by Cath Murphy

The one thing that all the self-help books and all the well-meaning people in the world don’t tell you about childbirth and parenting, is how traumatic it is.

I remember my mother telling me that the pain of childbirth goes away. When you look into that face you helped create, all memories of the pain dissolve.

Well I can tell you now. I have spent the last 20 years in shock and none of the memories have faded.

As a young girl, my visions of the husband and kids I’d have one day were in stark contrast to the reality of a teenage pregnancy. Can somebody please direct me to the chapter that deals with abandonment by the baby’s father? What about the one on feeling good about yourself when you’ve been torn and cut to shreds? Or maybe I just missed the section on coping-with-children-who-don’t-sleep-until-they’re-four-which-means-you-can’t-hold-down-a-job?

There are no stories around the campfire on this. We teach our daughters how to steer clear of strange men and how to insert tampons, but there is no guidance or advice on the one job that we’re expected to do when we get older.

People always ask me why I only ever had one child. My usual reply is, “What? Haven't you been listening to my stories? Why would you ask that? Because it’s traumatic, that’s why! There is nothing natural about childbirth okay. Nothing!”

Just before my head spins around, I calmly explain to them that I was an abandoned teenage mother, that my boobs are now where my waist used to be and that when my son was younger, every time the phone rang he would pick up a piece of pottery resting conveniently nearby and smash me over the head with it. (The roles are now reversed and I have to resort to violence to get him off the blessed thing!)

So I spent the first five years of his babyhood a semi-conscious, blubbering mess. Yes, I can see why you ask me why I haven’t given my son a sibling. ARE YOU NUTS?

The disappointing reality is that I fell pregnant the first time I had sex. I was violently ill throughout the pregnancy and have had several major operations to put me back together after childbirth. I have spent a large part of my life in poverty with a child who had special needs. I didn’t glow, I didn’t sleep and I was shunned by a community who thought they knew better.

Despite me loving my beautiful son, I have always felt that childbirth and parenting were over-rated.

Until now.

After 20 years I have met and fallen in love with a beautiful man and I realise that the one thing I missed out on was having a partner to love me through my body changes and to share the ups and downs. I have met someone with whom I’d like to create something tangible from our love – a child.

Sadly, age and medical intervention are against us. So I will have to wait until my next life to experience joy, wonder and complete bliss during childbirth and parenting.

Fairytales do come true for some people. Some very lucky parents get the good, but the rest of us just have to cope with the bad and the ugly.


© Cath Murphy

“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.

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* Gloria Steinem