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A case for child-free womanhood

I spent all of my teens and early twenties being horrified at the concept of motherhood. The idea of getting pregnant and having a child was alien to me. Alien enough, that when I was in college I always had enough money set aside to make a trip to England just in case such a scenario should arise. I know that’s probably upsetting to a lot of people but it’s the truth. Motherhood was so alien to me that I fleetingly contemplated the idea of getting my tubes tied while I was still sensible and clearheaded and not overrun with irrational hormones and the relentless quickening tick of my biological clock. Of course this was ridiculous youthful, inexperienced idiocy at its best but it provides a good example of where my thinking was.

A case for child-free womanhood www.mindthebaby.ie Mind The Baby blog
photo credit: Lori Greig via photo pin cc

At some stage my opinion changed where having a baby didn’t seem so unreasonable but that was for other people and I lived my life is a child free zone, interested solely in reaping life’s benefits for myself, living one hedonistic, free-spirited day to the next, not particularly interested in the future outside of trying to climb up the career ladder. (Incidentally, I’ve misplaced my ladder. Have you seen it?).

Then one day I wanted a baby, and boy did I really want one. I couldn’t and can’t explain the overwhelming desire, a need almost, to have a baby. This eventually turned to desperation as months went by without any success. My daily life and my decision making was deeply affected by this waiting and wondering as to why nothing was happening.

It took us exactly two years to conceive, a passage of time that was long enough for us as a couple to think about, discuss and make important decisions for where our life would go if it turned out we couldn’t have children unassisted or indeed at all. One of the light bulb moments for me was realising that if we weren’t going to have children, then I needed to radically change my life.

I looked at my job and where my career seemed to be headed. I looked at where we lived, how we spent our free time, what our ambitions and dreams were, the choices we had made and thought, well if there aren’t going to be any children in this picture, life has to get damn well more exciting and full and satisfying and meaningful then it is right now because right now, life wasn’t good enough. If there won’t be any children, then these…compromises, let’s call them…that we’ve made to faciliate starting and having children need to go. And that’s what they were, compromises. A lot of life and living is compromised and sacrified when you have children. Listen, when I did finally get pregnant, I was more than happy to compromise and sacrifice – and would have compromised and scarificed a very great deal more – but that doesn’t downplay that you do have to make trade offs when you have children. You have to limit yourself to create a limitless world for your babies.

Since I have become a mother, my life has been enriched and I have felt love and received love in ways I never thought possible. It has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. But at the same time, it is the hardest thing I have ever done, or will do, in my life. I wanted it more than anything and still it has at times pushed me to the edge of reason. This experience all by itself has convinced me that motherhood is most definitely not for everyone. If I suspended two years of my life and put literally everything on hold while we tried to make a baby and still struggle with the challenges of mothering and parenting my son, what must it be like for a woman who finds herself with a baby when she never wanted to be a mother in the first place or circumstances have prevailed where she felt pressured to have a family?

Given the stage of life that we’re at now, with a toddler and moving in social circles with other people who have small children or babies on the way, myself and my husband often find ourselves engaged in conversations about responsible or acceptable fathering with horror stories of men’s reactions to having children and their adaptation to their new life. Stories of selfish, self absorbed, hands off, unsupportive fathers are regularly churned through rumour mills and usually end with “some men just aren’t cut out to be fathers” as if that’s a pefectly acceptable reason for a man to shirk his responsibilities. We NEVER hear the same phrase being used about women. Women are not allowed to be described as “not cut out” to be mothers. It’s like we believe that every women has an inevitable destiny to be come a mother. Because she has the biological potential, it must be realised unless something physiological prevents it. Society does not allow a woman to not be a mother because she doesn’t want to and yet the many reasons not to be are vast. Who can deny that the world is your oyster if you don’t have children? You can pursue any dream, goal, career, passion, adventure, fantasy, anything that you like without having to take anyone else into consideration. There is nothing holding you back. This is a very attractive option for your life.

If it is acknowledged that some men are not meant to be fathers and we know that there are incredible fathers in all walks of life also, surely we can deduce that some element of fatherhood is personality based? A man can have a personality and a set of morals and values that are inclined towards or inclined against being a father. Obviously, it’s the same for women. Our own experiences, our communities, our families, society and the media tell us that there are many mothers out there who should never have become mothers and have done unspeakable harm to their children because of it. One of my mottos for life – of which I have quite a few – is “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” This can apply to almost anything. Just pick something that you able to do, and ask yourself if it’s the right thing to do. All women can be mothers, be it biological or otherwise. There’s compelling reasons for many not to be.

I admire women who look into themselves, recognise that motherhood is not for them and choose not to be a mother. Maybe more women need to do this and know that it’s okay to make that decision. I applaud women who are brave enough to tell people that they don’t want any children because we certainly don’t make that easy for any woman. We tell her she’ll change her mind when she meets the right man. We tell her that her biological clock will ring too loudly in her ears and she’ll come around. We call her selfish. We assume she’s infertile and must secretly be dying to have a baby.

She doesn’t want a baby. She’s knows herself well enough to know that having children and being a mother isn’t for her. Being a mother is a life choice, as legitimate as any other choice, like getting a mortgage or travelling the world for a few years. Let women make their choice and then leave them alone.

A date with dates

This business of having babies is bookended by two very different time warps. If you’re planning a baby, you start off with the excruciating two week wait from when you might have ovulated until it’s time for you to pee on a stick. Time seems to stand still, particularly when you have that groundhog day experience of doing it again, and again, and maybe again. I know I found it very difficult to focus on other aspects of my life once months turned slowly into a year and then two years…

The second time warp began as I approached my due date, when time fluctuated between snail’s pace and break neck speed. Even though I knew I was unlikely to go on my estimated due date a little piece of me believed I’d be in that small percentage of women who give birth exactly at forty weeks. But once that milestone passed, the days felt both painfully long as phonecall after text message reminded me “I was still here”, but also a little too quick as I hurtled towards 40 weeks +14 days, the time allotted by the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin to spontaneously go into labour before they induce it. 14 days is actually the most generous policy in Ireland with other hospitals offering 12 or 10 days depending on where you are.

As day 14 appeared on the horizon, I turned to every trick in the book to encourage spontaneous labour. Every trick except sex, that is. I understand that it is extremely effective in ripening the cervix but I just couldn’t face into it, sorry! Daily perineal massage doesn’t awaken the sexy in me. Our home smelt like a Balti house though. Luckily, labour kicked off by itself a 40 weeks +9 days, thus saving me from the deadline and affording me with the natural birth I had hoped for.

Dates from Algeria (Biskra) called Deglet
Dates: 6 a day keeps the induction away                          (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So it was with great interest that I read this article about the effect of eating date fruit on labour and delivery outcomes. The research concluded that consuming six dates a day in the last four weeks before labour “significantly reduced the need for induction and augmentation of labour, and produced a more favourable, but non-significant, delivery outcome.” So all brilliant things then really! It does end by saying that a controlled randomised trial is the next step but those initial results are very promising. Given my tardiness the last time, this is something I will definitely be trying in the future. I have two friends who are right at this stage of their second pregnancy. Both were overdue with their first babies and are keen to have a natural, spontaneous labour. They’re both eating the dates at the moment and I’m really hopeful it will do the deed for them. I’ll keep you posted on developments for your own information of course!

Any ladies out there who have tried this already? I’d love to hear about your experience.

I came across the research via the perennially informative Tracy Donegan from Gentlebirth. Check out her Facebook page for a wealth of pregnancy and birth related information