author has a Buddhist background and her childfree choice has been heavily influenced by her beliefs, in particular her wish not to harm others by adding to the world's already unhelpfully over-large population. The book's aim is to help both the reader who wants to decide whether to procreate, and the reader who wants to understand and be at peace with their existing decision to do so. The 42 chapters - some just a few pages long - cover a broad range of factors to consider, along with regular invitations to the reader to reflect on their own attitudes, beliefs, and motivations, and the impact of those on the reader's future and the future of society as a whole. This book does not proselytise about childfree living, but it does defend it. And as such, though it is not so obviously useful to health professionals as Living the Life Unexpected may appear to be, I do believe it should be required background reading for anyone working in reproductive medicine. Surely we need to understand the personal attitudes and motivations that underline the seismic shifts in society following the development of effective contraception. Now that women can reliably choose whether or not to procreate, how do our patients - but also we ourselves - make that choice? Even more importantly, how should we make the choice? Other Than Mother sheds essential light on both questions....Very different in market, focus, aim, structure and style, both books not only individually add to the canon of useful literature, but as a pair also form a diptych of insight into the challenges of reproductive choice in the 21st century. ~ Susan Quilliam, Writer, Broadcaster, Consultant., Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care Volume 42, Issue 3.
The author of this book about choosing childlessness with life in mind is both a therapist and Buddhist nun. The discussion is divided into three parts, first the background of the worldly winds of pleasure and pain, loss and gain, fame and infamy, praise and blame, which play a prominent role in forming our identity and expectations – in the case of women this includes the powerful role model and status of the mother. Increasing numbers of women are now choosing consciously not to have children in spite of these pressures, many of which come from the family and our ideas about normality. The second part focuses on the decision-making process, drawing on the author’s own experience and thinking around the issue. These will reflect the thoughts of any women seriously considering the question, including potential regret. This is addressed more fully in the third part about living with the decision and making sure that any void is filled by giving birth to projects in the time that would otherwise have been devoted to raising children. The decision-making process can ebb and flow, but each possibility represents a new beginning – in her own case the aspiration to participate in the calling of the bodhisattva.
A sensitive, enlightening and compassionate book.
~ David Lorimer, Network Review
In the early chapters of Other Than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind, Kamalamani cites a researcher who claims, “Intentionally childless women have been reported as ‘deviant’” (42). This is the crux of her argument: that those women who have not given birth—either by choice, circumstance, or a combination of the two—are subject to raised eyebrows, intrusive questions, and judgment by what she calls a “pronatal” society. To give birth to and rear children is the default; to do otherwise, for any reason, is to assume a role of countercultural defiance. However, as Kamalamani points out, “with approximately one in four women deciding not to have children” (129), clearly many more women are considering it than ever before.
Therefore, this book’s primary purpose is to assist a person in making that choice in a thoughtful, introspective manner by providing personal anecdotes, research, and journal prompts for the reader to answer at the end of each chapter. Kamalamani’s honesty in the telling of her own story is compelling, and the research she shares is helpful in understanding one of her primary reasons for remaining childless: the ecological impact of overpopulation. She writes:
"Deciding to choose to have six children remains a non-political decision, even though we collectively face, or in truth, are just turning towards, the challenges we face. There may be sufficient food, water, and shelter for everyone on the planet, but so far we have fallen short in ensuring everyone leads a free, fed life, as well as not only ignoring, but actually compromising the health of the planet. (53)"
Indeed, she references the United Nations, according to whom the world population numbered six billion in 1999, and is estimated now to be over seven billion (53). While we may automatically consider childbearing to be an inalienable right of all living people, rarely do we consider the impact of our family’s growth on others or our environment.
Kamalamani’s faith as a practitioner of Buddhism also deeply informs her choice for childlessness. As she quotes from Macy,
"When you look at what is happening to our world—and it is hard to look at what is happening to our water, our air, our trees, our fellow species—it becomes clear that, unless you have some roots in spiritual practice that holds life sacred and encourages joyful communion with all your fellow beings, facing the enormous challenges ahead is nearly impossible. (159)"
While Kamalamani chooses Buddhism as her spiritual foothold, a person of any faith can extrapolate the significance of Macy’s words. Almost all major world religions and philosophies stress the value of life; however, in this case, Other than Mother urges us to interpret that value in terms of the life already here on the planet—“fellow species” who are struggling as their habitats are being destroyed, and fellow humans who, despite Earth’s abundance, still struggle to obtain daily necessities, even in developed nations.
Most useful, however, is the book’s third and final section, which helps readers who have made the choice to remain childless determine what happens next for them. They may decide to take on “baby-sized projects,” as they are called, or they may experience periods of doubt or regret. It may be difficult at times to speak honestly with those around us—family, friends, and strangers alike—about these personal decisions, knowing that to do so often invites intense scrutiny. All of these, the author reminds us, are normal, and again she refers us to our spiritual grounding for both guidance and strength.
Finally, although it may not have been the intention, Other Than Mother serves an additional purpose: educating those who have opted in or expect to one day bring children into the world about the idea that it is a choice, and that there are legitimate reasons to choose either path. That understanding alone could pave the way for more men and women to feel comfortable in choosing a childless life without feeling “deviant.” ~ Issa Lewis, Mom Egg Review, New York
Written by a British Buddhist psychotherapist, this thorough, philosophical and helpful book explores the authors own decade long exploration of her choice whether to become a mother or not. She herself decided to remain childfree, but it was by no means an easy choice, and she does not promote it as the ‘right’ choice for everyone. Highly recommended for its inclusion, without any kind of preaching, of the environmental aspects of the decision to parent. Recommended to those also looking to make peace with not having had children, not by choice. ~ Jody Day founder of , Gateway Women
I found this to be a thoughtful, well researched book. As Kamalamani says it's 'about choosing life and keeping the initiative in how you live.' It's divided into three sections, Part I Worldly wins, Part II A private decision with global consequences and Part III New horizons and baby-sized projects. I was particularly interested in how and why Kamalamani came to the decision not to have children. And she describes this in an honest, thoughtful and logical way. The chapters are short and easy digestible and, at the end of many are reveries or pregnant pauses where she asks readers to consider the topics discussed. Readers will benefit greatly from taking their time to work through these. Part III resonated with me the most, and particularly the challenge of managing loss combined with the making the most of the freedom you now have, the concepts of roaming new terrain and how to regain your life by starting baby sized projects.
I would encourage those considering whether or not to have children to read Other than a Mother as it will add a different and broader perspective to their decision. I would also recommend it for families of those who have chosen childlessness as they will gain greater understanding of their loved one's decision. ~ Lesley Pyne , Coach for childless women and author of 'The First Step'
Book Review: Other Than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind by Kamalamani
This is a book about the intentional choice to be childless or child-free.
In a beautiful introductory paragraph, Kamalanani describes what led her to write this book.
'I was looking for a book capturing the spirit of how I might‘give birth’: giving expression to my nurturing and creative instincts, through living, working, relating, and Buddhist practice. Honoring life, without producing an earthling. Being a woman but not choosing to be a mother. Whilst I found a few interesting books on this subject, they were not quite what I was seeking'
What I love about this book is how Kamalanani explores how giving birth can mean many things - in particular giving expression to nuturing and creative instincts. She challenges the notion that choosing to be childless intentionally means rejecting life. Indeed she looks at how the choice to have children is a life affirming choice. She explains that while she started writing the book as an exploration of a personal journey, it turned into something which 'explored the relevance of the baby-making decision to the current situation we are in as humans living on planet earth.
Her commitment to Buddhism and the environment played a very large part in her decision. As the environmental plight of the world become more acute, this is an issue that does impact on the decision making of many women concerned about the environment ( see my blog post Can I care about the environment and have children? )
Each chapter in the book is focussed on a different theme or aspect on being intentionally childless or childfree and it is very comprehensive. She includes exercises for readers to do, to help them work through their own journey.
Towards the end of the book Kamalanani makes a powerful statement, saying that:
'It is not compulsory to have children in order to be an accepted,valid, human being and member of society. I will say that again,because it is so rarely said aloud. It is not compulsory to have children in order to be an accepted, valid, human being and member of society. An important dimension in my post-baby-making decision landscape has been raising awareness about this through research, teaching, writing, and in conversation. Right now, I am particularly interested in raising awareness that it is not compulsory for a woman to have a child in order to be an accepted, valid human being and member of society.' ~ Beth Follini - Ticktock Coaching, Beth Follini's Blog
This book is intended to help those who are involved in making the decision whether or not to remain childless and includes all genders, creeds, cultures and the different reasons for considering this. It has occurred to me that if we used these techniques in all our decision-making; marriage, divorce, changing jobs, moving house, etc, how much more effective and appropriate our lives would be.
Kamalamani is an Embodied-Relational Therapist. She has been practising Buddhism for seventeen years and was ordained in 2005. She has used all these skills in her sensitive study of the process of making this choice.
The author begins by acknowledging the expectations of society. Children arrive, or don’t arrive, as a matter of course. In her own decision making process she set aside conventional attitudes, and was courageously independent of social pressures. In meticulously researching the subject of intentional childlessness she encountered some challenging attitudes in those she interviewed. She refers to countless books written on the subject and gives quotations to illustrate her points. Her greatest inspiration came from Stephanie Mills’ graduation speech, during the time when the population explosion began to cause concern. Stephanie said, I am terribly saddened by the fact that the most humane thing for me to do is have no children at all. (Mills quoted in Hymas 2010). Stephanie has written the forward to this book.
The chapters are short, dealing with each aspect carefully, and are often followed by a ‘reverie’ or a ‘pregnant pause’, giving the reader time to mull over what she/he has read, from a personal point of view.
Kamalamani has divided her book into three parts. The first covers the pros and cons, the pulling in opposite directions and taking a balanced approach to the question whether or not to remain childless. She describes how her upbringing played a large part in her motivation to make ground-breaking decisions. The first was to become a vegetarian when she was a teenager. Being drawn towards Buddhism was the next life-changing course. She was already learning to belong to minority and marginalised groups.
Part two is an account of her decision-making, in which Buddhist teachings and philosophy play a large part. She gives lists of the pros and cons and examines each one. She asked herself, ‘Why not?’ Her answer was that by that time in her life she didn’t actually want children. Her life as a Buddhist and her profession were already taking up all her time, and to have a child would have meant giving one of these up, so that she could concentrate on the upbringing of the child. She gives a quote from Bartlett, 1994. …the childfree raise the status of parenting as they do not view it lightly; seeing it as a precious vocation…
Kamalamani advises a ‘brewing time’ in which to sit with the decision and watch the signs and indicators as she calls them, such as synchronicity; what the ‘worldly winds’ bring in life-changing events.
The third part deals with living with that decision. There are now new horizons, new projects to start. She has more time and energy to honour her creative processes. Her identity has changed, and she says it is a shame that childless mothers are still judged as career women in a negative way. She talks about occupying the body, being connected with the Earth, and reconnection, and draws on Joanna Macy’s work with grief.
Each of our lives has an effect on the wider world. We are all different. We need to bridge those differences by talking together in order to care for the future generations, and ceasing the harm caused to other-than-human life.
Kamalamani’s conclusion is a beautiful description of how her life is now, entitled ‘A child of all life.’ ~ Joan Angus, Green Spirit Book Reviews
What a truly beautiful book. Touching on issues close to the heart - stewardship, legacy and interconnectedness - Kamalamani talks of birthing of another kind. Having children can be a choice. Or more specifically, choosing not to have children - often a far less spoken about subject. Kamalamani faces this shadow and explores it deeply, compassionately and lovingly. ~ Polly Higgins, International Ecocide law advocate, CEO of Earth Community Trust. Author of Eradicating Ecocide and Earth is our Business.
Kamalamani successfully makes the case to fall in love with the world, with all its beauty, denizens, and limitations. As a conservationist at heart, the message of loving all living things and caring for the Earth resonates with me. Kamalamani says, "I can see exactly why people have children...new life is awesome;" she marvels at "the miracle, beauty, and wonder of not just human life, but all life." The elements of Buddhism in the book serve her message well; "the connection with all that lives." Kamalamani wants to build bridges of understanding; the Earth is an ecosystem, with all its inhabitants linked‑‑human and other-than-human. She has consciously chosen to honor life, without procreating. And she is respectful in her messaging; she doesn't tell women not to try for children. Rather, it is to think about what becoming a mother means with the impact upon the Earth in mind. It is to explore new dialogues about parenthood and non-parenthood,to find new ways of living sustainably...to "live lightly on the earth." ~ Melanie Holmes, Author of The Female Assumption: A Mother's Story, Freeing Women from the View that Motherhood is a Mandate, Winner of 2014 Global Media Award from the Population Institute, Washington, D.C., USA (Best Book category). ~ Melanie Holmes, Author of 'The Female Assumption: A Mother's Story, Freeing Women from the View that Motherhood is a Mandate.'
For readers weighing the choice of whether or not to try for a baby, or seeking wisdom on decision making per se, this clear and gentle, knowing and engaging work will be of excellent counsel. In it the author recalls and refines her own personal experience, brings to bear her professional understanding, and invokes a bodhisattva concern for the other than human life on earth. In 'Other than mother' Kamalamani gives us a timely, compassionate, skilful guide. ~ Stephanie Mills, Ecological activist, Lecturer, and author of Epicurean Simplicity and Whatever Happened to Ecology?
Any woman considering whether or not to become a mother will find invaluable support in this book. Kamalamani explores the issues which face us, both from her own vivid and personal experiences, her Buddhist practice, her heartfelt concern for the future of our planet and her engagement with contemporary studies. It’s a unique, rich, and above all, empathic response to what can be a struggle for many women in search of meaning, fulfillment and identity in their lives. ~ Dharmacharini Maitreyi, Triratna Buddhist Order member and preceptor, training women for ordination
The decision to have children, or not, carries huge personal and social consequences. In this well-researched, intellectually and emotionally intelligent book, Kamalamani offers an accessible, contemporary and cross-cultural insight into this important and complex terrain. This book challenges stereotypes and invites understanding and mutual respect, regardless of personal circumstances. It will be of interest to any woman or man who is or has ever been effected by decisions relating to procreation. It is also a must read for psychotherapists, counsellors, social workers and other care professionals. In short, it is essential reading for all. ~ Matthew Henson, Existential Psychotherapist, The Counselling Centre, Cork