I don’t go much of a bundle on children – there now, it’s out in the open.
I must confess that hearing about a woman who has had octuplets is not, for me, the overjoying experience it seems to be for most of the public.
To be honest, I find the whole thing a bit bizarre. And now finding that she already has six children, it frankly appears to be a bit obsessive. Who on earth would give fertility treatment to a woman who’s already had six children? It’s all a bit icky and piglety for me.
But then, I know I am a weirdo in this regard. It’s now official: there’s no child section on this blog because I’ve never really understood why anyone wants kids, or at least not women – all I can see from my child-free position is the disadvantages.
I can see why men might want them because they don’t do any of the bloody work, but women have to give up so much for their children, and I have to admit I have never wanted to do that. I could never see that it was worth it. But for that I must blame both my upbringing and the zeitgeist, I suppose.
Growing up in the 70s, all you ever heard about was how the the world was becoming dangerously overcrowded (and colder, too, remember!), and to how have lots of children was the height of selfishness – something only indulged in by gypsies and Catholics. How times have changed, when there aren’t enough younguns to support the rapidly ageing population (and of course we all now know the world is getting hotter, not colder, too).
Nevertheless, for me the pattern was set – children were not something that I saw in my future at all. The women I admired most were not parents. They were writers, artists, lawyers and lawmakers.
In this I was very much encouraged by my father, because children were not the happy glue that held my family together. My father was resolutely anti kids and disappointed when his children went on to have children of their own. I think he would have preferred me by far to be a Margaret Rutherford figure. A batty old spinster on a bike, maybe, but in charge of her own life, not beholden to some man or other. He thought of child-bearing as a trap.
For his mother, as for most other women throughout the centuries, having children was a matter of biology, not a matter of choice. Another mouth to feed was always problematic and how to prevent them was uppermost in most people’s minds. My grandmother had five that her husband could barely support (coal in the bath, no inside toilets, bath-house at the end of the street), and my mother had four, plus a late-term stillbirth (council house, caravan holidays by the coast, bread and jam when we were hungry).
I grew up knowing that my mother couldn’t afford to leave my father because of us, and later I saw my sister trapped into poverty when she became a young single parent, unable to take a job above the most menial level because she had a child in tow. And strange as it seems, I never knew anyone until my mid 30s whose marriage had actually survived the arrival of a baby. To me, the one thing seemed to lead inevitably to the other.
I therefore spent my first 15 years of sexual activity making damn sure that I couldn’t get pregnant, since it had been drummed into me big-time that it would be the end of life as I knew it. So much so that one time at college, when my friend Alison told me that a mutual friend was pregnant, my instant reaction was that we needed to get her to an abortion clinic, quick. What would be best, I said, Brooks or Marie Stopes? "No, no, Trish," said Alison, gently, taking me by the shoulders. "It’s a GOOD thing. She wants a baby." I was mystified.
But then so too were most of my friends at the time – we were teenagers, after all. Later, when we all entered our 30s and my attitude hadn’t changed, I was really very surprised when they fell off the wagon one by one and had children. I felt let down, somehow – didn’t they know that professional women eschewed such things? As their conversation began to revolve around poo and nappies, I kept my head down, tried not to say too many anti-baby things and hoped they’d get back to remembering that Milton was a poet and not just a sterlising liquid.
I suppose everyone thought that I too would succumb eventually. My best friend urged me to have a baby, as "It would be the absolute MAKING of you," a statement which irritated me beyond belief. But I remained child-free, and being so has shaped my life perhaps more than I realise.
During my sister’s last visit, when we left a friend’s house, she said: "Don’t ANY of your friends have children?" It struck me as amusing as, M, whose place we had just left, is in fact a parent. But it is true that many of my friends – about 60 per cent in fact – don’t have children. It is just the type of women we are. We prefer cats, books, music, horses, travelling, or simply being alone with our thoughts to spending time with children.
Birds of a feather flock together and to be honest, even those of my friends who have kids are not exactly what you’d call fond parents – they love their kids, but they remain writers, musicians and artists at heart. For several, pregnancy was an accident, or birth a traumatic experience that they weren’t keen to repeat. And luckily, since they are not indulgent, their kids for the most part are easy to get on with and generally well behaved, even if they do rather get in the way of adult conversation.
For me, finding out I had fibroids at 37 was a mental turning point, because I realised that at most all I felt was a mild disappointment at the prospect of not having kids. I could have had a uterine ablation, of course, or IVF etc, but I couldn’t be arsed. Having to make that decision made me realise it wasn’t a road I wanted to go down – the health service is already overtaxed and it’s better to leave such services to women who feel some lack in their lives.
Also, the mild disappointment I felt was entirely to do with myself – part of me, as a writer, wanted to experience pregnancy and birth so that I could write about it, but I had absolutely no interest in caring for a child once it was born. I was looking for good copy, not motherhood. Women such as I, I feel, do not make ideal parents.
However, the fibroids proved a convenient excuse whenever I wanted to avoid an argument with someone keen to assure me that I was missing out on the best thing EVER in not having a baby, and I do still use it when the need arises, because I prefer a quiet life. It is cowardly of me.
But the truth – which I still mostly feel obliged to keep quiet about, the way the baby-mafia come out in force – is that I REALLY like my life the way it is. I am bull-headed and difficult, and I find it hard enough to compromise even with a husband (never thought I’d have one of those, either), never mind children.
I really don’t want the calls on my time, or the noise, or the mess, or the responsiblity. I don’t want to enter their fantasy worlds or sit through brightly coloured cartoons. I don’t go gooey when I see them on television, or pick up babies and sniff them. I want to go where I want on holiday and watch what I want on television and I get unbelievably pissed off if I don’t get my own way.
This is who I am, and I am perfectly happy with myself. I do get so tired of apologising for it.