Throughout your late teens and early twenties the fear of falling pregnant is so great that you remain largely abstemious. You have a couple of ‘scares’ and thank your lucky stars when they amount to nothing. You marry but babies do not enter into the plan. While your friends juggle babies with money, work and husbands, you will wait until the right time.
Then you will have your perfect baby and this baby will have a perfect life.
At 34 a strange thing happens, triggered perhaps by a lady showing off pictures of her granddaughter and telling you that she’s 38. Days assume the speed of an out-of-control roller-coaster. You notice that people have stopped saying when and started saying if you have children. A childless friend asks if you're going to try.
You realise that your biological clock is in fact a ticking time-bomb.
You realise that there never have been any scares and you have been having sex since the dawn of time.
Children everywhere suddenly look adorable. You contemplate what your own child will look like and vaguely hope it doesn’t get your husband’s chin. You think of the music they will listen to, the stories you will read them. You love children’s books and decide to write one.
You realise that a child is the only thing you’ve ever truly wanted.
You take to procreation in your usual earnest way. You devour pregnancy magazines and every fertility article you can lay hands on. You count out months and chart an impossibly small period of opportunity in each.
Life continues. Your father passes away and you lose six months. Your husband has to work interstate which makes for an altogether impossible situation; you lose two months and contemplate invoking ancient fertility rites.
Your period is never on time and yet always eventually appears. One month you melt-down, call your period rude names, and then drown yourself in the bottle of celebratory champagne that was supposed to sit in the fridge for nine months.
And then, the very next month, you just keep counting all the way to day 40. You buy a pregnancy test and when two lines appear you assume it was faulty and buy a second kit.
Morning sickness finds you curled up on the sofa for most of the day but mysteriously vanishes during the night leaving you prowling the house like a vampire. You find a lump which requires investigation with an uncomfortably large needle. You take time off work and you start writing a children's book because you just want to enjoy the pregnancy.
Labour, you decide, wasn’t that bad. Sure you might have deafened half the hospital and given the midwife tinnitus for a week but now you have him. And he is quite perfect. Nothing red or crumpled, just a gorgeous, glowing boy. “Ten out of ten,” says the midwife and you treasure her words. You don't sleep for excitement.
And then the baby cart wheels begin to wobble. Nurses are false-bright and don’t answer your questions. Doctors are given the push and you see a paediatrician. You think longingly of the nursery at home but the only place you’re going is a larger hospital with a newborn intensive care unit. You can’t even sleep beside your baby now. Your baby is wired into all sorts of contraptions while you are introduced to various milking machines and are instantly transformed into a dairy cow albeit a faulty one which can’t seem to make milk properly. You find yourself eye-balling this baby, thinking how could you do this to me?
You wait. A week passes.
A disease is mentioned and all you know about it is that people raise money for it and you’ve always politely declined. You look at your son and think, ridiculously, of a pair of red shoes you returned last month.
And then the wheels fully disengage.
The disease that was mentioned in passing, the one they said was most unlikely, incurable and rather bad, well that’s the one he’s got. You are told that your life will revolve around this disease. You are given a life expectancy and it’s two years younger than you and you look at your husband and the tears are rolling down his face and you know there’s no changing this.
You want to swap places with your son, give him your years. You consider Faustian contracts but the ward remains empty.
For some days you can’t look at your son without crying. If only you think. But there is no if only.
You finally go home.
By this point, your own dreams and aspirations seem insignificant and ... wrong. You receive a promising note from a publisher and you toss it in the bin. You pack up your notes and shelve the book. Nothing matters.
But then you settle back into life and you get to know your son.
So, you think, this isn’t a perfect baby ... well who is perfect?
We’ll make them good years, you tell yourself.
And then you realise that the hospital was wrong; your life won’t revolve around this disease, it will revolve around your son. And you realise that there is no such thing as perfect, that good health isn’t everything and that your son is the most utterly precious thing that you could have dreamt of.
“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