A woman I love deeply is two months pregnant, and she is finding the experience surreal and surprising. She tells me this in a coffee shop as I sip my double cappuccino. She drinks that ginger tea that all mothers seem to savour. "The ginger helps with the nausea and I am off caffeine," she explains.
Liz has always known that she wanted to raise children into amazing adults. She was, however, not attached to going through pregnancy, rather she thought she would do it if the man she loved was really interested in having his own biological children. That was before she hit 35, and then she started wondering if she would regret not carrying at least one baby into the world. After much dithering, faffing and weighing, she decided that she was open to getting pregnant. Days later, over drinks with an old flame, a mutual desire for babies was discussed, sex was had and she was peeing on a stick that confirmed her pregnancy within a fortnight.
Now, Liz is reeling. Sure she wanted this, but suddenly? Without preamble? She laughingly called her feelings a bag of chevda: "I am happy, strangely excited to meet this child and I feel really privileged that God has entrusted me with a life. But at the same time I am mourning my old life. My three bedroom house was already well filled by me, my work, my clothes and art. Now I have to consider someone else, and I am already worrying about this baby so much. I have changed my diet; no sushi, alcohol, caffeine or soft cheeses, and no more of my exercise routine. I have even given up my face cream because apparently it has too much vitamin A, which is dangerous for baby."
In the decades that I have known her, Liz has lived alone and occasionally let a man entertain her. There were times that she fell in love of course, but for the most part, she has been fiercely independent and afraid that someone might try to control her. A baby will change all this because it is his or her right. Children come into this world demanding space, consideration and all of mum’s attention.
As I drove home after our coffee/ginger tea, I thought about Liz and her mixed bag of feelings. Feelings that she clearly felt guilty to voice, and thanked me for listening to. Feelings that seem incongruent with all we have been told about motherhood. Clichés like "being a mother is the best thing I ever chose to do", "motherhood is exhausting but it is very fulfilling", "my children light up my life", and many others, sell women an idyllic vision of motherhood as the culmination of being a woman.
Yet there are women like Liz and dare I say myself, who have managed to create joyous and fulfilling lives with nary a child in sight. Women who have a life to say a tearful goodbye to at the prospect of motherhood. Our society treats single and childless people as overgrown children whose lives are yet to begin, and in fact when I mentioned this article to my father he looked at me aghast and said: "I did not know that it was possible to feel settled without a family. I didn’t know that anyone chose such a life."
To some in society, Liz’s life might finally be ‘beginning’ but to her, a vital phase of it is ending.