I am not a mother, but I’d be a pretty good one if I was. I know this because I am told frequently by my friends and family.
“You’re so good with kids” they say, longingly. “You’d be a such a great mum.”
And they’re probably right. I love kids, and I love being the person that kids love. I’m the first one out of my chair when someone brings a baby into the office, eagerly awaiting my turn for a hold. I will endure inevitable neck pain for a shoulder carry when they get tired on a walk. My heart melts when those plump little arms wrap themselves around my neck, or when a I get a grumpy toddler on a bus to crack a smile by pulling faces. My life is happily filled with children, yet none of them are my own.
I expect you think this is a sad story, of trying, and treatments, and loss. And those stories are sad, desperately so. But that is not my story. Mine is one far more selfish. Mine is one of choice. The choice not to have children. At least, for now.
A scandalous assertion for a woman, and one that is often met with gasps of “You just haven’t found the right person yet.” “You’ll want them when everyone else starts having them”. “You’ll change your mind.”
Firstly, I am in a happy long-term relationship with someone who feels the same as I do and if he wanted to, would make the best fucking Dad on this planet. And secondly, almost all of my close friends have had, or are in the process of making, mini versions of themselves, and fortunately I am not so riddled with FOMO that I am prepared to bring an entirely dependent human being into this world just so I can ‘keep up with the Joneses’.
And finally yes, I may well change my mind, everyone reserves the right to and I’m certainly not about to undergo an irreversible procedure or sign my name on the ‘I don’t want kids’ dotted line. But, acknowledging my current feelings on motherhood and speaking about them openly has given me an enormous sense of relief. For a while, after I turned 30, I became preoccupied by the ‘children question’. Do I, Don’t I? The proverbial ‘body clock’ that I spent most of my teens laughing at and most of my twenties denying, entered my life like an unwanted dinner guest, rudely reminding me that my fecundity was ten years past it’s ‘peak’ and only a few years off ‘geriatric’. Charming. I spent more time than I care to admit thinking about children, weighing up the pros and cons like I was buying a new laptop. I was scared of making the wrong decision, or spending so long making the decision that time decided for me. Was I really prepared to miss out on the very thing that made me a woman?
But I couldn’t deny that feeling in the pit of my belly, the panic that would grip me at the very idea of being responsible for another human for the rest of my life. The thought of it terrified me. Yes, I love kids. But I also love giving them back. Ultimately, I know I’m not ready for children right now, and if I do change my mind later in life, well, we’ll explore the options available to us when that time comes. If there is one thing I’ve learned from my own upbringing, it’s that blood doesn’t mean a great deal when it comes to being a parent.
Harder than accepting that I may not want children however, is accepting that for the most part everyone else does. Amongst my closest group of friends, of which my inclusion is one of the greatest privileges and pleasures of my life, I am very much in the minority. There are babies everywhere, and confusingly most of them all with variations of the same three names. The first few babies that came onto the scene were novel, and came with excitable exclamations of “aren’t we growing up!” and “can you believe so and so is going to be a Dad, feels like yesterday the was being sick out of the car window on Christmas Eve”. But now I am finding that every new pregnancy announcement comes with a reminder that things are changing, and I am not changing with them. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t be happier for my friends, and I fucking adore every one of their kids. I cry when I meet them in person, coo over adorable outfits, watch every WhatsApp video. I even became a Godparent. And the extraordinary levels of strength and resilience that they have shown as parents leaves me breathless with admiration, and only makes me love them more.
And yet increasingly I find myself pining for years gone by, for experiences that will never be again. Summers of camping and cheap beer. London evenings spent putting the world to rights over a good meal and a bottle or two of red. House parties and heartbreak. Re-telling drunk anecdotes, most of them involving me. No real sense of responsibility, ambition or motive. Just a shared sense of humour and common geography to bond us all together.
Now, it is stories of parenthood that bond them, the shared experience of morning sickness, sleep deprivation, poo and weaning. I find myself feeling hopeless when loved ones reach out for advice that I cannot give, and redundant when a conversation arises that I cannot contribute to. Selfishly, I worry whether I alone can be enough, whether my life is one dimensional and irrelevant to them now. I worry that no one will want to hear about my trivial work or relationship problems, so I no longer share them.
I realise that all of this comes across as resentful, and a little self-indulgent. I reassure you I am neither of those things. I have made this choice, for now, so I will accept it. But there is a strange sadness in choosing something that you know will set you apart from those you love the most.
But, what did I expect? I knew this was coming, we weren’t going to be teenagers and twenty-somethings forever, and the fact that my peers would start to have families of their own was inevitable. Life is a journey and we all take different routes and travel at different speeds. But what I hadn’t considered is that our destinations would be different, and I suppose my ultimate fear is that somewhere along the journey, we will have to part ways.