Mother Courage

Nov 6, 2020 | Family, women

Mother with new baby

Hey! You there!

Yeah, you. Woman over the age of 30. Have you got a minute? You know how you’re not really sure you want kids? How you’re not totally sold on the whole “giving up your life to raise someone who might end up hating you” thing? You know how you still have ALL THE CAREER things you want to do which will be really, really hard to achieve with a baby in tow? 

You know how you still haven’t been to Japan? 

Well, hold on to your hoo-hah, honey, ‘cos we’ve got a couple of little gifts for you.

  • Here’s a husband who really wants to be a dad “one day”.
  • Here’s your biological clock. We’ve wound it super accurately so that the alarm goes off and you explode into a million, childless pieces on your 35th birthday. 
  • Here are six close friends desperately trying to start families of their own who know so completely that they want to be mothers, they already have names chosen for either gender and have been to look round local nurseries. Maybe you ought to get on that, too? Y’know, while your ovaries are still ovaries and not useless, crumbling sacks of dust? 
  • Here’s your mum/aunt/grandma telling you that it’s “wonderful that you’re so independent, darling, but having a child is something I want for you one day.”
  • Finally, here’s a jolly statistic to perk up the whole process: around 15% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. So even if you think to yourself Fuck it. Let’s do this thing your body and the powers that be might just have other ideas. So again, don’t hang around, yeah?

You’re welcome. 

PS Covid’s still on. Nothing like making a seismic life decision or two in the midst of a global pandemic. 

Born this way

I was born without the “I wanna be a mum” gene. Sure, at school, while idling away the hours between morning assembly and avoiding hockey practice, I partook in a bit of fantasy future-building. I made up names for my imaginary children (I think I favoured “Bison” for a boy at one point), I gave my imaginary husband a job (international rugby player and volunteer firefighter on the weekends – balance was important to me) and I gave myself a glittering imaginary career (granted, I wanted to be a writer but more on the Jilly Cooper side of things than the Peggy Olson side of things). I played these games as a school girl when adulthood was a distant, untouchable, woolly-edged daydream, but past the age of 20 I truly couldn’t tell you that I yearned to be a mother. Ever. 

I spent my 20s feverishly road-testing and discussing birth-control methods opposite my friends. Falling pregnant by one of the – shall we say – new friends that seemed to emerge from our bedrooms of a Saturday morning following a particularly fruitful night out in Clapham would have been nothing short of disastrous. A life-ruiner. THE VERY WORST THING THAT COULD BEFALL US. There is a definite point in your 20s, usually when your first married friend announces that she’s pregnant, when you start responding to impending child news with: “Oh, honey! That’s wonderful!” instead of: “It’s OK. It’s not the end of the world. I will help you. Should we call your mother?”. You don’t want to take the temperature of THAT conversation wrong, lemme tell you. 

I like children. I’m from a big family. I love being an auntie. It would make sense, especially after I’d met something resembling a “life partner”, for my body to start tapping me on the shoulder and going all, Um…are we doing this thing or what? but it never did. I never got the urge. And yet…as I sit here writing this blog, I am literally balancing my iPad Pro on a protruding belly with seven months‘ worth of baby girl growing inside it. 

So…how did this happen? 

It would be so easy to blame this one on my husband. But honestly, getting a dog two years ago seemed to satisfy any and all paternal instincts that may have been raging inside him. He didn’t make a squeak about kids from 2018 onwards. Keith the dachshund/Jack Russel/mongrel made us into a family. We love that hairy little bastard (even though he’s only ever one morning away from seriously savaging the postmen to death and landing us with a lawsuit) more than I could have ever imagined and he’s been a pretty good baby substitute. Plus, y’know, he’ll never talk back / grow up and hate us / run away from home with my credit card. 

But something rattled around inside both of us that made us feel like we’d regret it if we didn’t at least give it a go. There was a bit of peer pressure, a bit of “now or never” thinking and a bit of FOMO. None of which are solid reasons for starting a family, but those honestly were the main drivers behind it. It took a year for it to happen but, with comparative ease, last April we discovered we were expecting. And I’ve been living in a cocoon of delight and deep, deep doubt ever since. 

The end of life as I know it?

There’s just something so…final about having children. Every friend who already has them seems to be a HUGE fan of gleefully telling me what I’ll be giving up. Say goodbye to sleep! To your waistline! Sex! Your career! It’s honestly been kinda disheartening. But I’ve found joy in the friends who have come forward with nuggets like this: “Look, it’s hard. Really hard. But it’s worth it. I can’t explain why, it just is.” So I hold onto that. I cling to it like a drowning woman holding onto a pink inflatable lilo in the middle of the Atlantic with no land in sight. 

And, naturally, as it is with most women my age, I am surrounded by those who want this. Women who want to be mothers so badly they can feel it in their bones and, for whatever reason, have not yet found themselves on the path to parenthood. These are the women who are the most excited for me. They are the ones who check in every day, who request “bump updates”, who ask me all the pertinent questions. I am aware that I have something that they want and that sitting here whinging about it while I stuff my face with salted Hula Hoops borders on grotesquely ungrateful. But just because a baby is something that lots of people want shouldn’t stop me giving shape to my fears. When they take shape, I finally know what they look like. Maybe I can even do something constructive with them…

I think most of my doubts circle the drain of my own confidence in my ability to do a “good job”. Woody will be bloody good at it because he’s good at everything, damn him. He’s just one of those people who takes to everything like a fish to water. Whereas I, no stranger to failure, have a lingering fear that I just won’t be any good at it. Worse still, I’m worried I’ll resent the whole thing for distracting me from my friendships and marriage, for preventing me from becoming the writer that I so desperately want to be one day, for stopping me from fulfilling dreams that still feel so very far away from happening. 

And it’s probably wise to consider all of that. Becoming a mum doesn’t suddenly turn you into Marmee March: all freshly baked bread and bottomless, warming maternal love and boundless sacrifice. Lots of women find their calling – find peace, even – in finally becoming mothers but some really don’t. Some really struggle to shrink their worlds to fit around their new needy little interloper and I have a sneaking suspicion I might be one of them. 

Still. At ten weeks to go, I suspect I’ll soon find out.

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