Saturday, 4 August 2012
This may come as a shock to some people who are full of biological tickings, but I genuinely don't want kids. I just can't picture myself either pregnant or a parent and to have kids you have to do at least one of those things. At the age of 33, I've never felt any desire for a baby. A good friend had her first daughter in March and she's brilliant. I've spent a few lovely afternoon rocking this tiny trusting little thing to sleep and hearing her snuffly little breaths as she succumbs. I've also handed her back and not felt any yearning to have one of my own. My ovaries haven't called out to me at all, just lain there as sleepy and undynamic as the rest of me.
Because that's the thing. I could want babies as hard as I want. I'm not well enough to have them anyway. My chronic fatigue doesn't really fit in with the rigours of giving birth or months of broken sleep to feed a baby in the night and from what I've seen of babies, they are unlikely to fit my current routine of resting for half an hour each time at 11am and 2pm and 5pm to prevent the incidence of crashing for days of exhaustion and pain. They are also hugely incompatible with the medication I take both as foetuses and breastfeeding infants and having to come off those for 9 months would leave me exhausted by constant pain, diarrhoea and nausea. And nausea is a given. I've suffered from it almost daily for 20 years and take stong prescription anti-emetics three times a day which don't completely stop the nausea, but have saved from the social shame of boaking in bins on the street. These drugs are only allowed for up to 7 days in pregnancy and only for hyperemesis gravida so I'd be cast adrift with just own gag reflex. The thought of nine months of my regular queasiness brings tears to my eyes. Adding in the thought of extra pregnancy related vomitiness and I feel quite distraught, clutching my pill sleeves to me anxiously.
I thought I was doing quite well coming to terms with the balance between biology and life. Although I've not had the desire to make babies so far, I have no idea if it might hit like a tidal wave if I met someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, but I've been preparing myself what to do if I end up wanting something I just can't have. I'm probably more in the childfree by choice camp, but I can relate to the childless team too. I might have reconciled myself not birthing any babies, but will I be lucky enough to meet a man who feels the same way or will being ill and unable to have kids cause disappointment there too? Unlike most things you do frequently, you don't get any better at being disappointed. Each little drip of dismay builds a bigger stalagtite of pain. Being ill has already cost me my educational aspirations, a proper career, any chance of a decent pension for old age, friends, relationships, social life and self confidence. It's entirely likely it might make it hard to find someone too, so I find it's easier to just not let youself desire what you can't have.
So when I read things like this catty little article about 'If Maeve Binchy had kids...' rammed full of the same smug insinuation that you aren't a proper woman unless you've had kids, I get a surge of energetic rage. No words irritate me more than 'you're not a mum, you wouldn't understand'. Setting aside the fact that insultingly seems to suggest being a dad is inferior to motherhood, it's also utter horseshit. Some people find that becoming a parent changes their emotional landscape and they have a vulnerable side and a sense of feeling they never expected. It's kind of inevitable that having kids is lifechanging, even just practically. But it does not give you the monopoly on emotional intelligence and feelings and it's both wrong and privileged to say it does.
Plenty of people get to understand life and themselves on a higher level long before they have babies. Some learn from childhood as difficult but not unheard of things happen like losing a parent or sibling or grandparent occur. Abuse and bullying teach children an adult view of the world and their own vulnerability they shouldn't know so early. We experience commitment and pain and loss and achievement through our teens as we study, work, fall in love, build friendships and have life change as we grow up. Adulthood brings more life experiences for most people as often your role as a child changes to an adult who cares for other family members and you see their vulnerabilities and needs and find a way to balance them up with your needs. Life happens with all its ups and downs and many people have responsiblities for themselves and others. Divorce, bereavement, family breakdown, ill health, rape and mental illness has taught me plenty about myself and " the feelings of intense vulnerability..., passionate love, joy, bewilderment and exhaustion" women can experience. If you haven't encountered or thought about these things before you have your first child, I think you're either having babies far too young or you've lived a emotionally sterile life and you're the one who knows little.
"No matter what your experience of adult love, there is nothing as strong as the bond between a mother and a child" says Amanda Craig, missing the point that most people will have been the child in that mother child bond before they become parents themselves and must fundamentally know a fair bit about its power and emotion before they start the bond anew. For her statement to make sense, she must be prizing the mother part of the bond more and even then putting the caveat of biological motherhood to keep out the riff raff who didn't give birth as if that's somekind of velvet rope we must all clamour to stand behind. To me you cannot exalt motherhood by leaving out those with maternal instincts. Plenty of women who haven't given birth to a particular child mother them. There are legions of grandparents who sacrifice their retirement to help raise grandchildren, childless aunts, relatives, stepmothers, godmothers, family friends, adoptive and foster mothers who love the children in their lives unconditionally and offer huge sacrifice and engagement over the years despite a lack of a mother child bond borne of birth. These are the women elbowed out by the change from Mothering Sunday to Mother's Day and pushed further to the sidelines by women such as Craig painting such a narrow picture. And that's before we look at the lack of men in these kids' lives that this diktat creates.
Craig is crass and childish in her article. Not only was it published the day Maeve Binchy was buried and used as a dig to suggest this warm wonderful woman known across the world but deeply loved in Ireland was somehow personally and professionally lacking, it came across as Craig attempting to show off. The whole thing could be read as 'look what I've got!' and it is spectacularly charmless. I imagine Craig to be a 'smug mummy' after reading this, that breed of woman who becomes subsumed in her children to the point that she no longers functions as a separate person, relegating everyone else to bit parts and orbiting round her offspring. I admire the commitment, but in the same way that I question being zealous elsewhere in life, I don't think it's particularly healthy and I think that in defining yourself entirely in relation to another person instead of yourself it is the opposite of "bring[ing] about a deeper understanding of human nature" but a way to narrow your horizons.
But what would I know? I've never used my womb for anything apart from storing some hormones and plastic and my ovaries have been on sabbatical since 2001. Craig insinuates that I and my ilk have achieved nothing and are silly and shallow. One of my dearest friends is due to give birth to her first daughter next month and I am ridiculously excited, planning to fuss over her all her life and show her that love and support also comes from people who aren't related to you and that its an achievement and a valuable life skill to be able to charm impress the majority of the planet you aren't biologically connected to. I won't be passing comment on her mother's parenting skills and she won't be passing comment on my lack of them. We'll probably have much more time to do stuff that way if we join forces instead of trying to split society like Craig insists on attempting to do....