Don't cry for Oprah's unborn children

The TV queen says her kids would have "hated" her -- what's wrong with not wanting kids?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published December 12, 2013 7:45PM (EST)

  (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
(AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

If you think for a hot second that our culture isn't thoroughly obsessed with motherhood, consider that a famous, wealthy woman who has built an entire media empire is still answering questions about why she has no children. A woman who will be 60 in a few weeks.

In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter for its "Power 100" this week, Oprah Winfrey, the former talk show host – who also, no big deal, single-handedly changed the publishing industry, runs a production company, has a slew of Emmys, was just nominated for a Screen Actor's Guild Award and recently picked up a Presidential Medal of Freedom – opens up about her life and career. The headline? Not about her power. No, it's "Oprah Winfrey on Forgoing Motherhood, Being 'Counted Out' and the Meeting That Turned OWN Around." Guess we know what's most important there. Consequently, subsequent headlines carried on the theme, with E! saying "Oprah Winfrey Reveals Why She Never Had Children" and CNN revealing, "Why Oprah Winfrey chose not to have kids." And wait, womb watchers, it gets even better!

You see, Winfrey's reason why she's just some empty old spinster is pure manna to those who think a woman is measured by the output of her womb: it's because she would have been such a bad mother. Her BFF "Gayle [now a mother of two] was the kind of kid who, in seventh grade Home Ec class, was writing down her name and the names of her children," Winfrey says. She, in terrible contrast, admits that "While she was having those kind of daydreams, I was having daydreams about how I could be Martin Luther King. If I had kids, my kids would hate me. They would have ended up on the equivalent of the 'Oprah' show talking about me; because something [in my life] would have had to suffer and it would've probably been them."

For a woman to be childless through tragic circumstances and twists of fate is one thing – she only has to put up with an infinite amount of "Why don't you just adopt?" But to admit that a childless life has been freely chosen? Well, it must come down to some terrible personal failing. Probably one that comes down to being too damn ambitious in her career.

By the way, for the record, Oprah has been a mother – she has candidly spoken throughout her career of getting pregnant at age 14, hiding  her condition, attempting a botched abortion and eventually giving birth to a child who died soon after. She has said, "When the baby died I knew that was my second chance. So I went back to school and nobody knew." That she subsequently chose to have that be her single experience of pregnancy and childbirth is her business. She took that second chance and went on a different path in her life. Move along, folks, nothing to see here.

Winfrey grew up poor and sexually abused and was, very briefly, a teen mom, and now she's rich and famous and one of the most influential people in the world. Her apparent crime – one she has perpetuated throughout her career – is that she seems pretty content about that. Though she's apologetically stated that she avoided raising children because she wouldn't have been good at it, maybe it really just comes down to: It wasn't for her. It's not for everybody. That's not a moral failing or an assurance they would have been bad at it. It's enough to simply not want it for yourself, whether you're a media titan or just some regular lady who's tired of answering questions about when you're going to do something truly meaningful with your life and procreate. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be a parent. And nobody, not even the queen of television, should have to explain being child-free as some kind of gift to "suffering" imaginary children.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Childfree Motherhood Oprah Winfrey Own