To baby or not to baby?
Carol Tobin isn't sure she ever wants to be a mother and wonders why everyone else cares about her empty womb
Published 24/04/2014 | 02:30
I slept through my biological clock again this morning.
It's presumably because I am so tired of the external pressure I feel to have kids. The thing is, I can't wholeheartedly say that I want to have babies like some women can. You know those maternal creatures with perfect hair that ooze those mothering instincts and would nearly melt the icicles off your heart. Lately, it feels as if my clock is audible to those I come in to contact with. Some days I'm convinced I see people tapping their watches as if to say "Hurry up with the babies, love".
But the desire isn't there at the moment. I've checked. When I see a pram coming my way, I don't get the urge to inspect and gush. I usually just take a peek into the buggy to see if it's a child or just some groceries in the shape of a baby. When my friend recently sent me a picture of a new pair of baby shoes she had purchased I didn't suddenly imagine a kid of my own fitting into those booties. I just noticed the steep price and shuddered. Nieces and nephews are loved. Friend's kids are appreciated and adored but not yearned for, Part of me is wary of creating more regrets in my life, I don't need any more of those. Which regret is harder to live with, bemoaning having kids or lamenting not having babies?
Recently Christina Hendricks from the TV series Mad Men had the internet humming when she spoke candidly about how she has no interest in having children of her own. "We've decided that we are not really interested in having children," she told Health Magazine. "It seems like it's expected that you'd want to have kids," she said. And she's right – society dictates that pretty much all women are expected to be expecting at some point in their lives, but we don't all want to go down that path.
The word "barren" of course cropped up among trolls with regard to Christina's lifestyle choice. There has to be something physically wrong with a woman who decides against motherhood. "Women's bodies are made for reproduction," said one commenter. The only thing wrong with women who choose a child-free life is that they are not fitting into the stereotypes. To me, this expectation that women should aspire to become mothers is harmful.
When I tell people, I'm unsure about motherhood they are astonished. One girl told me my life wouldn't be complete without a child. Some folk assured me that women who don't have kids are selfish and end up living lonely existences. But surely avoiding loneliness isn't a valid reason to have a child, and don't some women have kids for selfish reasons too?
One of my best friends is happily married and is still undecided about procreation. We spend a great deal of time discussing babies and feel that there are far more cons than pros. When I asked her what was the payoff with having kids she replied "Someone to hold your hand when you're dying, then you die."
I don't know much about that sort of thing, but to me that doesn't seem like a great return on your investment. What if your kids don't stick around until that happens? Or you find yourself rushing to get to the end of your life to be free from them? I remember eavesdropping on an elderly couple cosied up together in a pub. They were discussing how they dreaded Christmas because they couldn't stand their kids. They might have just been curmudgeonly old meanies, but it's prudent to remember that this familial disdain can be a two-way street.
I think one of the main reasons I am unsure about having a baby is because at the moment I am surrounded by child-free couples who are blissfully content. They made the choice not to have kids and haven't looked back. The cheeriest woman I know is a septuagenarian who chose not to have kids. "I never once regretted it. Maybe if I didn't have such a full life I might, but it was the right decision for me."
Some people assume that women who don't have kids live to regret it. That they can be found sobbing by the kitchen sink, one hand clutching a mug of tea, the other in the pocket of an oversized grey cardigan that's full of tear and snot stained tissues, looking like some bleak stock photo image. This isn't the case with any of the child-free people I know who are living meaningful lives.
Fear is a contributing factor to my wariness. Childbirth genuninely frightens me. I forget how to breathe at the best of times, so even the thoughts of labour make me gasp. What if I get the pushing aspect wrong or just refuse to push which could happen in that state.
The pain also terrifies me. I don't believe that I could forget that level of agony, and I'd probably get flashbacks every time I picked up the child, always crying louder than it. I remember the horror stories that friends or sisters have told me about childbirth and if I can't forget those Tales of Whoa, then I don't know how they can.
I'm also worried that I won't know what to do with the child when it lands. What if the maternal instincts never kick in and I'm trapped in a constant state of panic? Shell shocked trying to figure out whether there should be air bubbles going into their mouth or not when I'm bottle feeding. I remember I was told to sit with my new-born niece when I was twelve years old. I sat there, not taking my eyes off her for well over an hour, terrified that something would happen to this precious creature. Every few minutes I would put a small mirror up to her tiny little nostrils to make sure she was breathing even though her chest rising and falling meant that she was. What if that is what I am like all the time with my baby? What if I mother like a nervous twelve-year-old?
I sometimes wonder if insecurity plays a part in my qualms about motherhood. What if I'm just not up to scratch? What if my baby leaves me for a better mother? I come home from work one evening to find that she has gone and taken all her toys with her. She's left "It's Not You It's Me" on the fridge in those colourful letter magnets.
Maybe the desire to have children will hit me forcefully one day, and I won't be able to ignore it. I'll be on the Dart listening to ELO on my phone and will be so overcome with this longing that I will have to alight the train a few stops early, get some fresh air and send a few texts planning my next move. Women have babies every second, my own mother had nine, so it can't be as petrifying as I imagine. However, maybe it simply won't. And maybe that's okay.
One thing I know is that I won't have kids unless I'm sure that I can give my child all the attention it requires. I would hate for it to grow up to become one of those grating people you find on social media sites, trying desperately to get the attention that their parents never gave them and infuriating everyone else in the process. I will not mother a Twitter twit, I promise.