First Day Back & Anti-Natalism (Podcast Review)

First Day Back podcast by Montreal filmmaker Tally Abecassis
Check it out on iTunes.

Edited to add this disclaimer: I don’t think that people who have kids are bad or evil. It’s way more morally ambiguous than that, and I recognize that I have unorthodox views on this topic.


The inaugural season of the podcast First Day Back just finished. I loved it! The episodes were short and poignant; I made sure to listen right away whenever a new one auto-downloaded on my phone. (No other podcast has provoked the same devotion.) Driving to work in the morning, I listened. Brushing my teeth at night, I listened. I listened while walking my slow, old dog in the afternoon. First Day Back fit right into my life, and right into my heart. It sounds cheesy but it’s true (like many things that sound cheesy).

The creator and protagonist describes her project thus:

“a documentary podcast that follows filmmaker Tally Abecassis as she faces the challenges of picking up her career after an extended maternity leave. The narrative takes a real-life look at motherhood, gender roles, and work-life balance in a voice by turns serious, funny, and sometimes touching.”

Abecassis explains her topic accurately. Throughout the podcast she is candid and vulnerable, unafraid to reveal rejections or embarrassments. It’s a wonderful piece of work.

Portrait of Tally Abecassis by Claudine Sauvé via The Timbre.
Portrait of Tally Abecassis by Claudine Sauvé via The Timbre.

And yet… I don’t feel wholly positive about First Day Back.

I believe that having children is fundamentally violent. When you spawn new people, you risk that they will be born sick, blighted, or mentally ill. Not everything can be fixed — I know this from observing family members and coping with my own depression. I’m okay now — because I’m lucky. Because therapy and medication have worked for me. If I had different brain chemistry, or if my parents didn’t have money, I would be dead. Maybe homeless and/or addicted to a self-destructive substance.

Yes, it is human nature to want to bear offspring. Feeling the desire is okay. However, yielding to that urge is selfish. Wanting to be a parent at all, in any capacity, is selfish — it’s about serving yourself, not the child. It’s also human nature to punch people, but we strive to resolve disputes without fighting because we want to be better than our animal instincts.

“I think it’s really comfortable to lose yourself in motherhood, in a way, because it’s almost impossible to screw it up. I mean, even if you become an alcoholic, whatever, shitty mother. I mean, you’re still your kids’ mother, and they’re still going to love you, as fucked up as you are. […] It’s like, when you’re looking for validation, your kids are going to validate you.” — Tally Abecassis interviewed by Eric McQuade

I’m not an idiot — I don’t expect people to stop having kids just like I don’t expect war to die out. But I still think it’s bad, and I won’t participate. No, I don’t throw rocks at pregnant women or even try to convince people not to have babies. Why stage fruitless arguments? There’s no point in making people hate me without changing their minds. (And yet here I am, writing this…)

Infancy as defined by Shakespeare in As You Like It, via the Boston Public Library.
Infancy as defined by Shakespeare in As You Like It, via the Boston Public Library.

In answer to the obvious question, I plan to be a mother at some point. Because I can adopt! There are far too many children in the foster system, stranded without loving family homes. When I’m financially and emotionally ready, it will be a delight to provide a safe haven and usher a young person into adulthood. My motivation is just as selfish as a biological parent’s, but the odds are better than the child will benefit.

Listening to First Day Back made me like Abecassis so much. She seems very good-hearted. Her desires and inclinations line up well with mine — she’s a creative woman muddling through life, which I obviously relate to. The conflict is that I am fundamentally opposed to the choices Abecassis has made. I also think it’s ludicrous to expect to have it all — you can’t be a hands-on mom and have a full-fledged career. There is just not enough time in the day or energy in a body. Choices always involve trade-offs and it is profoundly arrogant to pretend that they don’t.

So. All of the above is my raw, mostly unfiltered, and probably crazy-sounding opinion. As I said in the beginning, I love First Day Back and I’m excited for the second season. I also feel very uncomfortable and angry about the portrayal of biological motherhood as a deserved and even virtuous condition.

What do you think? (I’m definitely apprehensive about the Facebook response to this. YAY.)


Follow-up from a reader: “I Remember The Circumstances That Led To Her Existence”.

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