I’m still not sure if I ever want to have children.
Sometimes I stand in the shower and look down at the curve of my body, and wonder what it would feel like to be pregnant. I’m momentarily struck by the glorious wonder of what our bodies are capable of, and as the water runs over me I’m lost in curiosity.
Would I love carrying a child, or hate every moment of it? What changes would I notice in myself? What would my children look like? Who would they be, what loves and hates and desires and fears would shape them?
It’s not sleep deprivation, stretch marks and the inevitable rivers of projectile vomit and bum wees that put me off (though none of them sound like a barrel of laughs). It’s the sheer terror of being responsible for another life. A ridiculously fragile, helpless little human – counting on me to teach them how to survive and thrive in the world.
I can feel the weight of that responsibility like a steamroller squishing me feet-first. Fucksakes, navigating to my front door on a Friday night has been known to defeat me on occasion … finding the right path through life? HA!
All jokes aside, I’m not 100% clueless. I do have a couple of very important insights I hope to pass on to any future ankle biters of mine, and one in particular I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.
Some would call it horrible and morbid, as well as demonstrable proof I’d make a thoroughly awful mother. It’s certainly not something I was ever taught, and I won’t be speaking to my kids about it until they’re capable of coping. But if I’ve learned one thing so far in life – something most people go to massive (and massively damaging) lengths to deny – it’s this:
Bad things can and do happen to good people.
There is no magic set of ‘rules’ you can follow that will guarantee you a long and happy life. If bad things happen, it’s not because you did something wrong, or because you’re a ‘bad’ person and you deserve it. It’s because our fates are, for the most part, determined by factors completely out of our control.
This may seem obvious, if a little blunt. But common sense is not so common. ‘You reap what you sow’ is an underlying assumption deeply rooted in our need, as animals aware of our own vulnerability and mortality, to feel like we have some control over what happens to us. We make little mental bargains with life, without ever really thinking about it, and believe if we play the game properly and do all the right things, nothing bad will ever happen to us.
When the first really big, dark, gnarly thing in my life happened to me, I was blindsided. I remember thinking “Why us? We’re a nice, middle-class, respectable family. We’re not drug addicts, or gang members, or child abusers.” We didn’t deserve it (as if anybody does).
I was just a kid really, and I still thought on some level that my brother’s death was my fault because I’d failed to prevent it. That made me a bad sister, and therefore a bad person who had brought it on herself. The behaviour of others only reinforced the nasty whisper in my mind. Many people avoided us from then on. I heard whispers that my parents must be to blame – no kid from a nice, normal family would ever commit suicide.
But all was not lost. If I could just do better, be better, I could stop anything this bad from happening again. I just had to work harder and make the ‘right’ choices. Hating myself and driving myself onward to ever-more ridiculous actions in pursuit of perfection was much easier for me than simply accepting the truth: my brother killed himself and destroyed my family and there was nothing I could do to stop it. There was no underlying scale of justice and fairness I could appeal to in order to keep myself safe in future.
Worse, it could happen again to others I love, at any moment. And no matter how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ I was, I had as much power to stop my life being ripped apart again as a moth squashed on the windscreen of a speeding 18-wheeler.
It took a lot of time before I could understand and accept this, and initially things got much worse. If nothing I did made any difference, why shouldn’t I drink on weeknights and fuck around at work and ignore the people who cared about me. Why shouldn’t I stay out all night and sleep around and do things that would once have had me brimming with disgust and shame. If life doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain, why give a shit about life?
This is why I’ll need to be careful with teaching this lesson. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if you can’t control your life, you don’t have to accept responsibility for it or cherish it. Which isn’t the case. But I think it’s very powerful to realise that by rejecting the illusion of control, so too can you drop the nonsensical burden of trying to keep life’s inevitabilities at bay. You don’t need to blame yourself, or accept blame from others, if bad luck befalls you.
Life doesn’t owe you a single thing. So don’t make the choices that are accepted as ‘good’ so the imaginary fairness fairy will grant you peaceful life circumstances. Make the choices that give you the greatest amount of inner peace and strength and sit well with your conscience – it’s your best and only real defence against whatever may come your way.
On one hand, it makes me a bit wistful to think I might live, love and learn my way through this life with nobody to pass my experiences on to.
On the other hand … realistically, if I breed I’ll probably turn into a self-absorbed overprotective handwringer with selective amnesia about my past and an inability to see past my own little bubble. The need to protect bubs from every little hurt and harm and fear will most likely conquer my common-sense drive to properly prepare her or him for life.
It’s a change I’ve witnessed in each of my friends who have become mothers, and probably just a fact of life. Maybe I’m better off with a deliberately empty womb.
At least then I’ll never be one of those people filling up Facebook with tales of bleeding nips and green poo…