a letter of gratitude from a childless twenty-something
Thank you to all of the mums (and dads) of the world. Thanks for having sex, enduring a nine-month period of an alien growing in your belly and then pushing it out in a tawdry episode of sweat, blood and tears. And maybe poo.
Because I really like your baby. I like the way I can make her smile when I jiggle her feet and blow on her nose and play peek-a-boo. I feel triumphant when you teach me how to change a nappy and I do it with nary a wayward wee. And when she smiles, her expression of delight and trust and wonder chases away the dusty clouds of grown-up disenchantment.
You see, I’m not ready for one. Everyone has this idea that the next step after marriage is to procreate. Immediately. Questions asked by acquaintances betray a commonly-held expectation that would relegate me to the realm of plastic toys, endless loads of washing, and being responsible for the existence of a helpless being. They would have me rethink reading in bed until midday and eating chocolate for dinner.
Maybe because I was married in my early twenties, they all assume we are one of those couples who want to settle down and do responsible things and spend weekends on family outings. How can I explain to them that the thought of that life fills me with a tangible sense of revulsion but also a distant flood of joy? That my friends who have had babies at my age have my complete respect but also make me sort of nervous? That the idea of being woken by a warbling cry that my partner or I must attend to makes me feel trapped?
I’ll admit – there are some nights I’ve cried myself to sleep because I love babies so much. A picture of a smiling infant on Instagram has induced me to inexplicable tears, overwhelmed by shudders of tenderness. Perhaps that’s what they call “maternal instinct”, although I’m more inclined to name it emotional delusion. And no doubt, I’m filled with pride as my nephews climb all over my husband and he tickles them with a laughing smile, and I do indulge in the thought, ‘He will be a good dad one day.’
I do like the idea of creating someone who is all mine, and teaching her to walk the tightrope of right and wrong, and showing her what I love most about life like a circus ringmaster. But sacrificing my self-focused lifestyle for smelly nappies and enormous wails and Mary Poppins-esque bags full of wipes and bottles and bibs and sultanas does evoke a feeling similar to horror.
We probably want them one day. But I know that now is not the time, despite well-meaning friends advising me ‘not to leave it too late’. These friends need to know that the idea of being pregnant – a state in which some unknown beast usurps your fluids and nutrients before violently exploding from your most private of parts – doesn’t exactly leave me raring to go.
Having kids “one day” is acceptable to me because I feel sure that having a baby will not be the single best achievement in my life, and if you’ll excuse me, I would like to accomplish lots of other amazing things: building up a healthy and fun marriage, kicking goals in my career, exploring countries far away, and reading more books every year. I acknowledge that you can do these things while being employed as a full-time parent – but for me, I’m choosing to give them my best shot before becoming a mama.
So thank you, parents, who are my friends and family, for sharing your munchkins with me. Thanks for allowing me to sing to them and dance with them, and forgiving me when I swear around them; for letting me be the crazy Auntie that brings presents and tells silly stories. Thanks for helping me learn how to love them, and thanks for letting me give them back.