Heartrending piece in Guardian Family yesterday. In it, Bibi Lynch pleads with mothers to stop complaining about the stresses of our lives, for we are the truly lucky ones. She will never have the chance to complain about motherhood, for she will never be one; and she’s sure she will never get over it.
She reminds me a little of myself at her age – 46 – though I was never as stricken about childlessness as she is. But I too found the mothers’ litany of grumbles irritating beyond belief; if it’s so tough, why did you do it? Were you forced to? Tricked into it? I used to think. I even wrote a play about it, featuring a resolutely child-free woman, who starts to waver, and then . . . Hey presto, falls pregnant in middle-age.
Actually, it was the first thing I wrote after giving birth, and in the second half I tried to answer my own questions, and illustrate the paradoxes, especially, of new motherhood. It’s the most drastic infringement of basic human rights you’ll ever experience in your sheltered life; verging on physical torture – and yet you wouldn’t renounce it for the world. You are truly being born anew; and it hurts.
Of course my character was a version of me, except that I was never resolutely child-free either; just childless for decades on end. Neither one thing nor the other; neither happy, nor, excessively, miserable about it. But I was, kind of, in my forties, grieving the passing of my youth and my fertile years. I wasn’t as explicit, or as frank, about it as Bibi Lynch, and I did believe, by 46, that I was getting over it. I like to think so. My son was born two years later.
So what would be my advice for her? First of all, I don’t want to sound smug. I know I was exceptionally lucky, winning a lottery against amazing odds, so the last thing I would tell her is not to give up hope. She knows better than I do what her chances of conceiving now are. But I have to say there was something slightly, even almost fanatically single-, not to say narrow-minded, about her brave confessional. It assumed, as these Baby-Hunger lamentations tend to, that all us mothers out there have tidy have-at-all upper-middle-class lives, nice houses, lovely children, good jobs, everything picture-perfect, while there she is left alone outside in the cold.
I hate to say it, but has she thought about adopting? Working with underprivileged children in some other way? Doesn’t she know that the world is full of orphans, of bereaved parents, of bereaved and grieving people of all kinds? Honestly, she is not alone, and once she starts looking she’ll find no end of demand for any amount of her frustrated mother-love.
Spring term has ended and with it the daily agonies of school-gate politics. I hate to admit this, but I have succumbed, in spite of myself, to some school-gate paranoia. The mother of my son’s best friend barely speaks to me; my boy has given up badgering me to have him over since she doesn’t respond to my invitations. Well, she’s exactly half my age (so I am older than her mum, probably), and grew up the other side of the world in a country where ageing unmarried mothers not obviously posh, and with no visible means of support can only be assumed to be one thing. See, I said I was getting paranoid; I don’t know what she thinks, really.
Except that I am not as respectable as the obviously alpha mums outside the classroom door, who have, I am happy to see, been befriending her of late. Luckily our sons’ friendship seems as solid as ever; & my partner says not to worry; our boy is bright enough to look after himself in the classroom and outside, irrespective of his mum’s social ineptitude. I hope he’s right. That is my main worry, really.