I never intended to be a young mother. Well, that’s not entirely true.
I was certainly in an inexplicable hurry to kick each of the life goals
on my list faster, sooner, better. I fell pregnant at 25, less than a
year after meeting my partner, although I didn’t feel terribly young at
the time. Newly installed in a high-responsibility job with a
high-responsibility mortgage, let’s just say I didn’t have to make too
many lifestyle changes to accommodate my pregnancy. It was actually a
relief to have a legitimate excuse to stay home and watch TV instead of
partying with my peers.
After my son was born, things got harder. Without siblings or friends
remotely in the parenthood stage of their lives, it was a lonely,
bewildering road. I didn’t realise it at the time, of course.
The best thing about being young and clueless about motherhood is that
you have no expectations. I literally had no idea what I was doing but
was blissfully ignorant about my blissful ignorance.
My mother (who had her first child at 18 and her second at 25) had forgotten pretty much everything baby-related which was mostly wonderful because I didn’t have to deal with any pushy back-seat parenting advice. The only time it wasn’t wonderful is when I really needed her to tell me what to do. My partner, while wonderful and ever-present, was as clueless as me. The first baby he’d ever held was our son. In fact he’d never even seen a newborn before Luca arrived. So in that first year, we just rolled with the punches, read far too many contradictory books and called the Karitane help line in emergencies.
Me: “Uh, my son is four months old and he seems to be crying rather a lot.”
Karitane Lady: “How often is he sleeping?”
Me: “Oh, well, um, I’m not sure. Whenever he kind of crashes on the floor or in his bouncy chair.”
Karitane Lady: (patiently) “A baby of that age should only be awake for an hour and a half at a time. The rest of the day, he should be sleeping in his cot.”
Really? Somewhere (probably in book #215), we’d reached the misguided understanding that a baby should associate its cot solely with long nighttime sleeps. During the day, we just played with him on the floor until the poor little guy started crying or passed out from exhaustion, no doubt dreaming of imaginary parents who knew what the hell they were doing.
By the time some of my friends finally started having babies in their thirties, my son was getting ready to start school. As they became immersed in the sleep-deprived world of nipples and nappies, I’d been paroled. Luca was becoming dramatically more independent and self-sufficient. He was at an age where we could discuss our respective days over dinner. When we got Foxtel digital, he showed me how to use the remote. He could articulate his wants, needs and emotions and his strong bond with his father, grandparents and friends returned to me many pre-baby freedoms.
Ironically, after waiting so long for mother company, I discovered I now had more in common with my childless friends than those with babies. Unless you’re in that exact life-stage, babies are pretty boring really. Newsflash: giving birth doesn’t guarantee a lifelong desire to discuss toilet training and controlled crying. The only interesting stage is the one your child is in right now. And, like my own mum, I’d quickly forgotten most everything about those early stages so I was little help to friends seeking baby advice.
On the work front, I was exhilarated by the massive alleviation of guilt that came the day my son started school. While my new-mum friends agonised over how to combine jobs they loved with babies they didn’t want to leave, I no longer had that mental battle. Working part time or not at all was a redundant concept when my child was at school every day.
Then came the next wave: infertility. It seems you can’t reach your thirties without knowing a handful of people struggling to get pregnant. I’m not sure if it’s an epidemic or just a demographic.
I do know that these days I can divide my female friends and acquaintances into three groups: those with children, those who are childless by circumstance and those battling infertility. Of the latter two groups, many are angry, frustrated and disappointed – at themselves for not trying to get pregnant earlier or at the universe for sending them relationships that never fulfilled their promise. Others are circumspect, trying to come to terms with the fact that childless was not an adjective they ever wanted to own and endeavouring not to define themselves by what they don’t have.
A significant sub-group are the women who had their first baby late; too late to make a second baby possible. I was recently talking to a woman who had her first child at 24 followed quickly by three more. The previous night she’d bumped into a mutual acquaintance who had a glittering career and her first baby at 42. They hadn’t seen each other in a decade and quickly caught up on. “When I mentioned I had four kids, I could see her face just shut down,” recalled the younger mum. “She tried to make some light-hearted joke about me giving her one of mine so she could have a sibling for her daughter but it was clear she was bitter. I actually felt guilty about having lots of kids even though it clearly wasn’t my fault she’d left her run too late for a big family. But at the same time, I felt inadequate for being in my thirties with no career outside motherhood – unlike older mothers who’ve usually had really full, exciting lives full of adventure and success.”
Ultimately, I think that sums it up. Whether we make conscious choices about motherhood or whether circumstance makes the choice for us, there’s no escaping the possibility that the reproductive grass may one day look greener on the other side.