pregnancy

'I was already conflicted about having a baby. Now I'm pregnant, and plagued with fear.'

A few months ago, I realised I had become one of those people who sends aggressive voice memos to podcast feedback lines.

The podcast featured a woman who called in conflicted about having kids. To help her make her decision the producers stacked the show with ‘experts’, all of whom had children and who were encouraging her to do the same. Not one person had another point of view. I was livid. It was a secular podcast and yet felt like pro-life propaganda which is exactly what the aggressive voice memo I sent told them. 

Tory Shepherd talks to Mia Freedman about choosing not to have children, and the stigma that comes with that choice. Post continues below audio.

A couple of weeks later I read a book called Motherhood by Sheila Heti and realised she would have been the perfect counter-voice to the mob recommending childbearing to the podcast caller.

In her book, which reads part diary, part short story collection, Heti wrestles with the idea of having a child before her biological clock strikes midnight. Reading her book, I felt that finally, somebody got me. If I don’t do this, nothing bad will happen. It’s just a choice.

There are many thought-provoking passages, but one stood out: “If it doesn’t matter to you, and it doesn’t matter to the world, do what is better for the world, and don’t have one. There is no inherent good in being born. The child would not otherwise miss its life.”

Heti starts the book at age 36 and by the end, she is almost 40 and feels relieved that her indecision essentially made the decision for her. By then it’s clear that she likely never wanted to be a mother but needed to cross-examine herself to be sure and to have a ready defense for anyone who felt the need to question her.

I, like Sheila, have never felt maternal, nor do I particularly like spending time with children. I know a lot of women who remain childfree by choice and have wonderful, fulfilling lives. I knew I could be one of those women and be just as happy as they are.

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And yet…

When I turned 37 and hit the two-year mark with my partner, I got antsy. I noticed myself being envious of friends who knew with absolute certainty that they did not want kids. I found myself googling stories by anonymous women who loved their children deeply but still regretted becoming mothers.

Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about my aging parents who wanted nothing more than a grandchild and how when they passed I might feel regretful if I decided not to procreate.

I had heard that for some people, having kids was about wanting to share something profound with a partner more than anything else. I felt an echo of this feeling within me as well, but it still felt so ego-driven and selfish.

I asked another friend why she had chosen motherhood and she said, as if the most obvious answer in the world, “for joy.” I could see, despite the drastic lifestyle change the birth of her baby prompted, how happy having a child had made her.

I even thought about how, if my partner and I had a baby, it would be different. Naturally, we would not be obsessed, stressed parents with no time for anything else. We’d bring up eco-conscious, community-minded, anti-consumerist kids who would counter everyone else’s shitty kids!

Oh, the vanity…

But slowly the pro list began outweighing the cons. This despite the fact I had identified so profoundly with Sheila Heti’s book and that I really didn’t feel the need to create anyone in my own deeply flawed image. And thankfully I wasn’t living in some dystopic Handmaid’s Tale-like future (yet) where the continuance of the human race depended on the few women still capable of reproducing.

The scales were eventually tipped when my partner’s growing desire to have kids outweighed my ambivalence. This was something I had always kind of known would happen but never took that seriously because it just seemed so far down the list of things we wanted to do together.

So a few months after my 37th birthday, I told him if he wanted a family so much we had better start trying otherwise it would be too late and he’d leave me for someone young and fertile and I would be left in a country I never wanted to move to in the first place having to start all over again. He told me I was crazy and yet didn’t argue with me.  

So many people I know struggle to conceive. If they do manage to get pregnant it often takes years of trying naturally followed by multiple IVF attempts, or surgery. Or if it happens it’s after they’ve all but given up, then bam.

This is why I was sure the six pregnancy tests I took after our first attempt were defective.

Pregnant-Getty
"I was sure the six pregnancy tests I took after our first attempt were defective." Image: Getty.
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Everyone tells you to prepare for disappointment and problems, but nobody tells you to prepare for it to happen so fast. “I’ve had no f***ing time to process! This was supposed to take months, if at all,” I screamed at my partner as I threw the tests at the wall before dropping into a fetal position and sobbing so hard I could barely breathe.

He tried to comfort me but I told him to go f*ck himself and stormed out to sleep on the balcony. So you know… a fairly rational response.

He told me he was going to bed… in our bedroom, like a normal person, and that I could join him when I stopped acting “crazy” “again.”

“Typical man!”, I shouted back. “Always chalking up women’s complex emotions as crazy! I’ll show you crazy!”

And I did. I made him promise through hysterical sobs that we were in this together and that he’d never leave me.

He promised. I still cried for the next two days.

I felt a kaleidoscope of emotions, including guilt. Here I was ambivalent about getting knocked up and then I get knocked up on attempt one. This, when there were people out there giving up everything from their financial security to their overall sanity to become pregnant. People who always knew they wanted to be parents.

“Everyone’s journey is different,” friends assured me. “You’re struggling with your fertility too, just in your own slightly mad way.”

I suppose that was true.

To quote another friend, also pregnant in her late 30s, “Isn’t it amazing? Our old-ass bodies work like a charm! Who knew!?”

Definitely not me. I’ve since learned that 37 is not really that old when it comes to childbearing and women can get pregnant naturally well into their mid-40s. But still, it’s been a mental adjustment.

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But soon, I started to feel better about everything. Dare I say, even happy? Excited?

Then the virus hit!

My partner and I live in Sydney, and when we decided to try to conceive it was during the height of the bushfires, so hitting the three-month mark in the midst of coronavirus seemed fitting in a sardonic kind of way.

Now I’m pregnant, along with millions of others, during a pandemic. What to make of it all? As if there wasn’t already enough to worry about. Climate change. Overpopulation. Now a global pandemic? Are you kidding me?

And yet…

My partner and I remain positive and are truly looking forward to this new chapter. But how can we not be fearful too? How does one responsibly, lovingly and mindfully bring a new life onto this earth amid so much uncertainty?

A friend reminded me that the world has been through a lot of insanely terrifying and precarious times and somehow, humans have survived, even thrived. Through past pandemics, world wars, terrorist attacks, and financial collapses.

Humans, she insisted, are not just resilient but are biologically inclined to reproduce and will continue to do.

Still…

The overwhelming global anxiety right now is hard to deny. I have a lot of questions and concerns, and nothing but time to sit and think about everything. What kind of parent do I want to be? And now that this is happening, how do I not f*ck this up more than I already inevitably will?

Listening to a podcast the other day (a better one) I heard about problems this virus is causing that I would never have considered. People who rely on AA being at risk of relapsing because of cancelled meetings. Millions of school-aged kids who get lunch from school programs going hungry. Businesses going bankrupt, leaving so many unemployed. All of this is true and inescapable and no amount of upsides or Instagram quotes makes it any less sad and daunting.

But I’m pregnant and therefore have to think about the upsides. I’m choosing to believe that this enforced slow-down – or whatever we want to call it – will lead to a more compassionate and conscious world.

The kind of world that is a little less frightening when thinking about bringing a new life into it.

Feature Image: Supplied.

The current situation around COVID-19 might be making you feel scared or uncertain. It's okay to feel this way, but it's also important to learn how to manage feelings of anxiety during this time. To download the free PDF: Anxiety & Coronavirus - How to Manage Feelings of Anxiety click here.

Amelia Wasserman is a reality TV producer and screenwriter from Canada. She currently resides in Sydney, Australia. 

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