I felt 16, like I was in a bad episode of ‘Home & Away’
I was on track for a child-free life. Then two lines showed up on a pregnancy stick
Full disclosure: I wouldn’t be best described as a maternal person. I hate when kids visit my house. They mess with my Netflix configurations, meaning I get recommended Peppa Pig and Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood for weeks after.
I hate going to their houses too, where I’m meant to dote on a toddler’s every utterance of “buh” and “wah” as though it’s something profound. The current fetishisation of motherhood – all #blessed this and mums-as-selfless-beings – has sat uneasily with me for some time.
But, like many women, I’d started out with very misty, sugary ideas of motherhood. In my teens, I decided I’d have six children, so no one would feel left out. I’d announce pregnancies, euphoric and triumphant, to my husband – it was the ’90s, there would be a husband – by putting a fairy cake in the oven as a surprise, or a pregnancy test in a pen case, proffered as a gift. And then I began dating. The next few years would feature a motley crew of moochers, narcissists, spongers and emotionally unavailable “artists”.
I was human fly-paper for malcontents, and soon the prospect of motherhood dwindled to nothing.
I’d spent most of my 30s single. I was good at it. In fact, writing about dating, sex, singlehood and being child-free became part of my professional “beat”. But, as happens a lot of single women in their midto late-30s, I had to confront the question of whether I really wanted to be a parent or not. I had to try to prise apart my true feelings from the societal conditioning that ran through us all.
Not right now
The answer would always be the same: not right now. I really like lie-ins. I’m too selfish. Despite how it was gussied up on social media, parenthood often looked like running a very boring non-profit. Free to enjoy cinema afternoons, holidays in January and a clean house, part of me felt like I’d gamed the system a bit as a non-parent.
Besides, I had wanted to feel more selfreliant, and more solidly myself, before taking on the responsibility of parenthood (here’s the truth, freelance journalists will never get there). Forget motherhood; I needed to achieve personhood first.
I was told time and time again I’d regret not having a child while the biological opportunity still presented itself. “Why have a child at 35 to appease my 50-year-old self?” I would answer.
At 41, I’d largely put the idea of motherhood out to pasture, despite having many of my fiscal and emotional ducks in a row.
According to received wisdom on fertility, there was more chance of Bosco getting pregnant than me – a 4 per cent chance of getting pregnant every month, according to statistics.
Which is why I thought absolutely nothing of it when my period was three weeks late. I’d kept feeling the familiar pre-menstrual “tug”, figuring that my body would get around to doing its thing. One afternoon, my friend Catherine, who was staying with us, plonked a pregnancy test on the kitchen table. “You have to do it,” she warned. I felt all of 16, like I was in a bad episode of Home & Away.
And yet, so unconvinced was I that I was pregnant that I took the test on a Saturday afternoon, not even bothering to wait for my boyfriend to get home from work. I set it down on the bathroom shelf and promptly forgot about it without checking the results. I went downstairs, did the dishes and watched some Tipping Point (don’t judge: it’s televisual Ambien). I went back to check it, fully expecting the single red line that would let me get on with my day.
Even now, I’m trying to unpack my reaction when I saw two red lines on the pregnancy test; the indicator line somehow stronger and redder than the other. I was having a genuine Alice In Wonderland moment, where I’d walked through one door and turned around to find it gone.
The briefest moment of gleeful awe soon evaporated as the full brevity of what was going on bore down on me. I had 18 years, possibly more, of hard, unpaid labour ahead of me. I would probably never have a day without worry ever again. I felt immediately knackered; so much so that what I once thought would be a euphoric, as-seen-on-TV moment became a “take to the bed” moment.
The words of a friend were ringing in my ears: “I don’t get why people are surprised when they get pregnant. What do you expect to get if you have sex? A plasma TV?”
When this child is 20, I thought, I will be 62: the age my own mother was when she died. The thought of a 20-year-old at my mother’s deathbed was more than I could handle. Also, if this child makes it to their 80s, they’ll be living in the 22nd century. I was already in bed, but it made me want to take to the bed afresh.
And then, an unedifying chaser: the terror of childbirth. I’d never get through it.
And already, the guilt – guilt that I wasn’t more happy, more ready, that others who wanted it more than me were being denied it – had begun. Perhaps I was having a very human and understandable reaction to the idea of a screaming, pooing thing entering my life.
The briefest moment of gleeful awe soon evaporated as the full brevity of what was going on bore down on me
Soon, I heard the scrape of B’s key in the front door. Let him have a few worry-free moments before I sentence him to 18 years’ hard labour, I thought. When he walked into the bedroom, I tearfully handed him the test. It took him a few moments to register what was going on, but soon he broke out into a smile. “It’ll be okay,” he reassured me, pulling me on to the bed for a heartening cuddle. Then laughing, he added, “No, it’ll be great.”
If talking me out of tizzes and tantrums were a sport, the dude would be Usain Bolt.
At least this kid will have one sane, nice and decent parent, I thought.
A start, I suppose.
Tanya Sweeney: Perhaps I was having a very human and understandable reaction to the idea of a screaming, pooing thing entering my life.