Question Time

December 18, 2009 at 9:58 am (Uncategorized)

Well, for a one time booze hound, it’s a serious turn up for the books finding myself home alone the Friday night before Christmas, nursing not a frosty glass of champagne but a small plastic container full to the brim of nasal spray. Needless to say, the Synarel is not measuring up. In fact, I feel like flinging it across the room. Oh, I’m sure there was amusement to be found had I only been bothered to search hard enough, but I ultimately decided I didn’t want to look very hard at all. Or, at all. No options presented themselves – and look, I am a girl who likes to invite and be invited in return, I get so tired of chasing people to spend time with me – so I decided to give the Final Push to Find Something to Do a miss. The thing is, I had vino on Wednesday, and we’re going to the Panamaniac’s for dinner tomorrow night, so I feel like that’s probably my Isn’t-IVF-Fun quota and pushing it. Llew, meanwhile, is presently jollying it up at his office Christmas party in the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House. Partners unwelcome. BOOOOOOORING.

Oh God. The new upstairs neighbour (who seems very nice, actually) is playing an electric guitar and screeching out the lyrics to Wild Thing. Just kill me now, and please disregard everything I just said. Not only do I wish I were somewhere else right now, I am in serious need of a drink. A big glass of red wine, not a highball of fucking cordial. Oh good, here comes his guitar solo.

Hey, I’ll tell you what else is boring: a Synarel side effect that’s become a flesh-eating beast. My skin at the moment is just AWFUL. I don’t really recall having any problems with acne as an adolescent, but I have the worst hormonal skin of my life right now. It’s disgusting, and I hate it. It’s making me look hideous and feel a freak. I am, after all, 37 years old. A bit old for this sort of thing, frankly. It’s all along my chin-line and neck, and when I run my hands across my skin, I want to scream and/or cry. I’m being SO GOOD, sleeping and eating and exercising well, and sitting at home listening to amateur electric guitar instead of going out partying, and this just doesn’t seem fair.

(Please stop tapping your foot in time… it’s not, you know… in time. I think there has to be two of them up there. This surely can’t be the work of just the one talentless musician.)

And while we’re on the joys of IVF, I might add that I had a really alarming conversation with some of the book club girls on Wednesday night, when we met not for book club but for Christmas catch ups. After listening to all the mother and child chat, I eventually said, because I’m really keen for reassurance at the moment that putting myself through all this shit is a good and not plain terrible idea, “But it’s all worth it, right?” to the three women sitting up my end of the table. One clearly hesitated. The other two froze, then one of them nodded sagely. I narrowed my eyes at the first one and said, “You hesitated.”

And after all the expected disclaimers about how much she wouldn’t change a thing and how much she loves her kids and so on, she very candidly admitted to sometimes reflecting how different and in some ways better her life would be if she’d never had children or, for that matter, a husband. Selfishly, she said, things would be a lot easier. She also said something along the lines of make no mistake, have children and my independent self, my independent life, that identity which I have known and owned for 37 years, well, that self would be gone.

A chill crept over me. I began feeling fearful and resistant. I like my life, and I like myself. I don’t want to give up either. Must I give up both? Is that what parenthood means? Panicked, I started looking them up and down, the ones left anyway, the ones who hadn’t already flaked after one glass of wine and peeled off to go home to their families. I looked closely at the remaining women, looking for that shadow self, the lost self screaming inside. Briefly, I felt like running away. Meanwhile they were all nodding, starting to admit dirty secrets of their own, these precious, forbidden doubts and resentments – these truths – that women so often hide from each other. The sick feeling transformed into a kind of awe: I felt so privileged, truly honoured to have them speak the godawful truth to me, the kind of truth that doesn’t flatter and is rarely conceded at all. The kind of truth that usually comes swaddled in a palatable lie.

It was gutsy. I was by this stage officially terrified by the prospect of having a child, but more than anything in that moment I loved her, and loved the others, for respecting me, themselves and each other enough to answer the goddamn question.

This they did, to the very best of their ability, and you know, it made me proud to be a woman. Did it make me want to be a mother? Well, I find it impossible anticipating unknowns, so I honestly don’t know what that means for me as someone who isn’t a mother. It’s like asking if I’d rather be a man. Huh? How should I know? If ever I’ve wondered about something before, like, say, diving, I’ve been able to explore it, actualise it, make it a known thing on which I base my decision. The obvious difficulty with motherhood is that you can’t just quit if you decide it’s not for you after all. Sorry, this is a bad fit for me, and I don’t think our arrangement is working out. I don’t like it. It simply doesn’t work that way – tough luck, momma! –  which makes having a child a massive gamble. I’m not a gambler, so that level of risk makes me deeply uneasy.

Equally, my friend would, in fact, be living a different life if she had neither husband nor children, which means it’s very hard, in my view, to give this comparison a measurable value. I believe the fundamental truth is that there is only one way to find out. It’s easy and tempting to stare longingly down every other road but the one actually travelled and think they all look a treat, but… well, try walking down one, because I bet the usual frustrations and disappointments will barrel down the path soon enough and knock you into that horrible jungle of poison ivy. That’s just life. It’s itchy.

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11 Comments

  1. charlotteotter said,

    Very special friends you have. It’s not often that women break out from behind the curtain to admit that there are resentments and frustrations in being a mother and a wife. Yes, being a mother is a leap of faith, just as getting married to someone is a leap of faith. You trust that you have made a good decision and you jump and hope like hell it’s going to work.

    • doctordi said,

      Charlotte, I know, I was so impressed with the unstinting generosity of that level of brute honesty. Yes, I definitely felt a leap of faith when we got married – I’d been someone who when younger thought it wasn’t for me (bristly prickly flinty wounded me), but that changed when I got to a certain point in my relationship with Llew. Everything seemed possible, and desirable, including marriage and having a family, because of that love. It still does.

  2. David Rochester said,

    What a very interesting post — and yes, your friends are fantastic.

    I think that for people who choose to have children, the road goes one of two ways: they have them before they truly know their partner or themselves, and then they face the challenge, once the children are a certain age, of discovering who they are without the immediate needs of the children, and discovering what the marriage really is when it’s not focused on the children (if it doesn’t end in divorce long before that).

    People who have children later in life have an opposite problem … they know what they might be losing; they usually have a larger measure of temporal success and knowledge of who they are and what they might achieve, and they choose to set some of that aside for a while to invest in the 24/7/365 job of being a parent.

    It’s hard either way, I think. I also think that a lot of people have children without actually considering what goes into it and what it means, and those are the people most likely to feel bitter about the resentments and regrets of becoming parents … especially if they miscalculated the “rewards” of parenting; so many people anticipate having a child who reflects the best of what they like about themselves, and are then disappointed to find that the real reward of parenting is getting to know and nurturing and supporting a totally dependent stranger.

    So — in many ways, perhaps the question Is it worth it ? depends upon what someone hopes to gain from doing it. I think that for most people, somewhere ‘way down in the deepest most honest parts of their guts, they know whether they have a mandate to be a parent. Those who really have it tend to bear the resentments and regrets and frustrations with a sense of balance and humor, though they still feel all of those negative things very keenly. The mistake people make, I believe, is not being honest with themselves when the answer to that question is “No, I’m not called to do this.” Societal pressures and expectations are so huge, and there is still such a critical attitude toward people (especially women) who don’t want children — it’s hard to make the choice to be childless, and stand by it proudly. But there is still a world of difference between “I miss the life I used to have” and “I think this was a mistake.” 🙂

    • doctordi said,

      David, I agree with you. Everything you say here I respond to. Yeah, the question “Is it worth it?” (though not *strictly* speaking what I said) is not really the right one, as Lilian says below, but I hadn’t expected the response I got to what was a throwaway line, I hadn’t expected that deeply ironic pregnant pause.

      What do I hope to gain? Well, a new person to love and share our life with. A new independent personality in the mix of what is currently our family of two. A new dimension to my own personality, and Llew’s. Lots of things, too many to name. Life experience. Insight. Cuddles.

  3. Lilian Nattel said,

    Maybe is it worth it isn’t the right question. Because what does worth imply? Is it happiness, “naches” (the pleasure of your child’s achievements), or what?

    Does that mean it isn’t worth it if your child is cranky or lazy or plain or without special talent?

    Being a parent is a lot of work and your heart is never your own again. But what’s wrong with that? Why should your heart just sit solitary and controlled within your body? Why should it not walk about the world doing things you’d never dream of?

    You become bigger than yourself as a parent. All kinds of emotions go along with that. Joy, frustration, exhaustion, fear, love, gladness, sadness, rage, helplessness, silliness.

    Most people in most times haven’t had any choice about it. It just happens. For those who have the choice, and those who want to have the choice, I think it’s about giving love away. There is just all this love waiting to be given. It would be a waste to waste it. That’s all.

    • doctordi said,

      I think you’ve really nailed something here, Lilian. For some years of my adolescence and throughout most of my twenties, I held back my love. I was too bruised and too jaded by my own family, too insecure, too unsteady about my ability to give that love and have it returned, so I sort of hoarded and hid it behind sarcasm and untouchability. I literally did not like to be touched; I was a fortress of one. But with time and distance and the love of wonderful friends, I realised it didn’t have to be that way. I did not have to be that way. And in fact I’d never really been that hard-edged person, anyone who’s known me a long time and well knows that beneath the veneer I was always a big mushy softie. Then when I was 30, my niece was killed, and it didn’t just change how I felt about the rest of my life, it changed how I felt about love. I realised I just had so much more to give. I’m actually full of it. It throbs through me, and I wanted to start letting it out. I have faith in that love – it seems to me to be all that my life will finally be about.

  4. Grad said,

    Oh my gosh. OF COURSE, life as you know it changes. Yeah – good-bye, what could have been. So long, impetuous youth. Au revoir, independent life. But guess what – those things happen to some degree anyway – whether you have kids or not. I didn’t start having children until I was in my 30s. When I brought my first one home from the hospital, he cried so much the first night I remember telling Shorty (who came to stay for a couple of weeks to help me out), “That’s it. He’s going…” And I caught myself. I truly was going to say, “He’s going back” until I realized I wasn’t talking about a puppy who wouldn’t be housebroken. I looked down at that demanding little sack of selfish wetness, and realized he was there to stay. From that piont on, I was hooked. A real goner. Yes, life changed irrevocably and forever. But, at the heart of it all, I know that I would have built myself a happy life, either way.

    • doctordi said,

      Well, exactly, Grad. Of course life changes. And I agree it happens anyway, with or without kids. People with kids go on about how exhausted they are, they always pin it on parenthood (which I don’t, by the way, doubt is exhausting), and I say, “Yeah, actually I think that’s also just age – I get a lot more tired these days too. Party? I don’t think so. Dance all night? I’d rather be home in bed with my book.”

      So I think it’s a phase of life thing, it’s just that for most people my age, that phase involves being the parents to young tireless kids. Anyway, I *like* change.

  5. litlove said,

    When I had my baby, the first traumatic shock was: the most important part of myself is on the outside and I have very little control over it. The second was: I have NO time or space for myself and my needs. But motherhood, like anything else, is not a static state. It changes all the time. I fell apart in the first three years, but then my son saved my sanity for the next ten. You do have to grow up, though, and growing up always hurts. But, like marriage, motherhood is what you make it. It is one hundred percent down to you, and your relationship with your child is fully your responsibility. That’s scary at first, but once you’ve got your head around it, it’s amazingly liberating. By god do you have to work at it, but you get ten times back what you put in.

  6. doctordi said,

    LL, thanks for adding to the chorus of honest mothers. It’s such a relief, actually, to hear these things, because I suspected them, and they’re much less fearful now for having you and others admit that they are indeed part and parcel of the experience. I think I was worrying that there was something severely *wrong* with me for thinking these things might happen, and for fearing that I might find them hard.

    But I tend to believe that about most things, LL, that it’s what you make it, and I am by nature a hard worker, so I hope both qualities will really come into their own if I ever make it to motherhood!

  7. Pete said,

    Nothing to add here except I love the honesty of your friends and I’m so hoping that this baby gig works out for you and Llew. I also like it that you’re making space in your mind (and heart) for what this would mean. And you (and the would-be baby Jenkins) will be in good hands when it comes to wise and balanced motherly advice.

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