“So is it children or love that you really want?” asked a close friend as we sat cupping small glasses of tea in our hands on an unusually bleak Byron Bay day. We were discussing the overwhelming response I’d received to my Mother’s Day post on Debrief Daily, which examined what it was like to be childless on Mother’s Day.
Everything about the feedback made me realise that we as women need to talk more about this other side of motherhood. It’s an important and sensitive topic that needs healthy airplay.
“Both,” I answered eventually, as I pondered, for the umpteenth time that week, what being a mother means to me.
I knew where my friend was coming from when she posed that question to me. She was checking that I wasn’t just wanting kids to fill a gap in my life, desiring them only for the promise of unconditional love.
On my dining table at home are two little angels: a gift from a friend last year in celebration of my ongoing health recovery. One is called ‘dreams’, the other ‘miracles’. When I look at these two little angelic beings I can’t help but think that for many of us women the birth of a child is essentially the collision of dreams and miracles.
Although probably the most natural thing on earth - after all every creature does it - and therefore not technically a miracle, the birth of a child seems to me the most supernatural of experiences. A little being, a little person, comes out of the centre of you. How more miraculous can life get?
I feel sad when I hear other women downplay our childbearing role, when they feel relegated to a procreator and question why we are seen primarily as ‘fertile soil’. What's to downplay about literally being responsible for creation? Personally, I can’t see a more powerful role on earth.
For me, and many of the other women I spoke to as a result of this article, there is a gap in our lives. But it is not that of desiring unconditional love, rather of having not fulfilled this legacy of ours. As one woman wrote to me, “Your story is our story, illness or no illness. Whatever circumstances have led to women not having children its a shared barren experience with a fear for the future with no legacy. I’m sure it will resonate with millions, not thousands.”
We see it around us every day: the fruits of the seed of creation. Our entire natural landscape is a symbol of birth. The food we eat is a result of fertility. Our very being is just that.
When I was young, I would push my baby doll in a pram next to my mother pushing my little brother’s pram; I cradled and dressed barbie dolls and like everyone else I played mummy’s and daddy’s. We are groomed from the very beginning. How have I remained in a game world and failed to turn it into reality? How did something as basic as having a family not happen to me? It seems surreal sometimes; where have the years gone? I see friends who I played with when I was younger with grown up children, and I wonder how it would’ve been if my kids were now playing with theirs.
Is it strange to say I’d like a ‘mini me’? Not because I think I have to be replicated, but because that ‘mini me’ represents my past and my future. I love it when someone tells me that I have my grandmother’s features or my mother’s heart. I love it when someone says in my presence, “who does she take after? what side of the family is she more like?” I love that legacies live on through families.
I wear my grandmother’s engagement ring. Each day when I put it on I marvel that despite the fact neither her or my grandfather are still alive, their marriage and what it represented lives on through me. A friend of mine’s grandfather died earlier this year; Anzac Day fell a few months after his death. As his grandfather was a war veteran, along with his father and brother he attended the Anzac Day lunch for his battalion, with his brother wearing his grandfather’s medals. The legacy lives on.
Ironically, sustaining a legacy has become more important to me in a stage of my life that is not ‘typically’ that of a child bearer. Perhaps this is because as my parents age I feel more of the responsibility of keeping the traditions alive. I feel a need to pass my past on to the next generation.
I’d love to be a mum so I can do all the things my mum did for me; so I can bake my kids muffins when they get home from school; so I can go on family holidays and create memories that last a lifetime.
I’d love to be a mum so I can nurture someone; so I can wipe their tears or feel helpless in their moment of need. I’m often told I’m lucky that I have no one to look after but myself; yet I’d like to know what it’s like to look after someone else. Even if sometimes what you do is not appreciated or is considered a mistake, I’d like to understand and experience it all.
Many people say they don’t want to bring kids into the world as it is today; I’d love to bring a kid in that may help to make the world a better place. Essentially no matter how bad life gets at times - and I’ve had some bad hits - I have never wished that I wasn’t born.
So, back to my friend’s question, yes, I do really want a child for the sake of a child, but where does the love come into it?
I grew up in the '70s when having one mum and one dad was still predominantly the norm; my family was the centre of my world. For me, having a child just doesn’t make sense without the dad. The two come hand in hand. I can’t even separate them in a ‘what if’ scenario.
Conceiving a child always was, and still remains for me, an act of love. It is a natural extension of a partnership. Kind of like a seed not being able to grow without the sun. So despite my curiosity and longing for a child, it has only ever seemed real to me in the context of a loving relationship.
Although this is my story, the feedback to this article once again showed me that it is such a complex subject. For every woman the situation is unique. After all, none of our histories or experiences are the same. It is impossible to judge others, or allow yourself to be judged, because the different facts make the cases change.
You may ask, with what I know now, would I have done it any differently? The strange thing is I’d probably say, no. How could I have done it differently? Married the wrong man? Foreseen and then side-stepped my illness? The commonality in the stories of the women whom I heard from is that we didn’t consciously trade in motherhood for work or travel or something else; it’s just the way our lives panned out.
Similarly, I’m asked if I’d advise women to freeze their eggs or ensure they have babies earlier. I don’t think there is a blanket answer. I don’t want to encourage women to do something that isn’t in line with their path in life, just out of fear of missing out. My personal take is that babies ought to be conceived in love, not fear; yet each women needs to assess the situation for herself.
Despite my longing for a child and curiosity about motherhood, I’m not on a blinkered race to conceive. I’m in no way blindly focused on having a child at the expense of all else in my life. I’ve just come to this place where I feel able to acknowledge and accept my desires and allow them to have a place at the table with all the other components of my life: my challenges, my gains, my losses and my loves.
Some days the longing may stop me dead in my tracks, frozen for five minutes or even an hour, but on that very same day I may have enjoyed lunch with a girlfriend watched the most spectacular sunset and written an article that made someone else smile. At the end of the day they all blend into one.
Watch the MMTV video below: Jess Rowe talks IVF. Post continues after video.
Acceptance is empowering as it allows you to have those moments of longing without judgement. It allows you to honestly share your feelings with others without fear. And it allows you to move on with your life without getting stuck.
It didn’t come easy though. It took me a long time to find this comfort with life. To accept that we can have longings that aren’t fulfilled, yet simultaneously enjoy life. It was a slow process of firstly being angry at the world, followed by a lot of tears and sadness, before acceptance started to settle in. Initially, my acceptance was more of the passive kind, as I was too sick to care. But then as I healed I began to trust more in the process of life. When I let go of it all and surrendered to the process, the more active form of acceptance took over. Perhaps, ironically, it’s the very essence of femininity that has enabled me to come to this place of acceptance. Femininity is about flow; I decided I could fight life or flow with it. Embracing all of what makes me a woman, I chose the latter.
I don’t brush the feminine aside; I encourage it. I don’t want to forget it; I want to cherish it. I’ve learnt its not necessarily how strong our wishes are, but what we do each day that makes them come true. I’m no medico or fertility specialist, but interestingly the more I’ve nurtured the feminine within, the more my body has responded by turning on my hormones and life bearing abilities again.
Although for me, children can’t come without the love, on reflection, I think what my friend really meant to ask is, will I be OK if love comes without the children. The answer, is yes. If I don’t have a child I may always feel like there is a little voice behind me trying to call me mummy, but I’ll be OK. I’ll find love and joy in other areas of my life and I’ll ensure I embrace them with all the qualities of the woman I am.
Sharon Sztar is a writer, blogger and presenter based in Byron Bay. With a focus on wellbeing, her insights are based on direct experience in the health and wellness industry as well as her own illness and recovery journey. With a Bachelor of Economics behind her, she also has over fifteen years experience working across marketing and communications in the corporate arena. You can visit her website here.
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