FOR WHOM THE CLOCK
TICKS Lauren-Shannon Jones on fertility pressure after 30
As she turns 30, writer and performer LAUREN-SHANNON JONES is refusing to give in to the feeling that her life has suddenly
become a race against her own fertility.
Iturned 30 this year, and several things have happened: Instead of being sent by my agent to commercial castings for college students (prepaid mobile bundles, student fares, pizza meal deals), I’m sent to audition for the part of young mothers (home insurance, cleaning products, deli meat products).
It is a familiar trope that all women in their thirties are besieged with anxiety to get pregnant as soon as humanly possible. This is a life goal seen in a projection of years – you have to start right now because in order to have a child, it is necessary to meet someone, spend enough time with them to evaluate their suitability as a long-term partner, bring them around to the idea of it, and begin the process of trying, which (as one moves further into their thirties) becomes more difficult by the year. It becomes scientific at this point, strategic, and utterly unromantic.
One way around this is to freeze your eggs. The process is painful and expensive, but worth it to mitigate the apprehension of being watched over by the spectre of infertility. The fact that more professional women are freezing their eggs acknowledges that motherhood affects the trajectory of lives in a way that fatherhood rarely does. I envy men their time.
If the choice was mine to have a child at 50, 60, even
70, I would be, if not ecstatic, certainly calmer, able to focus on the present and see my future in terms outside of parenthood without wondering where my pregnancy will disturb it. Just to have the option existing would be enough.
I don’t want to feel that my life is a race against my own fertility. It’s difficult enough knowing (inescapably) that it is a race against my own mortality (certainly). But it is all the same feeling: to have a child is to become immortal in a sense, the continuation of a line, a deep connectedness with one’s own familial history, to do the thing that your mother, her mother, and her mother all did. The motivation is very apparent. But for me, a generally non-maternal person, it becomes an existential bargaining against the still latent societal norms that limit and diminish a woman in her motherhood. I don’t want my kids to be my life. I want my life to be my life.
There are a great many people I admire who have been in no way diminished by motherhood (and if they have, prior to my knowledge of them, they must have been prenatally godlike). The fear is that I will not be strong enough, that I will be one who puts her career on hold or cancels it, a vocational mother. Deeper still is the fear that I would retain my selfish qualities and be a terrible, traumatising mother.
One mother I know, a designer, told me that who she is now is absolutely different, and the work that she makes is different as a result. “They are all I think about,” she says. She isn’t sad about it, it is simply a thing she considers, constantly. So her work, consequently, speaks to a domestic space in a way that it didn’t before. Outside of her work, she can’t remember how it feels to
be alone. A woman doesn’t procreate so much as bisect, and so a small section of self is propelled into the world.
I feel no impulse to get pregnant yet, but an anxiety surrounds the awareness that I should. I am reassured that it will “kick in” but I am distressed by it. It is enough that I must ask, “What is it to be a woman?” before I ask, “What is it to be a person?” and “What is it to be myself?” To also ask on top of that, “What is it to be a mother?” among the messages everywhere of the transformative nature of motherhood is overwhelming. What if one doesn’t wish to be transformed? How do I reconcile my selfish nature, my want and need to work, with the blindsiding love that comes with having a child? With the trauma of the body? What happens to my perversions, my predilections, my preoccupation with sex and being sexual? If it is lost, it will be temporarily so, and replaced by something greater, but I am frightened of being tricked by these metamorphic hormones that will change me for the better. I have an appreciation for my poorer qualities and will mourn their loss, if it happens.
I remember the Kate Moss cocaine scandal of the mid-noughties in terms of mentions of her motherhood, as if her procreation had lent another dimension to her misdemeanour, something that evolved her crime from a personal transgression to an archetypal, societal violation. There are certain things a mother shouldn’t do, and that list is incredibly long. The list of things she should do is short to the point of limitation – provide (presence and nourishment), breastfeed (but not in public), return to work (but not too much), to be (in British psychoanalyst DW Winnicott’s terms) just “good enough”.
I have never seen my own mother drunk. I have never heard her raise her voice or seen her cry. She projected an unshakeable, peaceful, maddening contentment throughout my childhood. This is my concept of what a mother is, and I am not those things. If she had let the veil slip, even for a moment, she could have allowed me the chance to see myself (imperfect, depressive, temperamental, drunk) as fitting the mould of mother too. My mother isn’t “good enough”. She is too good. These are thoughts, not complaints. But my mother’s purity grew in my perception as an act of concealment. Nobody is that good. Are they? How did I come from that?
Recently, my partner acted in a show alongside a young boy, playing his father. It is never the image of myself with child that instigates a meditation on motherhood, but the image of my partner as a hypothetical parent. Possibly because the real sense of me as mother is too gigantic, too delicate, there can be no contact with it, not really. It isn’t a symptom of detachment, this feeling, but the opposite. It is too close, a silent white elephant filling half of every room that shifts against me gently, with insistence, its skin as thin and light as a balloon.
Watching this play, I met a representation of my partner’s potential fatherhood. I became, for the first time, fully aware of the collegial nature of wanting a child – it had felt to me for so long to be a singular thing, a thing I could conjure out of thin air. I thought that if I hadn’t become pregnant by my mid-thirties that I would go to a sperm bank, or give a male friend with great genes a sample jar and some privacy.
“I thought that if I hadn’t become pregnant by my mid-thirties that I would go to a sperm bank, or give a male friend with great genes a sample jar and some privacy. ”
I see now that the impulse comes from a synergy. It is biological, and I had tried (defensively) to intellectualise it. Concerning life, it is chaotic, and cannot be organised. My fear of having children is a tidy sublimation of my fear of disorder, of lack of control, of life.
Women don’t procreate so much as divide, becoming immortal. Do you want to be immortal? Do you want to meet small selves and reveal the world to them in gentle increments, like peeling a clementine? Bittersweet soft fruit.
When I do become a mother, I will write a retraction to all of this. I will be without contrition and enriched by it unquestionably. But these are things that I think about as my pre-maternal self, and I want it somewhere on record.