I Don't Want to be a Mom Featured Reviews 

“I Don’t Want To Be a Mom”

By | February 27th, 2024
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

There is nothing more discussed, nothing more legislated (particularly in the United States) than the decisions a woman makes with her body.  The highly personal has become nothing short of impersonal, with the person at the heart of the matter – – the woman occupying that body – – left almost completely out of the equation.

And in Irene Olmo’s graphic novel, one of those women left out of the equation speaks up.

Cover by Irene Olmo
Written and Illustrated by Irene Olmo
Translated by Kendra Boileau

What does choice really mean for a woman?

In I Don’t Want to Be a Mom, Irene Olmo recounts her coming-of-age transformation from assuming she will one day start a family to realizing that she just doesn’t want to be a mom. With an affecting mix of humor and introspection, she describes the subtle and not-so-subtle ways she was pressured to have children and the feelings of isolation and self-doubt that ensued. Her delightful full-color illustrations capture perfectly the maddeningly narrow-minded reactions of those around her as well as her own discomfort and frustration.

A true story of liberation and self-empowerment in the face of societal prejudice, I Don’t Want to Be a Mom questions the imposition of motherhood on women as both an expectation and a path toward fulfillment. It shows us that “choice” has more than one dimension and that, ultimately, some questions in life are more complicated than they seem.

I can’t remember the exact day or date that I realized I didn’t want to be a parent.  It certainly wasn’t something I scheduled in my planner, right between work and graduate school courses and a pedicure.  I do remember coming to the decision when I was in graduate school in my late 20s/early 30s, when I was trying to figure out who wanted to be after floating aimlessly through my 20s, watching college friend after college friend get married and start their own families, feeling a little bit hopelessly left behind.  There was not one catalyst that drove me to the decision either, but rather a collection of moments as I made my way through my master’s degree in New York City, expanding my worldview past what college in the somewhat conservative late 1990s in the very conservative middle of Pennsylvania taught me.

And as I am on the precipice of another transformative time in my mid 40s, where menopause knocks on my door, I thought it time to look back on that decision – – not questioning whether it was right or wrong, but to reflect on the personal and social pressures that brought me there.

Perhaps that’s why I was so drawn to Irene Olmo’s graphic novel, for the opportunity it provides to help make sense of my own journey to motherhood – – or rather, lack thereof.

Like many little girls (this one included), Olmo started out play-acting motherhood, from the dolls she would receive as gifts to sticking pillows in her clothes to pretend she was pregnant.  Play-acting then turned to real-life consequences in the teen years, whether it was a debate on abortion that opened up her worldview to finding out classmates, including her best friend, were pregnant.   As she moved into adulthood through university and experienced all it had to offer, from paying bills to dealing with noisy roommates, her decision not to pursue parenthood becomes clearer and clearer.

Until society muddles it with those intrusive but well meaning questions and those more intrusive and less well-meaning judgmental statements.

The “when are you going to have kids.” The “don’t you feel like less of a woman if you’re not a mother.” The conversations that end up becoming child-centric leaving the childless on the fringes.  Those moments that put cracks in your conviction, and can either weaken your resolve or make you stronger.

For Olmo – – and for myself – – they made both of us stronger.

It was in reading her graphic novel that I found a lot more of myself than I expected.  We didn’t share the exact same path away from motherhood, but what we shared was a desire to open our minds to more than what society expected of us.  And both of us didn’t realize well into adulthood the gift of freedom we brought ourselves in standing our ground through the years, in pursuing knowledge and truth past social expectations.  She doesn’t shy away from the ups and down, perils and pitfalls of making this decision – she’s blissfully raw and honest in sharing what it took for her not just to make such a decision, but to stand by it in the face of social pressure.  Wisely, Olmo leaves place out her story (she is of Spanish descent, and still residing in that country), underlining just how these conversations and difficult debates are more ubiquitous that we may have previously thought.

Continued below

Although this is a very heavy topic, Olmo’s artwork does provide the right amount of humor to balance out all this introspection. The linework is light, flat, and cartoonlike. Coloring is monochromatic, sticking with basic tones of red, yellow, and green, used more as accents than in shaping story.   In a way, it’s almost childlike, providing a dose of irony to the entire graphic novel, a childlike visual worldview of a story focusing on the childless.   What it also allows is for Olmo to really express emotion on the page, particularly anger as she loses her temper with friends and family each time one of those worn out platitudes on parenthood comes to the surface.   She also has fun with reproductive symbolism throughout the book, from sperm-like creatures to symbolize her biological clock to traditional symbols of birth and fertility to show her personal rebirth as a childless woman secure in that choice.

But what struck me was watching panel structure change throughout the book.  For the majority of the graphic novel, Olmo sticks with a very linear, structural panel construction.   There aren’t panel borders, but shapes are the traditional comic grid, representing Olmo’s continued constraint in her life choices.   It’s in those moments where she starts to look inward, and particularly in the last chapter of the book where she truly comes to peace with her decision that panels give way to full splash pages, allowing her thought process to break past borders and express itself all across the page.  What a lovely and subtle way to show our narrator finally and fully embracing her true sense of self!

In the end Olmo relaxes, comfortable in that she chose the life she wanted for herself above what others wanted or expected.  May we all find that same sense of peace in our own lives, whatever form it may take. But more than that, may we grant that sense of peace and self-fulfillment to others by letting go of our own judgments, convictions, stereotypes, and expectations of others.

//TAGS | Original Graphic Novel

Kate Kosturski

Kate Kosturski is your Multiversity social media manager, a librarian by day and a comics geek...well, by day too (and by night). Kate's writing has also been featured at PanelxPanel, Women Write About Comics, and Geeks OUT. She spends her free time spending too much money on Funko POP figures and LEGO, playing with yarn, and rooting for the hapless New York Mets. Follow her on Twitter at @librarian_kate.


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