*Tradition says women should dream of having a successful career, finding a suitable mate and starting a family with kids. But what happens when you achieve the same satisfaction by taking a different path?
Former newspaper journalist Sonja Lewis explores this scenario in her new book “The BarrEness.” With the support of her friend, Fox Sunday/NFL broadcaster Pam Oliver, the London resident introduces readers to Lil Lee, a high-powered woman who deals with the question of whether to become a mother or not.
“The whole question around womanhood and motherhood and how you can be fulfilled even if you don’t become a mother is really one of the key topics in this book,” Lewis shared with EUR’s Lee Bailey, while explaining the origin of the title of her first page-turner. “It’s really a play on words. I’ve taken two words. Metaphorically, the word ‘barren’ is how you might feel sometimes when you don’t have certain things in your life, but the British word ‘baroness’ is sort of the lady or otherwise member of the house of lords or whatever, a really high-powered person. I merged those two words to show this high-powered woman who’s dealing with this issue of whether to have children or not. But she’s a very fulfilled, high-powered person.”
Despite it being fiction, “The BarrEness” strikes a personal nerve for Lewis and Oliver, who both decided to not have children in light of their own battle with fibroids, a condition also shared by Lil.
“One major thing that we do have in common is neither of us have biological children,” Lewis said of her former college roommate, who had no problem putting her seal of approval behind “The BarrEness.” “She’s such a wonderful representative or she’s just the type of woman who really shows that you can be fulfilled even if you’re not a (birth) mother because it’s such a traditional thing. It’s a wonderful thing but not everyone will be a mother.
“We decided just to tag team on it a little bit. Sonja asked me and I just wanted to support her in every way I could,” added Oliver, who stated her involvement came “not just because she’s my friend but I believed in the book.” “The BarrEness” is, to me, a terrific book. It’s primarily about the topic of not having children, but there are a ton of twists and turns. So it’s not solely on a topic that some people might find depressing in chapter after chapter of this one topic. It’s an edge of your seat kind of thing about the life of Lil and I was voracious in reading about it.”
A SELFISH VIEWPOINT
As a married stepmother of three, Oliver admits her life is just as satisfying as it would be if she decided on having biological children of her own.
“It was fulfilling in a lot of ways, but I just did not technically give birth to a child. That did not leave me feeling unfulfilled in any form or fashion. I had a complete life and I had a beautiful life and I still do,” The Florida A&M University graduate said. “It is not, to me, one of those taboo topics in a way that society, I think, and some women have made it to be. I had a terrible falling out with a friend that I went to high school with years and years ago. She made a remark that she just felt that women who work after they had children were selfish. And my mother worked after she had us because it was out of necessity … it didn’t occur to her just not to work. And we never spoke after that.”
Seeing how her friend’s mother stayed at home to take care of her family, Oliver’s mother was a contrast. By the end of the conversation, the television personality’s relationship with her friend was history as she confessed to being “terribly hurt and insulted” by her former friend’s stance.
“We could not ever mend that fence. It was a slap in the face,” she said, adding that in her opinion, the opposing view was “a judgment of my mother” and her decision to work. Still, Oliver understands the likelihood of women doing the same thing may come “out of necessity and just out of choice” while stating that if it was her, “I would have been one of those people had I had children who probably went back to work and went on with my career … I would have been a better person for my child. I would have raised an independent daughter and just figured the rest of it out.”
While it would seem that pressure to have children would come from men, Oliver and Lewis say they’ve encountered women who bring a slew of questions and opinions into the fold.
“I’ve never had that experience coming from men. I’ve never been asked a question about ‘well, don’t you want kids?’ stated Oliver. “I’ve never once in my 50 years of existence had any kind of question like that, even from my own husband. He’s never put pressure on me. He’s never said ‘Let’s do this’ or ‘Are we gonna have a baby? Let’s have a baby.’ He was always cool with where I was and where I felt physically and I’ve never had that coming from a man. It was always pressure from other woman.
Despite her desire to have children, Oliver could not avoid her issues with fibroids.
“Part of me just kind of knew that this child thing was not gonna happen or work for me. Sonja and I both had the same health experience and the situation with fibroids that could’ve prevented us from having our own biologicals,” she said. “So I knew in the back of my mind I was going to marry someone who already had children. I just felt it. I just knew it and that is exactly the way it played out. He had very, very young children and it was just one of those things that I just got to be a stepmother to some young kids and dove right in.
“In the back of my mind, I did want children, but my career trajectory was just fast and furious,” Oliver continued. “I didn’t think about my career like it was the end all to be all. I felt that if the situation was right and the husband came along, I did want to be married. I did not necessarily want to be a single mother. I wanted things a certain way and it was just the way the thing played out. The chances were almost very slim that I could have had a child so it just all worked out the way I felt like God planned it. Just the way it was planned to be and I wouldn’t really change anything. It was beautiful the way things worked out.”
A SECURE DECISION
Like Oliver, Lewis labored with her own desire for children. With five sisters and 13 female first cousins, who all had kids, the author initially subscribed to the traditional way of thinking.
“We just thought we would have children. And so when it really came down to it, it wasn’t the easiest decision to make, to not have children,” Lewis stated, as being overseas also factored into her decision. “I didn’t know how it would pan out and everything, but I finally took the decision that I wasn’t gonna do it because I didn’t want to have a child 4,000 miles away from the United States. I wanted that support system but I also had to really think about ‘Now that you’ve taken this decision, you need to own it.’ You need to be able to be happy with it because we explored different things like the possibility of adopting an older child and all of this kind of thing, even though I did have a stepdaughter.”
Once she felt secure in not having children, Lewis made a point to avoid mirroring what happened to her aunt, who passed away about five or six years ago without having children.
“I think this is what really got in my skin,” said the writer. “She sort of came from a generation of women who seemed to have sort of a scarlet letter or something on their chest, where they seem mean-spirited and they were unfilled. I think society stigmatized them but they internalized this.
“I thought ‘Well, I’m not like that and I don’t want to be like that and I don’t want that for women in the generation to follow.’” Lewis continued. “And so once I took the decision not to have children, I think it really inspired me. I am a journalist as well but I wanted to do fiction. It really inspired me to deal with this subject.”
Lewis’ choice of doing a fictionalized work may seem out of sync, but according to her it fit right in with her main objective.
“I chose to write a novel and not nonfiction because I felt that I could fully explore the topic as well as a range of other topics. There’s some cultural things in there I do deal with. She has some health issues … fibroids, for example, and other issues that come up. But I wanted to fully explore the topic that I was dealing with and didn’t want to be subjective. And that’s why I chose to do a novel.”
For more on Sonja Lewis and to buy the “The Barreness,” go to www.SonjaLewis.com.
EUR associate Chris Richburg is a freelance writer based in the Charlotte, NC area. Contact him via: [email protected].