Womb with a view: The aun­tie-dote to moth­er­hood

So­phie Wilkin­son knows she’s a great aunt, but would she – should she – be a good mum?

Grazia (UK) - - Contents -

know­ing that the gen­der-neu­tral term for nieces and neph­ews is ‘nib­lings’ is help­ful, be­cause I talk about my lit­tlest rel­a­tives a lot. Be­tween my two older sis­ters, there are three boys and one girl, each a de­light in their own spe­cial way. The nine-year-old boy asks me about crime and myth­i­cal realms, while the seven-yearold girl and I chore­o­graph dance rou­tines to the same songs I lis­ten to in gay bars. The four-year-old boy, who I live a lit­tle closer to, likes poo-re­lated lim­er­icks, and the youngest, at two, loves hide and seek.

When I’m with my nib­lings, I watch ador­ingly as their soft, dewy cheeks chat­ter and their wrin­kle-free faces try out adult re­ac­tions. I lis­ten in­tently as they shape their tiny mouths and gappy teeth around new words. I tickle them un­til they kick (and they can really kick). And when I’m hun­gover and far away, I watch videos of them. With ev­ery zoom-in my heart beats a lit­tle closer to the sur­face of my skin. Maybe I should get a cat. Or per­haps con­sider hav­ing kids of my own? Af­ter all, I’m 30 and co­hab­it­ing.

Years ago, I would have writ­ten off moth­er­hood. My logic was that, eco­log­i­cally, chil­dren are per­haps the worst thing we can in­flict on the world, while so­cially, badly raised kids can have ter­ri­ble rip­ple ef­fects. But now, as I’ve learned how much joy and com­fort comes with the chal­lenge of rais­ing kids, I’m not so sure. Be­ing good with kids comes nat­u­rally to me, so maybe moth­er­hood could, too?

As a prac­tic­ing les­bian, I’m not go­ing to get preg­nant by ac­ci­dent, and I’m grate­ful to have avoided both the bur­den and fear of con­tra­cep­tive re­spon­si­bil­i­ties I see my straight friends hav­ing to deal with. How­ever, an in­verse logic runs, ever so sub­tly, even through my own head, that peo­ple who strug­gle the hard­est to have chil­dren don’t take them for granted, there­fore raise them very well. And the pres­sure to per­form un­der that as­sump­tion, how­ever in­ter­nalised, is ter­ri­fy­ing. I’m a per­fec­tion­ist in so many as­pects of my life, I’m not sure that’s com­pat­i­ble with the messy re­al­i­ties of par­ent­hood. Plus, the par­ent­ing op­tions avail­able to me are IVF with donor sperm, do­nat­ing my eggs to my girl­friend so she car­ries the baby for me (which in­volves some el­e­ments of IVF and donor sperm) or adop­tion.

I’d need not only the money, but the con­fi­dence to spend that amount of money on some­thing I can’t say for cer­tain I could deal with. The prac­ti­cal­i­ties don’t daunt me; I’ve changed the nappy of a child who has, the night af­ter a lentil sup­per, spent an af­ter­noon sub­merg­ing him­self in a sand­pit. And while I don’t doubt the dif­fi­cul­ties par­ent­hood presents, I all too reg­u­larly see – thanks, so­cial me­dia – peo­ple ob­jec­tively un­der­pre­pared to have kids sim­ply hav­ing them and get­ting on with it, and it’s fine, be­cause that’s what (straight) peo­ple have al­ways done.

What con­cerns me, though, is be­ing a queer par­ent in a so­ci­ety where fa­ther­mother re­la­tion­ships, no mat­ter how hap­haz­ard, are still con­sid­ered not only the norm, but prefer­able, by far too many. I know par­ents out­side that rubric can suc­ceed – my mum raised me and my sis­ters on her own, from when we were each two, six and nine-years-old. But a big part of me feels I’ve done my time com­ing to terms with my sex­u­al­ity, and the way the world treats me be­cause of it. I’ve felt and over­come the heartbreak of re­jec­tion, deri­sion and ha­rass­ment, and finally, I feel that I and my girl­friend of four years can some­times hold hands in busy places with­out fear. Would a round of IVF and nine months’ ges­ta­tion pre­pare us to feel any more com­fort­able walk­ing down the road to­gether be­hind a buggy? That’s as­sum­ing we have the money to fi­nance IVF and we find a de­cent donor be­fore the qual­ity of my eggs de­te­ri­o­rates be­yond the point of no re­turn.

Read­ing Lena Dun­ham’s dev­as­tat­ing ac­count of her hys­terec­tomy ear­lier this year, I sud­denly felt con­cerned for my own re­pro­duc­tive ca­pa­bil­i­ties. What point is there in feel­ing pity for an­other person’s tor­tur­ous de­ci­sion to re­move her choice of be­com­ing a bi­o­log­i­cal mother, when I’ve spent so long will­fully pre­tend­ing that I don’t ever need to make a de­ci­sion to be­come one my­self ?

Maybe I can put my eggs on ice, at ex­pense of both my body and purse. Or per­haps that’s not my role in life. It might be that I’m here to be a great aun­tie to my nib­lings. I’m in no doubt that my in­flu­ence on their lives barely stretches to the in­ner perime­ters of the fields of growth that car­ing and at­ten­tive par­ents can nur­ture in their chil­dren. Yet, since learn­ing that sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered, in parts of Samoan so­ci­ety, that gay broth­ers are more likely than straight ones to per­form un­cle du­ties for their sis­ters’ chil­dren, I won­der if the ‘helper in the nest’ the­ory (as they call it) could ap­ply to me. I can’t back this up with sci­ence –re­search into the oc­cur­rence in les­bians is de­press­ingly limited. What I can back it up with is the feel­ing of pride I get when my nib­lings achieve, the joy I get from be­ing in their good­hu­moured, cu­ri­ous com­pany, the pro­tec­tive­ness I foster over these vi­brant souls, and the thrill I get when I feel my next nib­ling kick, on the other side of my sis­ter’s tummy.

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