Rosemary Agonito, Author of The Last Taboo: Saying No to Motherhood

The Last TabooWhat is your book The Last Taboo: Saying No to Motherhood about?

Motherhood is drummed into girls and women virtually from birth. From her first doll, a little girl is programmed to believe that she will grow up to be a mom, that her mission in life is motherhood. Everywhere in the culture, this drumbeat of conditioning goes on. Regardless of what else a woman may do or accomplish, the belief prevails that motherhood is the requirement for being a “real woman.” Enormous pressures to have babies, both subtle and overt, pursue women. Women without children readily tell of those pressures and the stigma attached to being child-free, the inference that her life is not complete, that she is “less than” a woman.

The Last Taboo: Saying No to Motherhood rejects the historical notion that women’s mission in life is motherhood. It exposes the glorification of motherhood everywhere in the culture, the many motherhood myths that distort the reality of being a mother, and the harm motherhood often inflicts on women, their partners, their children, and the human species and environment reeling from overpopulation.

How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write it?

I’ve been mulling over motherhood since my own two children entered the picture (one biological, one adopted) many years ago. I’ve also had lots of exposure to what other women in all walks of life and all economic levels experienced as mothers through my work as a gender issues trainer. Too often, it was not a pretty picture. My work in Women’s Studies and my other books over the years have been on women’s issues and history. Through it all, motherhood, which is central in the lives of most women, kept cropping up.

Why will readers relate to your characters?

Since the book is non-fiction, the characters in The Last Taboo are real women. Over the years, I collected many stories of women as they relate to motherhood. How did children affect their lives? How did they experience motherhood? How did motherhood impact their relationships, their ability to grow and develop themselves, their careers, their happiness, etc? Since these are real women whose experiences typify those of so many women, I believe readers will relate to the women and their experiences.

Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it? (searching Internet, magazines, other books, etc.)

I did a great deal of research on mothers, motherhood, childfree women and families. In the process of looking at studies and data, much of it going back decades, I was able discover what psychologists, sociologists, experts in family, children and motherhood found in their research. I was surprised at the enormous amount of data and the extent of the studies. Once I had the data, I put it together with the experiences of the women I had collected. It came together surprisingly well. So when I tell the stories of these women, I relate those experiences to what the research reveals.

What about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I have to say that the book is provocative. I’ve gotten a good bit of push-back along the way and it took a good while to find a publisher. One agent who I approached wrote me a very nasty letter, saying, “NO ONE will ever publish this book.” When I finally found a publisher, my husband joked that I would not have a friend left in the world! The book is assumed to be an attack on mothers and motherhood. It’s not. But it does expose the negative side of motherhood, something that’s almost completely missing from the portrayal of motherhood found in the culture, media and religion. Those portrayals glorify being a mother and perpetuate myths about motherhood that bear little or no relationship to what women actually experience. I think it’s extremely important that women understand not only the good, but the negative side of being a mother since motherhood is a life-altering phenomenon.

What is your goal for the book, ie: what do you want people to take with them after they finish reading the story?

I want motherhood to become a real choice for women – a choice they can say yes or no to. As things stand now, girls are conditioned from birth to think they are born to be mothers. From the moment a girl gets her dolls and toys, the conditioning, both subtle and overt, is profound and constant. She will breathe air that drones constantly, “Your mission in life is to be a mother.” There is a stigma attached to women who don’t have children. They are thought to be incomplete, not “real women.” As a result, women grow up believing this is what they will do. Given the conditioning, it’s a stretch to say that motherhood is a choice for most women. It’s simply what you do. That has to end, not just for the sake of women and unwanted children (half of all pregnancies are unplanned), but for the environment and human species, which are being slowly destroyed by overpopulation (we add one billion people to the earth roughly every 12 years).

What the book’s goal? Only to change the world – silly me!

Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?

The message for women is, Think! Don’t have babies because it’s the thing to do. If you want motherhood, make sure you enter it with your eyes open to all of it – the good, the bad and the ugly.

How has your background influenced your writing?

I grew up in an immigrant Italian family. It was inconceivable that we three sisters would not have children. And we all did. It was simply a given, a “requirement,” if you will. It never entered my mind that I had a choice – not till much later. That background was the context for much of what happened to me and what I did. It was a long process of discovery that was helped enormously by the women’s movement, which I got heavily involved with. That and my studies in Philosophy opened the world to me. So I began to write – My first book was History of Ideas on Woman, a work that traced historical thinking about women’s “inferior,” subordinate status. Doing that book was a good hit in the head.

Have you written any other books?

I’ve written nine books, both fiction and non-fiction. But I tend to be locked into reality since my novels are both based on true stories. My first novel, Buffalo Calf Road Woman: The Story of a Warrior of the Little Bighorn, won the 2006 Western Heritage Award for Best Western Novel (also won by James Michener, Barbara Kingsolver and Larry McMurtry). It’s based on the true story of a Cheyenne warrior woman who was the only woman to fight Custer at the Little Bighorn and struggled with her people as they were driven from their homeland. It was a joint project with my husband, Joseph Agonito, who researched the story. My other novel, Miss Lizzie’s War, also based on a true story, is a Civil War novel that focuses on a wealthy Southern women who led an underground Union movement in the heart of the Confederacy and became a spy for General Ulysses S. Grant. Her fascinating double life is the basis of the story. Women are central to all my books, fiction and non-fiction.

Would it matter to you if you were never published? (In other words, would it matter if no one ever read your books?) Why or why not?

It would matter greatly. Writing, like speaking, is by definition an act of communication. When we write, we are communicating to others. If no one reads the books we write, they are failing in their purpose. I don’t want to talk to myself through books. Heck, I can do that anytime. We write to express ourselves to others, to educate or entertain others, to uplift others – or whatever purpose we may have. But books are meant to be read since they communicate something.

Do you have a saying or motto for your life and/or as a writer?

“It ain’t over till it’s over!”

Where can people learn more about your books?

Book available at:

12 Responses to “Rosemary Agonito, Author of The Last Taboo: Saying No to Motherhood”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    This sounds like a much-needed book. I hope it does well.

    • Rosemary Agonito Says:

      Thanks, Rami. It’s a bit of a tough sell.

      • rami ungar the writer Says:

        Especially in this climate! But I’m sure there are people who will want to read this one and will benefit from it. Good luck!

      • Pat Bertram Says:

        Rosemary, I don’t know why it would be a tough sell other than that all books are tough sells now. I can’t imagine things are any worse now than they were forty years ago when I chose not to have children (for many reasons including over-population), and people seem to be amenable to different lifestyles now.

      • Rosemary Agonito Says:

        You’re right, of course. Unfortunately some have taken the book as an attack on mothers and motherhood. It’s not. BTW, I do make the overpopulation argument in a chapter devoted to that theme.

      • Pat Bertram Says:

        It’s funny, at first I was bothered that a mother would write such a book. sort of like Ted Turner who now advocates zero population growth after having fathered five children, but then I realized that it’s only someone who had children who could write such a book. If a child-free woman does it (I your term much more than “childless”!) it comes across as self-justification or bitterness or some such, and no one would pay attention to the message that women do have a choice.

        It stuns me to think that even after all these years of “women’s lib” or whatever it’s called nowadays, girls and women are still playing the same silly games, still being trapped by the same mores. Though I do have to admit, that biology is a factor. Women are trapped by their hormones every bit as much as they are trapped by convention. Isn’t that the typical romance novel? A strong career woman undergoes a change of attitude when she falls in love?

      • Rosemary Agonito Says:

        Interesting, Pat. Looking back, motherhood was never a real choice for me but a programmed response to not ony the culture, but to growing up in a peasant Italian immigrant home. Though I was a pretty smart kid, on this point I knew nothing. In any case, having been a mother (one biological, one adopted) gave me insights into what it REALLY means to be a mother – and it’s not those glorious motherhood myths that surround us all, as the book clearly lays out.

        You’re so right about women and girls playing the same games. It is sad that after all the struggles we went through in the women’s movement, so little has changed when it comes to the essentials – women are still defined as mother; women are still seen (and see themselves) as sex objects (cleavage is everywhere); women are still paid less than men for the same work; women are still subjected to violence and rape in and out of the home; and on and on . . . I’m speaking generally, of course. There are notable exceptions. What can I say? “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

      • Pat Bertram Says:

        I guess I was lucky. I knew about motherhood secondhand from the time I was five. As the oldest girl in a large family, I knew the chores and responsibilities of raising children, which went a long way to offset the biological imperative and cultural conditioning. Everyone always pointed out, “it’s different when it’s your own.” But I knew it wasn’t, not always, otherwise there wouldn’t ever be any child abuse. It wasn’t until I hit thirty-five that people stopped telling me what I was missing and started admitting they wished they had done things differently.

        Luckily, too, the love of my life didn’t want children, either, otherwise I might have given in to that pressure as so many women did. But then I would have hated myself for not standing up to my principles. And I would have hated him.

        What’s funny is that now my childfreeness is becoming an issue again because of the grandchildren thing. Oh, the superior tones when people tell me I can never know what it’s like to be a grandmother. Sheesh.

      • Rosemary Agonito Says:

        The research is clear that many, many women regret their choice to have kids. People tell childfree women they’ll regret not having kids, but nobody says you may regret having kids. I always marvel at women who got it right as young women and were able to choose, to rise above the unrelenting conditioning. I admire you for being able to do that.

        Ah, the grandmother thing . . . The one advantage of being a grandmother is that you can send them home when you want to – unless, of course, you’re one of the countless grandparents (mostly women) who have to raise their grandkids because their sons and daughters are in prison, on drugs, etc.

      • Pat Bertram Says:

        You’re right — I am lucky to have gotten it right. One additional advantage I had was that my father refused to let us have a television. Nor did he let us listen to popular music, such as rock and roll (even though those early years of rock and roll now seem so innocent.) So I missed out on a lot of conditioning. Still, I doubt it would have made much difference. Eighteen years of changing diapers was enough for me!

      • Pat Bertram Says:

        One other thing I’m glad about is that, although most people thought I didn’t want to have kids because of the pain of birthing, I never gave that a single thought, but now I see that not giving birth saved me a lot of agony. I know several woman whose babies broke their tail bones being born, who developed painful varicose veins at a young age, who ended up with blood disorders. Eek. Though I have a hunch I wouldn’t have any of those problems. I came from a long line of peasant baby-bearers.

      • Pat Bertram Says:

        And oh, yes, I know two woman right now who lost their husbands but are now raising grandkids. Oh, my. They feel so trapped.

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