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Jewish World Review June 5, 2000 /31 Iyar, 5760

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Feminists denied themselves the wonder of motherhood -- CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, a brilliant columnist, recently wrote a piece in The Washington Post that caused me to realize I have definitely mellowed. There was a time, maybe six or seven years ago, when I would have reacted in a kind of "I told you so" smug way. But my reaction was quite different. I felt a kind of pity for the childless women described in the piece.

The column began with a quote from a recent interview in the British magazine Aura, headlined "I Was Desperate for a Baby and I Have the Medical Bills to Prove It." Krauthammer asks, "Some love-struck movie star? A lesbian celebrity? No. Germaine Greer, icon of 20th-century feminism.

"'I still have pregnancy dreams', she confessed movingly in the premier issue of the magazine, 'waiting with vast joy and confidence for something that will never happen.'" Of course, women longing for children is nothing new, but this kind of confession from a hard-core, founding-mother feminist is very telling.

Krauthammer continues: "The one adjective rarely attached to Greer was domestic. And now she reveals the hollowness that haunts her, the terrible sorrow she feels at what she lost: her chance for motherhood. Many years ago, she now writes, she cared for the infant girl of a friend. 'Ruby lit up my life in a way that nobody, certainly no lover, has ever done. I was not prepared for the incandescent sensuousness of this small child, the generosity of her innocent love.'"

By the time Greer experienced this epiphany, she was too old to conceive. She had bought into the feminist myth she helped create, that childbearing was part of the patriarchal plot to keep women enslaved. According to Krauthammer, she says in the magazine article: "'Getting pregnant meant the end of all good times. The mother-generation warned us darkly not to rush into childbearing, to have a "good time" while we could.' And now like Hannah, she weeps."

As many of you know who have heard me on radio over the years or read the introduction to my new book, "Parenthood by Proxy," I absorbed this mentality in college in the '60s and was a card-carrying feminist throughout the early days of my career. I lapsed out of it somewhere closing in on my mid-30s, when I had my own agonizing experience with the "haunting hollowness" Greer refers to. Thank God I still had time, though I, too, had some difficulty in getting pregnant. Reading The Washington Post piece, I found myself feeling terribly sorry that it happened too late for Germaine Greer.

There is something so special in realizing that part of your personhood as a woman, connecting your femininity and sexuality to your power to reproduce. The joy of being pregnant was a unique experience, despite its duration, discomforts and the pain of childbirth. All that just fades into the background when your child is born. And the joy continues to multiply and grow, just like my son, who is now 14 and 6 feet tall.

I recently gave a newspaper interview about my new book, and the reporter asked me a question that left me speechless. If you have ever seen me being interviewed or listened to my radio show, you know that's not easy to do. When revved up, I'm fast on the comeback. My brain cruises along at a pretty good rate of speed. You ask, and I'm right there with an answer. But not this time.

We're in the middle of an interesting conversation about parenting, religion, life. I like interviews that are stimulating, so I'm very engaged. Suddenly, the interviewer switches gears and says, "Well, what are you going to be doing in four years when your son graduates from high school and is out of the house?"

Well, I was just frozen in space. A friend who was in the room said I looked as though I had a minor seizure. It felt to me, for a second, that he was speaking a foreign language. What was he talking about? Just then it seemed impossible that there would ever be a time in my life when I wouldn't be saying, "Put your napkin on your lap. Don't leave you clothes on the floor. Honey, I love you. Let's play Scrabble.

Yeah, I know I'm not putting enough wrist behind the ball." (He's teaching me how to play basketball.)

Of course, intellectually, I know my son is going to grow up and go away to college. But until that moment, I had never thought about what that would actually be like, or what I would do. And then, of course, I didn't want to think about it. Because while all parents grouse, grumble and complain, and have our little shopping lists of the things our children do to annoy us, our children are the most incredible part of our lives.

So, whereas in the past I might have thought that Germaine Greer had earned her desolation, that it served her right for the critical damage feminists did to all the women with their negative brainwashing about the value of motherhood, I mostly now pity her. All that anger for so long has robbed her and so many others of the most incredible beauty that they as women could experience.

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