There are lots of reasons why a woman might not have babies. Reluctant bodies, nature-defying ambitions…hating babies.
You might say one of the reasons why I might not have babies is the fact I am currently looking around the room looking for something to act as a hand puppet so I can check on a baby without going in the same room as it. I figured I could stick the improvised hand puppet round the door and get it to check that the baby’s alive on my behalf. That way if the kid screams it’s not because of me, it’s because of the commandeered cushion cover I’ve too hurriedly named Oliver Cromwell II on account of its clumpy face. This is one of many good reasons why I probably should not spawn. I’ve had it on reliable advice that it’s sort of good to be in the same room as a baby on most occasions.
My second stint of babysitting in as many months has me less panic-struck this time around, and more reflective. It comes off the back of a conversation last weekend with gal pals, where we – arrayed in age between 33 and 44 – discussed how we could not imagine giving up our lives to another being. It was a conversation weighted with a certain conviction given our ages (being well past the permissible indecisiveness of our 20s) and the fact that one of us would probably be medically advised not to try, one of us has made democratic use of the NHS’s accessible abortions, and one/three of us would rather just…have a dog.
We ranted about it all – mums, babies, responsibility – bolstered by the season’s first mulled cider. The freedom of a childless Saturday night.
We stopped when we realised we’d spent as long talking about mums as mums spend talking about their baby’s poo. One friend was as certain as she ever has been that hers is not a life suited to motherhood. One friend still felt she didn’t even have to think about it yet. And I… I joined in with equal feist, but with one notable niggle.
That niggle being – I cannot picture myself at 50 not having kids. I can’t imagine not having the greater part of my love invested in a child. But, in the common modern woman’s conundrum, I do not want to do the bit in-between just yet.
We have been told we can have it all. We cannot.
We have to choose, and are walking sand-timers all; the grains of our fruitfulness ebbing away from our southerly exits.
I used to get so broody in my early 20s that I would physically ache. I suppose it’s rather dim to only just have noted that these urges stopped after the death of my father. A parental suicide is as good a snuffing of procreational fantasies as any. It will take further consideration than this column, but perhaps in a rather textbook reaction I was protecting any child I might have from being hurt.
I have taught kids and loved them with ferocity. I would die for my nephew and niece.
And last week I avoided the stories about the rock singer who had committed unreportable acts on children. Like most people, I did not want to examine the human capacity to hurt another human, especially in its nascent development when it should be most protected.
It made me feel our chat down the pub was not just the tinny complaints of women too tardy or scared or selfish to be mothers, but a modern sort of responsibility. Our age is now more than aware of what we do psychologically to our children. Philip Larkin summed it up yonks ago with “They f*** you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to but they do.” and we’ve been grateful that a poet put aside poetry to swear so honestly ever since.
You have to really give a crap to have a kid. Like, be really serious about it. And its ugly when it’s done casually, thoughtlessly, badly, cruelly. Really unforgivable.
Maybe tenderness for your race can be expressed by not further contributing to it.
Maybe fear is a kind of kindness.
Or maybe you could nip your life at every bud by thinking too much about it all.
Perhaps the fact it’s only women who are hurried to decide means we are now, with choice, all the more reluctant to make the wrong decisions. Deciding to not have a baby could only ultimately hurt ourselves – and ironically that is the kind of selflessness that makes a good mother.