I’m an only child and although I like to think that I mix well with others (I’m no social butterfly but can just about cope at a party) in all other ways I live up to the stereotype… a spoilt rotten daddies girl who has been known to sulk (and throw stuff) on occasion when things don’t go my way. I didn’t grow up surrounded by siblings or cousins; there were no other children in my immediate family. I had a couple of dolls but I was more of a stuffed animal kind of girl; I just wanted fluffy puppies, kittens and a squirrel, my all-time favourite.
I was 18 when a close friend’s brother and his partner had a baby, this was the first time I’d had any real interaction with a child, and although I liked the idea of cute baby clothes and teeny weeny Nike trainers, the actual baby thing didn’t induce the kind of emotional response it seemed to provoke in the other girls. Next was Jessica, the same good friends baby sister. I spent more time with Jess and got to know her better, it helped that she was the snuggliest tot ever, she’d giggle and cuddle and never cry (on me)… much as I loved her, and still do now she’s 17 and a beautiful young woman who’ll still give me a good hug, I still didn’t feel that need for one of my own.
I think I just assumed that a sprog or two would be part of my future; it’s just the done thing isn’t it? Meet a man, buy a house, have a baby, become a Mum… Textbook!!
My alternative way:
-Rent flat with friend after 9-year relationship ends.
-Spend best part of a year drinking too much and crying.
-Meet the man I’ll go on to marry.
-Spend 3 years having the best time.
-Buy a house and continue having the best time.
-Have the first grown up baby talk.
-Get diagnosed with breast cancer.
-Get well after a year of treatment.
-Discuss a Tamoxifen break to try for a baby.
-Get breast cancer again, in my sternum bone this time.
-Recover (slowly) from another year of active treatment.
-Enter medically induced menopause…. Woo Hoo!!!
-Get married to the best Hubby ever!
After the first diagnosis we were asked to discuss whether or not we wanted to delay treatment to freeze my eggs. We decided that if the cancer had wormed its nasty little way into my lymph nodes then sod the eggs, treatment would commence immediately. Unfortunately it had done just that, so off I went, unceremoniously thrust into the world of the cancer patient, any thoughts of having kids put firmly on the back-burner.
3 years after initial diagnosis we were sat in Dr. A’s office discussing the potential benefits that having a baby might have on reducing my risk of recurrence, that my cycle had returned whilst on the Tamoxifen (joy of joys) and that coming off it for a year to try to conceive was a genuine option for us. Just 2 weeks later and I was having bone density scans, biopsies and blood tests, “Ding Ding” round two.
Although the hankering for a kid of my own has never really taken hold, having your chances dramatically reduced of it ever becoming a possibility is like having the rug pulled out from under you, then to be told the chances of it ever happening were nil if you continue with potentially life saving treatment is a further blow. It maybe a bit of the spoilt brat in me seeping out, but having our options snatched away caused some major foot stamping.
As I’m getting older more and more babies keep popping into my life, Christmas is an altogether markedly more expensive affair these days and much as I adore my friend’s children, it doesn’t alter the fact that I have a very limited tolerance level for the little monkeys. I have a totally un-kid friendly home; lots of breakables, models of toys, Snoopy’s, the alien from toy story and a giant fluffy Elmo… waving cats and porcelain skulls…. lit candles and incense burners…. an excitable boxer dog and a couple of real live cats, a recipe that instigates either the visiting kids or me to have a total meltdown. All this said, I do like the excuse to shop for toys and mini clothes, and my heart still melts when I get to be the cool Auntie for 5 minutes or get one of those smiles or hugs reserved for the fun grown ups.
I was having a cuppa with a friend this week and we were catching up, I asked about some mutual friends and was saddened to hear that they had fallen out, “Why?” I asked…. Turns out that my 58 year-old, hardworking, self employed, happily married friend had been bombarded with comments such as….
-You don’t need a 4-bed house, you have no children!
– I have a 2-bedroom house and 2 children, it’s not fair!
-You have no idea how hard life is with children!
-But why wouldn’t you have children?
-You’re not really living life if you don’t have kids!
I have experienced some similar attitudes over the last few years and have often wondered how these people would react if I asked why they’d had kids?, why they’d brought more innocent children into an over populated, polluted and frankly scary war zone of a world when there are so many unwanted in care?… why if they couldn’t afford to provide for said children in the way that they’d like, did they continue procreating?… and precisely how having a shag and getting knocked up makes you the all seeing oracle on life, my life?
Surely it’s being a loving, supportive parent that deserves admiration, remaining consistent and providing as much of a stable upbringing as possible no matter what’s happening in your own world?… And why oh why do some parents seem to complain endlessly about how difficult life is being a Mum or Dad, I don’t mind the odd “I’ve had a rough week? … or “ I’ve had no sleep”… or “Little Quentin has used the wallpaper as a colouring book” … I’m not a totally heartless bitch, but I don’t remember anyone ever saying that having kids was a piece of piss, a breeze or a walk in the park. I believe having children is not a right, or a necessity for a full and meaningful life, but a privilege and a momentous undertaking. An undertaking that unless you have been living under a rock for the last 30 years, should have been a conscious decision… and should an accident occur during legal, consenting sex, then some level of acceptance of responsibility is needed.
Not all of us women without children made a considered decision, some had it made for us. Not all of us feel incomplete without kids, but some will feel a sense of sadness, some more than others will take pleasure and comfort from the company of the offspring of friends and family, others may find it emotionally challenging and some will simply find their patience challenged at the assumption that the entire world should hold/adore/coo over your precious mini human gift.
Mums of the world, please remember that in the way that we without sprogs respect you all for your brave choice to create a life, spend 9 months expanding, give birth (ouch) and then raise a hopefully happy and well-rounded human being, that in most cases, is just what you signed up for, pushchairs, nappies, sleepless nights, tantrums, car-seats, holidays to Pontins, or Centre Parks if your lucky, less money, less time, no social life and enough puke and crap to sink a battleship, this was never a secret, and for remaining sane-ish, I salute you…. Just remember some of us are very comfortable with our decisions not to add to the population, so don’t judge… Some of us are fragile and don’t need to listen to hour-long rants on the hardships of parenthood or how your life, only now that you are a Mother, has meaning.
Things not to say at parties/weddings etc.
-How many do you have?
-Don’t you want kids?
-Ahhhh what a shame, just not met the right man/woman?
-At least you get to go on expensive holidays.
-We can’t imagine life without a family!
-You think you’re tired, you don’t know what tired is…
-It’s a Mum thing!
-It’s what we were put on the earth to do.
-But who will take care of you when you’re old?
….. To the last one I always reply “If I’m lucky enough to get old, then it’ll probably be the same nursing home staff being paid to take care of you”