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

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health Lifestyle - Tanya Sweeney This is the first in a new weekly col­umn by Tanya Sweeney about her preg­nancy

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

Worry-free mo­ments

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.

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