I am lying in my soft warm bed. A glimpse of sunlight peeks through the shades. My husband is by my side in a deep sleep, and I lie flat on my back staring up to the ceiling.
“I want to have a baby”.
This thought creeps up on me when I least expect it. It never really goes away. I see babies and pregnant women everywhere. I watch babies on the street and in the shops find it hard not to smile at them. My heart beats fast and cries out, “I want one of those!” I am overwhelmed by the urge to hug them and kiss them and yet I get anxious at the thought of having my own children.
So I tell myself, “You’re just not ready yet, it will happen when it is supposed to happen”. That moment of reason, which comforts me disappears when I turn on the TV or read the magazines and I’m told, “Don’t put it off too long, your eggs get old, once you lose your eggs you can’t get them back!” My head spins, I panic. “I can’t let that happen to me”, I chant, and the cycle of anxiety goes on.
One afternoon I sat down in front of the TV for an hour of Oprah - a follow-up to a previous show, which featured a documentary profiling professional women who were experiencing difficulties after the birth of their first child. A number of viewers who were outraged ridiculed these women for holding negative feelings towards their newborn baby. A woman in the documentary spoke out and said that she loves her baby with all her heart but found the change in identity she was going through difficult. It struck a chord with me. I reflected on what she had said and realised that one day you’re an independent career woman and the next day you’re someone’s mother.
Those who have gone before me tell me that your whole life changes, you’ll have no time for yourself and you lose yourself. You lose yourself because your life is devoted to your children. You trade in your designer suit for track pants and a fleecy top covered in baby stains.
I walk through the mall and watch the mothers wrestle with their children. In the middle of the supermarket, in between the pasta aisle and the cooking oils, a small child lays spread-eagled on the floor screaming his little lungs out, legs and arms shaking with frenzy. His mother is flustered, on the verge of tears at the glares of passers-by. I walk on and overhear a group of young mothers rocking their babies engrossed in conversation on their nappy changing techniques. In my head, my eyes roll in full force. Cringing, I vow never to be like those women. No! I’m a corporate flyer! I am smart and sexy and I talk about intelligent things like world events and corporate takeovers. I travel all around the world working with the big names, doing very important work and one day I’m going to get that Gold American Express card!
I have recently reconnected with my old high school and university friends. It is interesting to see where they are now and how they have progressed through life since the old days. The last time we spoke we were talking about careers and marriage. Now the conversation has turned to babies. All in our early thirties, we either have a baby, are having a baby, trying to have a baby or thinking about having a baby. No one really says it but there is trepidation, some fear in having children. One friend says she’s worried about getting fat, another doesn’t want to give up her lifestyle that she has worked so hard for and another says she doesn’t know when it’s the right time.
I guess what it comes down to is a fear of change. Maybe I’m scared to let go of the person we used to be. The heart wants to evolve and grow, but the head is afraid to move forward into the unknown.
In the corporate world, to show any emotion is a sign of weakness, to show strength is to get results no matter what the costs. How do we go from that to being someone’s mother, a person who is selfless, nurturing and who has a strong human, even primal connection to another human being? No designer suits to hide behind, no flashy toys to play with – it’s just you and another human being who needs you and loves you unconditionally.
I remember a poster stuck firmly on the wall in my English class in high school in the 1980s. It was a picture of a group of girls looking happy and defiant with a caption underneath that read “Girls Can Do Anything!” With that picture in mind I fantasised about my career. I was going to have a huge office high up in the sky, in a big city like Sydney, London or New York with waterfront views. Marriage and children was something I wanted in the future but it wasn’t my main ambition. Now after spending many years dedicating my whole life to my career, I understand that my work is not solely who I am.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem