I have a huge issue with other women’s pregnancies – whenever a friend announces theirs on Facebook or a celebrity announces theirs in the media, I feel a searing jealousy and sadness that is difficult to describe to others and to understand myself.
It more or less started the day my daughter was born, possibly even before then. During my pregnancy I’d had hyperemesis and was completely bed-bound for about 4 months, and I only left my flat between 10 and 15 times during the whole of my pregnancy. That includes antenatal checks and wedding-related appointments (my daughter’s dad and I got married when I was 7 months pregnant). This made it pretty clear that a further pregnancy would take careful planning and lots of support. When I was still in the throes of hyperemesis I begged my husband to remind me if I ever mentioned the possibility of another baby that I could never go through this horror again.
Then my daughter was born and from the first moment I saw her proved to be an amazing, captivating and utterly heart-melting tiny being. When she popped out, my first thought (after ‘wow, so there was a real baby in there!’) was ‘I want to do this again’. This thought got louder and louder with every gurgle, smile and milestone. When she started noticing other children I thought ‘She would be really great with a baby sibling’.
And then my husband and I separated.
A year and a half later I am still trying to come to terms with the dashed dreams of my perfect family. I feel sad for my daughter who has now lived in a single-parent household for longer than she ever did in a two-parent household. Co-parenting is a nightmare at times. I’m dreading the possibility of her dad’s insistence on overnight stays. The idea of a potential step-mother for my daughter makes me feel sick to my stomach.
So now I have no idea if or when I’ll have more children. And it’s so difficult. One reason it’s so difficult is that I just don’t understand why I feel this way.
But sometimes I read something that throws a little tiny light on the jumble inside my mind. Today it was this post about the representation of motherhood as a reward. Katherine Don from bitch magazine says:
I’m wary of Bravo’s chronic portrayal of motherhood as some final reward for being a no-nonsense, hardworking, trend-setting capitalist.
My most recent friend to announce her pregnancy comes from a family of travellers. She went to an excellent school thanks to a grant system which no longer exists, received counselling while at school to help her deal with her mum’s emotional abuse, got her A-Levels, got her degree, passed her driving test and bought a car, trained as a secondary school teacher, got engaged, bought a house, got married this summer, and is now expecting a baby. She’s a middle-class capitalist dream come true.
Part of the reason why hearing of my friend’s pregnancy has thrown me back into a downward spiral of melancholy is that my friend has chosen to organise her life in the traditional way that most people around me choose too. It’s not how I’ve done things, but it’s how I wish I had done it. Constructing a family by numbers (car – tick, job – tick, house – tick, husband with stable and moderately impressive job who likes to play football in his spare time and gets on well with your girly friends and their boyfriends – tick) symbolises safety for me. Being a single mother while studying rather than being in a stable relationship and working makes me feel like a teenage mum whose lifestyle is frowned upon by all of society. I worry that when my daughter goes to school I’ll be the flaky mum with the odd dress sense who is shunned at the school gate and thus ruins her daughter’s social life and emotional development forever. I keep thinking that perhaps if I quit the PhD and get a ‘proper’ job, I can have another baby. Now I know that I’ve been trapped in a ‘motherhood as reward’ thought.
On the whole giving birth and being a mother has been a hugely positive, transformative experience for me so far. For the first time in my life I have a feeling of purpose. Although I am frequently uncertain about how to deal with tantrums and how I will ever manage the potty training hurdle, I am a lot more confident than I was before I had my daughter. I seem to have endless reserves of strength and energy. I just need to get over this feeling of sadness and disappointment.