Back in December, Oprah sat down to chat with Barbara Walters about fame, love, friendship, and even children. Since fellow blogger JDTress already covered the lesbian rumors and relationship talk in this segment of the interview, I’ll pick up where she left off, where Oprah and Babs talk about how tough it is to have kids as a working woman—or in Oprah’s case, the unambiguous lack of regret in regards to opting out. Skip to 7:30 in the video, where the discussion about having kids starts. Here’s a transcript too, if that’s your steeze. Barbara: And no regret at not having children? ‘Cause when I talked to you all those years ago, you wanted children. Oprah: And you actually, I would have to say, planted that seed with me. You said, you know, “Don’t let the time get away, even if you have to adopt.” So you are Barbara Walters saying that to me, so I’m thinking, “Barbara said…” And I know you had your daughter. Barbara: OK, let me tell you something. I totally understand. I adore my daughter. She’s a grown woman now. We went through so much that was difficult, in part, because I was working, because I was traveling, because she felt I wasn’t there, because I was famous. I’m telling you this now; it’s the best thing I did and the most difficult. So if you regret it, ever, at any time, day or night, call me. Oprah: OK. For a while there, every time I went to Africa—and Stedman says this too—every time I went to Africa, he didn’t know when I got off the plane if I was gonna have one or two or ten children. Really. I could not… first of all, could not have had this life and lived it with the level of intensity that is required to do this show the way its done. I’d be one of those people with their kids coming and saying, “Mom, you’ve neglected me.” So I have no regrets about that. I have none, not one regret about not having children, because I believe it is the way it’s supposed to be. What I find especially refreshing is about this exchange is that it doesn’t gloss over how tough it can be to balance career and motherhood. Sure, tons of folks don’t do it, but Oprah takes it one step further here, acknowledging that in some ways, her career did come first, no doubt to the chagrin of many who think that sort of mentality is “selfish.” But regardless of what you think of Oprah—I’ll again point you to fellow blogger JDTress’ The Long Goodbye series for more analysis regarding Ms. Winfrey—you probably don’t think of her televised gift-giving and charitable work in Africa as selfish. It’s also crucial here to point out what many people know: that Oprah did, in fact, have a child. When she was 14, she had a son who died soon after his birth. While I don’t think Oprah was intentionally misleading in her interview with Barbara Walters, it’s important to point out that she has, in fact, had a child. Oprah has been a mother, in whatever sense she could choose to claim that role, label, or identity. She may not be actively mothering in the traditional sense today, but that shouldn’t negate her experience, however brief, as a parent. The reason I bring up this interview is that it surprised me. The content itself didn’t—I clearly spend a lot of time thinking and talking about not having kids—but I feel like conversations about the complexity of choosing to not have children are rather overlooked, if not actively swept under the rug. It’s one thing to talk about the difficulties of parenting, and there are seemingly endless resources available for parents looking for solidarity. But when it comes to acknowledging that parenting can be a difficult choice fraught with complexity, a path one ultimately decides not to take, it’s another story entirely. Commenter b. intimate even mentioned this in the first thread of this series when she said:
My whole lifestyle is a celebration of choosing not to have children, so I’ve intentionally been giving myself the opportunity to mourn this choice, too. Its a funny thing to feel my body desire just the pregnancy and know that my heart and mind are telling me, “hell no!” So I grieve this contradiction like grieving the loss of something dear to me. While I have more emotional and spiritual work to do here, I’ve had some great catharsis and emerging wisdom about myself and how to craft my future.
Oprah’s definitive stance at this juncture, that she feels no regret, is a sentiment I think we hear too infrequently. (I’d also argue that you don’t have to achieve Oprah’s level of success and wealth to feel like not having kids is a valid choice.) Instead, famous women often end up apologizing for not having or being able to have kids, a la Jennifer Aniston and Jillian Michaels. Why do you think Oprah can make a public statement about not having kids without causing a media shitstorm? Why are other famous women held to a different standard? What do you make of Barbara Walters’ confession that having her daughter has been tough? Were you surprised that Oprah admitted that she had no regrets?