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This week I Facebook chatted with my longest-standing friend while she waited for labour to kick in.
It’s amazing how suddenly post “wedding season” you’re in “baby season” with all your friends. I was honoured (and slightly surprised) that she would want to Facebook chat-rant at me while her body was rushing with hormones, readying for birth…and amazed at how poignant and funny she could be in discomfort. I guess it’s better than an invite into the labour ward…let’s just say, I was happy on the standby debate team.
It’s important to say this is her second baby. Almost exactly a year ago, we cried stinging tears after her little pop-up chat messages let me know Lucy* was stillborn. I was in the USA while she buried her daughter. I wanted to be there, but I wasn’t. A year of Lucy’s memory commemorated with a butterfly cake and here we were again, online messaging as little Tom prepared to enter the world. A long-awaited bundle already greatly beloved.
She returned to a regular discussion we have. Somehow, years ago, her spidey-sense identified that I “don’t want children…”
Admittedly, the first time she confessed to me that she was desperate for a baby was about five or six years ago. I recall nodding, and blurting, “I really want a pair of retro floral Doctor Martens”. She found that telling. She’s revisited it many times and finally announced she found it “incredible” and “liberating” that I had no desire to have children. At the time, it shocked me. I denied the comment and we moved on to debate other things (she’s a lawyer, so I try to keep our discussion fast-paced).
Also, I wasn’t sure what I wanted.
A couple of months later I was admitted to a PhD program. This led to a number of direct outcomes, some good and some challenging. By far the worst and most traumatic for me was immediately having to defend the significance of my marriage and future family. All the joy of finding out I had gained full scholarship drained away as I realised I was a female, about whom discussion is usually reduced to body parts.
You know – boobs, vaginas, uteruses.
Women were the absolute worst.
A number of people looked at me and stuttered out “but… you’re thirty one! I mean… what will you do?”
“I will do a PhD.”
But I didn’t realise they actually meant, “What will you do with your uterus?”
The truth is, I’m happy with my choice to pursue a degree and leave my uterus up to higher powers. If I put it in hard, honest terms, a late pregnancy seems more likely than regaining a PhD scholarship.
I haven’t had many people celebrate this life choice. As a Christian, it’s supposed to be my greatest joy to have children – the pinnacle of my career, the epitome of my feminine nature and, as I realised, an evident usefulness of my body.
Being a kickass academic is really a waste in comparison to all the above, apparently.
It’s a normal part of human nature to ask “What if?”
“What if I hadn’t enrolled in the PhD?”
I’m sure mothers do the same.
“What if I had stayed on at work/put the kids in day-care/taken that big holiday?”
I’ve decided it’s time to take back the power. I want you to know that I’m not at all dissatisfied. I made a choice to continually grapple with what it means for myself (and also for my husband who is the most generous, flexible and creative human on the planet and deserves the best life possible).
Sure, we desire a family at some stage.
However, I can’t stand false advertisement. The belief that a baby produces a better life for women is so divergent from the reality. I’m confused as to why we sit here and accept it.
Truth is, a little child and a PhD are both a lot of work. They are a contribution. We are all here, just making a contribution to the world. We try to make the best one we know how.
There are still things we can talk about together even if you’re holding a newborn in your arms at the café and I’m not. (For starters you can ask me if I’m sleeping well while studying, how my husband or parents are and whether I want to hold your baby for a while).
I know you can’t focus on a book because you have baby brain. I don’t see it as a competition.
Also, don’t assume I’m judging you when your child throws a saucer on the ground. I sometimes wear the same outfit three days in a row because nobody would know the difference, even at the office.
Beyond this, neither of us are victims.
We have chosen empowerment.
It might look different, but we’re not just walking uteri.
We’re the heroine of a great adventure.
We’re human stories that need to be told.
*For those who are interested, Lucy’s continuing contribution to the world can be found at www.lucysproject.com, and her life raises awareness about the silent animal victims of domestic violence.