Sunday, June 10, 2007

Meeting Florence - and choosing not to have kids

This is Florence (Flo for short) with her new dad and mum, Kurt and Briget. She's the latest addition to my wonderful circle of friends. Isn't she gorgeous?

I got to spend all afternoon with them yesterday, and we went through a whole "baby cycle". Hold baby, talk to baby, baby naptime, baby wakeup, baby feed, baby play, hold baby again, talk to baby again, baby bathtime, baby sleeptime. Grownup talking, grownup fish and chip eating, grownup rugby watching (go the All Blacks!), grownup beer drinking. It was lovely!

Unlike the majority of my friends, I decided a long time ago that I didn't particularly want children. I think there are a few reasons why...

Firstly, I don't think I have the "maternal gene" - whatever that is. Most women get that biological clock thing happening at some point - generally in their thirties I suppose - and the ticking of the clock becomes louder than anything else in their life. So they do something about it, which generally means finding someone to have kids with (assuming you don't have a someone already) and then getting down to it.

My ticking clock never eventuated. I never heard the tick - and, to be honest, I didn't really expect to. Because...

...reason number two - I never envisioned children in my future.

You know how throughout your life you have a mental picture of how it is now, and how it's going to be? Well, my mental picture of my future never had children in it. I never really had a positive picture of being a mum, or having kids.

Oh sure, as a child I stuffed a pillow up my jumper to see what it would look like (I thought I looked ridiculous). I do also remember imagining myself being a mum. I have an incredibly vivid picture in my mind of how I imagined life would be. It's a vision of a woman, alone, pushing a pram up a hill in a deserted, lonely street.

I have no idea where the vision came from - the suburb where we lived was beautiful, tree-lined, full of parks. Nothing like the dismal housing estate in my head. Still, I remember sensing the intensely lonely desperation of the woman in my mind, and I remember vowing that that would never be me.

Reason number three is that I have not met my soulmate, and therefore I have had no reason to want to set aside reasons #1 and #2. Kurt reckons that, had I met Mr Right, I would probably have had kids, and I think he's probably right. The love of a good man, and wanting to express that love through having children together, would have overridden any doubts I might have had.

But it didn't happen. There have been three men in my life with whom I could imagine having children, but they didn't feel the same way about me. As I said, rather sadly, to Kurt - there's actually no-one who's wanted to have children with me. Ah well.

I just feel incredibly lucky that I wasn't desperate to have children. Imagine how much worse that would be, if I ached to have kids, and I hadn't had them! Alice reckons if my clock had started ticking I would have made sure I found a man who wanted to procreate. She's probably right.

Or I suppose I could have got myself knocked up and had the baby on my own. I know the thought crossed my mind somewhere in my early 20s (before I knew any single parents and realised what an incredibly difficult job it is), but it didn't really go anywhere. I just remember thinking that if my clock did start ticking at some point, I'd be prepared to have a kid on my own if it came to it. Except the clock appears to be broken...

There was an interesting piece in The Guardian Comment is Free section recently. It was written by a woman who (thus far) had decided not to have children. She's not ruling it out in the future, but right now, she's not interested. She's happy with her life, and her career, she's not that into babies, and her clock isn't ticking, although she accepts it might start sometime. She wasn't very impressed with the women who have kids giving her a hard time about not having them.

The comments section was very interesting. I don't think I've ever seen such vitriol in The Guardian (unless it's aimed at George Bush). She was called "selfish", "self-centered", "barren", and told her life was meaningless and pointless. It was amazing. Women who felt the same way as she did were laying into the "smug marrieds", and those who they feel are selfish for having children and for wanting to create a little "mini-me".

Both sides felt they were continually being lectured by the other side. Mothers were tired of having the job of childrearing undervalued by career women. Women without children were tired of being told that they led selfish, meaningless lives. It got very heated, very polarised and really vicious.

I guess I was surprised because, really, what does it matter what other people choose to do? I'm happy with my life, but I see no need to either justify my choices or judge other people for having made different ones. I know I've made the less usual choice, but that's fine by me. I never was entirely conventional anyway. But it doesn't mean I think any less of people who do make the more conventional choice. We each make the choices that are right for us.

I like kids. I like them quite a lot - and they like me. I also like giving them back after a while. They tire me out (as I'm sure they tire their parents out, too!). I've never felt grown-up enough to have kids, and I'm always slightly surprised when my friends go ahead and have them anyway, because I see my friends as being at the same level of grownupness as me. I guess they're not.

I can't imagine being totally responsible for the health and wellbeing of another human being. It frightens the life out of me. I'm completely inconsistent in my level of care of myself, let alone another person. Kurt and Alice both think I think about things like that more deeply than some other people do, and maybe that's what's held me back. Maybe it's also because I'm such a perfectionist and I don't know whether I'd be able to do a good enough job of parenting... and perhaps I'm afraid to try in case I don't reach my own standards, whatever they are.

Kurt and Briget are much more laid-back about the whole parenting thing than I could ever be, and they're doing a great job - without, it seems, too much angsting about it all. I admire all my friends for the way they just get on and do it - they are all such wonderful parents.

I've wondered if I'm completely selfish for choosing not to have children (Alice says no - and thinks that some parents are pretty selfish - the ones who want to create a little mirror image of themselves, anyway). I've wondered if my life is meaningless and unfulfilled, as some of those parents on the Guardian comments thread would judge it to be. I don't think it is, and so I guess that's OK, seeing as it's my life, and my choice.

Anyway, I'm thrilled to have so many little friends in my life. I'm thrilled to be an honorary member of another family (as Zef and Sarah's daughter Eesha has described me, much to my delight). I adore having two nieces and a nephew, and although I'm sad they live on the other side of the world, I'm in awe of the fact that apparently the spare room at their house is now permanently named "webweaver's room" even though I've only stayed there once. I'm honoured every time I get invited to one of my little friends' birthday parties (and find it funny that parents I don't know invariably ask me "which one is yours, then?")

So welcome to our beautiful world, baby Florence. You're going to have a wonderful life with your awesome mummy and daddy. I hope I can share in a little bit of it, just as I do with all the other children and babies in my my inner circle of friends. I'd like that.

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