An ambivalent future (maybe) mother.
If you think this is an article about all of the amazing, beautiful and life-changing reasons for having children or about all the restrictive, awful and life-changing reasons for not having children, this isn’t that kind of article. It’s somewhere in between.
For as far as can I remember, I had always been ambivalent about whether to have children.
While my friends only wanted to play with dolls, I wanted to play with all sorts of things… not only dolls. I wasn’t a let’s play mummies and babies kind of girl. However, I did have a strong preference for the Barbie Ice cream maker shop, but I think that had more to do with the ice-cream maker than the actual Barbie doll!
I have been lucky to have a very diverse set of friends. Although perhaps it wasn’t so much luck but rather that growing up I have actively looked for different people with whom I could make a connection.
That has meant that not only do I have friends from different age groups (both 10 years older and 10 years younger) but also friends with dramatically different views on religion, children, careers, etc.
Some of my friends married young and had children straight away. I recall one of them saying, this is what life is about and what I’ve always aspired to be… a mother. She married at 22 and had her first child at 24 (she has 3 boys now). To her it had always been crystal clear that being a mother was the ultimate goal.
On the other side of the spectrum, those of my friends that decided not to have children, chose to have kickass careers instead. They are happily coupled up but decided early on in their lives (and their partners were fully aware) that babies would never be on the cards.
I remember a conversation where one of them said, I just never thought of myself as a mother. To her it was crystal clear that she would never have children.
I was somewhere in the middle. I wanted to live first and I only started thinking about settling down with someone in my very late 20s. I loved my life, my job, my freedom, my ability to just get up and go anywhere. The thought of being restricted by a little person, no matter how lovely, was terrifying.
As the years clocked by and that big “sell by date” preached by doctors approached, I found myself wishing I had more time.
More time to do “stuff”. I was terrified that having a child really meant that my life as I knew it would be over and since I loved my life, I wasn’t feeling particularly inclined to give it up.
My partner on the other hand was sure he wanted a child and because I was ambivalent, I thought let’s just see what happens. Which of course it is the equivalent of saying let’s actively try to have a baby. Not that I saw it that way at the time.
My logical mind, said that it would probably take between 6 months to a year and given some medical history it might not happen at all. The chances seemed slightly skewed against the whole process.
Of course, I got pregnant pretty much straight away. The pregnancy itself, aside from the usual discomforts, was relatively easy.
Once the baby arrived, it was a complex mixture of happiness and dread. I wasn’t sure I was going to cope, but after the first 4 weeks things started settling down.
It turns out that even though a baby is exhausting, you can pretty much take them anywhere with you and so I soon found myself in a daily routine, even going out and meeting other new moms.
I think the actual reality of motherhood hit once I went back to work. I felt that I had been re-defined against my will.
I was now no longer a kick-ass lawyer (and evidently not humble about it), I was now first and foremost a mum.
That in itself annoyed me. I didn’t want to be “just a mum”. I didn’t want to be that person who spoke about how cute their child was constantly (although mine was… wait did I say that out loud?).
And that was the first time that I thought, was this a good idea?
Am I regretting having done this?
Of course I did not articulate this out loud… at the beginning. Those very thoughts were ridden with guilt. I was automatically a bad person because I was not enamored with this bundle of joy that my partner and I had created.
A friend in the “no-children camp”, pushed the ‘of course having children is awful’ rhetoric and it is no wonder you feel awful. I know she meant well, but stating all the reasons why having children was a bad idea was not helpful. I had one and it’s not like it had come with a satisfaction, no quibble return guarantee.
A mum in the “mum first” camp on the other hand, proceeded to state why children were a gift, how lucky I was to have a child and how I would quickly be SO grateful that I was a mother.
Both pieces of advice were obviously skewed to represent their own life choices. But that’s what we all do right? We each tell a different story of the world depending on our own experiences.
I went through a difficult time after going back to work. So difficult that it ended up re-defining what I wanted out of life, including my job.
So now that I seem to have come out the other side, the question was: knowing everything I know now, would I still have a child?
The honest answer is I don’t know.
It’s neither a full out “no” nor a resounding “yes”. I have had so many moments of happiness together with so many moments of frustration and anger. I love my child with my entire being, but sometimes I also think that adoption is a realistic option.
It is like any relationship that you chose to make permanent. If you are happily married or in a committed relationship, I am sure you have had moments of happiness and moments of anger.
Moments of I want to live with this person forever, how could I ever live without you? and moments of I never want to see this person again.
Is it possible to then answer whether you regret the relationship, particularly when you are still in it? Would you have been happier with someone else? Would you have been happier alone?
Perhaps a better question is whether I would or could have been as happy without a child?
The answer is probably yes. I would’ve carried on with my life as it was being just as happy.
Would I have been happier?
Even if one could measure happiness, I don’t think it would have been better or worse. It would have been just a different type of happy. Tinted with its own experiences, its highs and lows.
I used to be jealous of those whose goals in life seemed so clearly defined. I once thought that my ambivalence was a sign of weakness but now I have come to see it as a strength, the ability to find happiness in the life I have chosen to live.
Just before I went on maternity leave, one of my colleagues asked me how I was feeling. I said I was excited, but scared, that I felt I had applied for a life-long job without knowing if I would like it. The good news is that the job keeps changing, the “job” that was looking after a baby is not the same as the job that was looking after a toddler or the job that is looking after a 5 year old.
The ambivalent in me is now learning to take each stage in its stride. Together with the difficulties, frustrations and successes that it comes with… just like with any other job.
Perhaps the ambivalent camp, is a third camp, wedged firmly between the “no children camp” and the “mum first camp”. I think there are more of you out there, maybe I will start a meet-up group.