Ever since I watched Michelle William’s talk at the Golden Globes, I’ve felt a profound heaviness and grief—not only for Michelle, but for women everywhere who believe as she does. It’s a damaging outlook on womanhood, and one that I’ve had to wrestle with in my own professional journey.
When I was in college, I had big dreams of business leadership and world impact. I surrounded myself with other young women with similarly ambitious goals, and though we rarely talked about it, motherhood often hovered in the backdrop of our conversations about the future. We all talked about wanting kids “someday,” but the window to go after our professional success was now, and time was running out before our bodies might “betray” us.
Michelle’s talk resonates with many young women around our country, and only four years ago, I would have been one of those women. But since then, I’ve discovered five freeing truths that I hope will empower you to embrace all of who you are, including your unique reproductive ability.
#1. Unplanned pregnancy feels fatal without support.
In her talk, Michelle says she’s had an experience with unplanned pregnancy and abortion, but she shares nothing more about her story. In a press conference following the event, she was asked by reporters on three separate occasions about her personal experience. And to each request, she declined saying at one point, “I purposefully wrote it that way.”
Early in her talk, she hints at abuse—“as women and as girls, things can happen to our bodies that are not our choice.” Depending on the circumstances of her pregnancy, she might be right—her life might not look the way it does if she had chosen to parent. But then again, we don’t know what happened to Michelle.
Unplanned pregnancy often drives women to make decisions out of fear, and we as her community need to be quick to seek to understand her and provide support.
The reality is unplanned pregnancy is a terrifying experience that often leaves women feeling like abortion is their only escape route. Is abortion her only solution? No. But in those dark moments of uncertainty, can it feel like her only solution? Yes. Unplanned pregnancy often drives women to make decisions out of fear, and we as her community need to be quick to seek to understand her and provide support.
#2. Success is not simply based on the choices we make.
Michelle’s talk focuses on reproductive rights, but on a macro level, it’s a talk about success. She believes her professional success is based entirely on the choices she has made in life. But even Malcom Gladwell would argue that this logic is oversimplified. In his national bestseller Outliers: The Story of Success, Gladwell challenges our tendency as a society to attribute a person’s success to his or her individual choices and abilities:
“It is not the brightest who succeed…nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”
Choice is a meaningful part of the success puzzle, but it is not the only piece, nor is it the most significant factor. Success is a complex mixture of hard work, talent, choices, and opportunities—sometimes deserved and sometimes undeserved. Attributing her professional success entirely to her abortion decision is naive. How can anyone point to one decision they made and argue for such a direct cause-and-effect relationship? Who’s to say Michelle wouldn’t have experienced the same kind of success with a third child in her life? And if she truly believes abortion is one of the major contributing factors to her success in life, that’s a major problem.
Anyone, with or without children, can have the strength and presence of mind to seize opportunities given to them, strive after their dreams, and make beauty from the mess.
The fact remains that anyone, with or without children, can have the strength and presence of mind to seize opportunities given to them, strive after their dreams, and make beauty from the mess. This truth is the very reason we have the Maya Angelou’s and JK Rowling’s of the world.
#3. Children are not dream-crushers. They’re dream-givers.
Few people realize Michelle received this award as a mother of two. She actually closes her speech with expressing her desire to see her children and celebrate this win with them: “I can’t wait to come home to you, Tommy and Matilda!” Michelle has performed the bulk of her career as a mother, having given birth to her first child at 25. If anything, this moment on the Golden Globes stage should have been a testimony to the fact that children are not the end of our dreams, but the beginning. It’s unfortunate that Michelle doesn’t see it that way.
Mothers are extraordinary human beings, more than capable of going after their dreams and pursuing the wellbeing of their children. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from many extraordinary working mothers, and the prevailing logic is that motherhood has actually improved their professional success and enhanced their motivation.
One successful marketing professional, who unexpectedly welcomed her son during her college years, shared her experience with me:
“Having a baby just makes you so much more ambitious because you’re not only living for yourself, you’re living for this little baby too. You’re going to realize how much you want to go out and achieve your dreams.”
So often, this surge in responsibility actually leads to greater motivation and more intense focus on your professional goals.
But Michelle does get one thing right—motherhood requires sacrifice. At one point in her speech, she says, “When I felt supported and able to balance my life, knowing as all mothers know, the scales must and will tip towards our children.” Motherhood and parenthood in general require sacrifice. Every day, mothers around the globe prioritize the needs of their children, often above their own.
It’s an element of motherhood that makes me as a woman uncomfortable, because it demands a lifestyle of responsibility and self-giving that can be painful. To embrace motherhood, especially if it’s unplanned, means transitioning into a lifestyle of sacrifice and hard work. But the sacrifice—as even Michelle attests—is so worth it.
#4. Strong women consider their interests AND the interests of others.
Michelle culminates her talk with a call to women to vote in their own interests: “So, women 18 to 118, when it is time to vote, please do so in your own self-interest.”
As a woman, I do strive to vote in ways that will serve the needs of my fellow women, but I also strive to vote in ways that will serve the needs of those beyond myself. A woman’s impact on the world should be more ambitious than her own individual advancement and betterment. We are powerful human beings with an ability to love, impact, and advocate for the needs of others in ways that are uniquely different from men.
Endeavoring to serve your needs and those of people beyond yourself is not only possible, but necessary.
So, use your voice. But don’t just use it for you. Use it for others too. It’s a far more challenging tightrope to walk, but endeavoring to serve your needs and those of people beyond yourself is not only possible, but necessary. Together, we can create a world where we all thrive—women, men, and children alike.
#5. Women are watching our response to Michelle, and they need our support.
I have been encouraged by the passionate response of our culture to Michelle’s talk. Even the anger reflects a real love for women and their children. But whether it is intentional or not, many of our responses have reflected condescension and judgment towards her. Though we may only be addressing Michelle in all of this, women everywhere are watching the way we treat her.
Be the kind of person she thinks to approach for support in the moments that matter most.
Take care lest in your endeavor to speak truth and provide a life-affirming perspective, you unintentionally ostracize the women around you. There are women in your communities who believe as she does. There are women who have experienced abortion and unplanned pregnancy. And there are women walking through unplanned pregnancy at this very moment.
Be the kind of person she thinks to approach for support in the moments that matter most. We can achieve extraordinary things for ourselves, our children, and this world when backed by a community of support.
Tammy Abernethy shares the secret to providing empowering support to women facing unplanned pregnancies.
Mom and college graduate Katie Forbes teaches us how to empower pregnant and parenting students to achieve their academic dreams.
Veronika Didusenko is known around the globe as a model and advocate for women’s rights. She is also the 22-year-old mother of a five-year-old son. Her mantra is bold but simple: “Having children is not a verdict.”