Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Happy Birthday Mama



Happy birthday to my mama who would have been 66 today. She made this blue blazer herself, she was a talented seamstress. I have not inherited this talent in the least. I am not good with material pursuits. I get frustrated when I make my first mistake sewing and give up easily. I’m very unaware of my surroundings. I don’t remember faces well. 

I loved this blazer and we kept it when she died. I don’t have it any more. I kept her sunglasses too but at some point they broke or I lost them. A broken pair may be in a box somewhere. 


I don’t have any things that belonged to her or smell of her. I don’t often get to her grave, inconveniently far away from anywhere I’m ever likely to be in. I have only been a few times.
The more time passes the less I remember her, her voice, how she looked. 


For years after she died I felt like a mind lugging a body around, and that feeling never entirely went away. I live in my mind and easily become isolated and alienated from the physical world and people around me. Grieving as a developing teenager shaped my personality. 


It’s difficult parenting young children when you’re so uninterested in the physical world. Being that young is almost exclusively about engaging with the world. Toys, games, trees, things, things, things. I don’t like things too much because you can easily lose them so it’s best not to get too attached. 


But I can’t bring that to the table when I’m mothering. I have to be the vessel via which my children access reality. I have to name things, show things, give things, touch things, keep things, tidy, make, move, shape, point out. I can't.


My son took ages to start pointing. I never pointed at anything. It’s just stuff, here it is, all of it, whatever. It’s just stuff. Grief killed my ability to sense the point of living, and that feeling never fully went away. 


Children need a mother who doesn’t struggle existentially. It’s exhausting not having the personality for it. It’s exhausting needing hours to read and write every day in order to function as an average human. It’s exhausting knowing I’m not up to the task and turning up anyway. 


I wake up feeling stressed. I can’t say ‘good morning’ to my baby, I pick him up silently and warm up his milk. He whinges as I try to put him in the high chair. I put him on the floor instead - I can't make the milk and hold him at the same time and it's not 7am yet, I am tired.


He starts crying properly. I ignore it and think to myself, a normal mother would say something to him. She wouldn't be quite so successful at ignoring it. She would feel guiltier. She would say 'just a second,' she would use words like 'sweetheart.' 


I push down the lever on the kettle and wait for the sound of bubbles. I look at my phone to find some words. I love words. Immaterial, eternal, thought-provoking. Thoughts. If only I could be a thought. If only my children could know my thoughts without me having to speak them. 


It is tiring to speak. I'm an introvert, and mothers, I suspect, are a better fit for extroversion. Probably why there are more male introverts than female ones. Mothers have to be other-centric. They have to externalise, constantly. And the repetition. Repetition is key. It's also soul-destroying. 


My toddler has heard us. I hear the rumble of his feet add itself to the kettle's crescendo. He doesn't say good morning. He doesn't say mummy. He doesn't say anything much, he stands there and stares, sometimes smiles, sometimes babbles. That makes sense - I haven't been repeatedly greeting him, so why would he now greet me?


It's all my fault. I should say good morning to him now. 


'Good morning, did you sleep well?' someone says. 


Someone hugs him, kisses him on the cheek, as she has seen people do in adverts or films or perhaps as she remembers her own blur-faced mother doing, once upon a very very long time ago.


I want to leave. I want to be alone. I made a mistake.


can't, they need me like I need her. 


can't be better. I can't be mother enough. I can't talk beyond these awful efforts that amount to nothing. I can't repeat things more than twice. I am lazy or broken or both.


Happy birthday wherever you are, I hope it's a fun day today, I hope you are celebrating with whoever is with you instead of us. Happy birthday on this black day where I struggle to be anything other than miserable, anything other than subpar, anything beyond a mess. If you have made it, pray for me and for us. That we may make it through this ordeal. That I may bring myself to be cheerful and name the cars, the trees, the leaves, the colours, the shapes, the fabric of this cage. That the boys may survive my misery. That they may be stronger than I am, just like I am stronger than you were, when you left us so quickly, so early, so cowardly, all those years ago.



Tuesday, 7 August 2018

The Reason Young Mothers Are Isolated

Since having children, my life is very restricted. No one without children understands what these restrictions entail. If you start to illustrate it, it sounds extremely boring. It sounds something like 'well my little prince sleeps from y time to z time so I need to be somewhere where he can sleep/eat/play/get his precious demands met at this hour and then somewhere where they can sleep/eat/play at this hour and this is really important and you should hear it.' I can feel people switching off when I start explaining, I just sound like 'blah blah blah my sweet angel and his all important needs blah blah my life is different now blah blah I can't just do whatever I want like you blah blah blah smug smug smug blah blah boring'

I feel all kinds of negative emotions about this. I feel like I sound like my life revolves around my child, like I'm coddling them, like I can't just relax and put my friendships first once in a while, like I can't just allow my child to be uncomfortable so that I can have coffee with a friend for a few minutes, like I can't just take them on a slightly longer tube journey, like I can't just make them sleep later or wake them up.

I can feel people thinking that I should just do things differently, so that I would have an easier time of it. Just get a babysitter or get my husband to help more or be stricter or more flexible.

Maybe it's all in my head, but when I talk to my other friends who are friends with people without children, they all share these same experiences.

'I had three kids in quick succession when I was 26. I was in survival mode. I couldn't go out that much. I was really tired. My friends treated me like I was being a moron. Just get a babysitter. You aren't making an effort with us. You've changed.'

'It makes me very sad but I have to keep a distance because their inconsiderate nature breaks my heart. Some of them haven't seen my son since last year. That's nuts - no loyalty. I'm not cool and trendy and I don't want to go an hour away from my house, so that's it.'

'When I spent my first night away from my breastfed child everyone was like "oh don't worry about it, not your problem now" and acting like I was being controlling over the kids when I was worrying.'

'Someone said how easy it must be for me to go to the spa because I can go any time of day and my daughter can just sit in her buggy. When I said that wouldn't be fair to her she looked confused and her boyfriend looked super condescending like "oh, look at you, treating your baby as more important than it is." The implication is if you were a better parent you would control them better, train them better like a dog. And also I always get the feeling that "if that was my kid I'd do it better."'

We are not very often around children as adults any more, since big families don't really exist so when our younger siblings are babies we are still children ourselves. So no one seems to be aware of what children are like until they have a child themselves.

The most important fact that you only become aware of once you have a child is as follows.

Until the age of about five, children start screaming pretty quickly if they don't get what they want. 

Seriously, they do.

They just start screaming. And it gets louder and more forceful.

And that is how you learn to know what they need and when they need it. Because if you don't learn it, you have a screaming child the whole time. And, often you can't give them what they need, so your life will involve screaming on a daily basis even if you are striving to meet your child's needs.

No, they are not spoiled. An older child can be told to wait. They can be told that what they want is not going to be given to them. And if they are well behaved, they will not scream. But that takes years. Before you have children, a two year old and a four year old are roughly the same. A 3 week old and a 3 month old are the same, give or take a few kilos. Once you have kids, you realise that much of what we think a 'child' is, is actually a pretty socialised child that is attending school. We have almost no idea what children and babies are like before that stage. Certainly no-one who isn't a parent has any idea how monumentally different a three week old is from a three month old, how difficult having a three week old is, and how much relief you feel in comparison with a three month old, especially a three month old who has learned to sleep on a surface other than your chest. Not only do they not know, they also don't care. The minutiae of child development is boring and irrelevant.

But it dominates any parent's life, not because they are obsessed with their child, but because they are obsessed with having a life that has a little screaming as possible.

But in order to get to that result, you will have several years of screaming. At first, all children scream. And it is through each parent's sacrifice as well as the passing of time that they get to a point where they understand that their whims are secondary a lot of the time, and that they have to wait or not get things they want. Learning that takes a lot of screaming being endured on the part of the parents, and a lot of conscious decisions of how and when you're going to endure the screaming so that the child learns that they cannot always get what they want. You're not going to choose a spa as the ideal setting for that, unless you're completely inconsiderate.

If you are a parent, and you're reasonably conscientious, you don't want to take the wider public on that journey with you. If you're outside, you're going to want your child not to be screaming. That doesn't just happen, it takes calculations, provisions, organisation, a plan B and a plan C, patience and work. That means you have to meticulously organise your life around your child's needs, whether you are the kind of parent who wants to or not. You're not doing it because you're smug about being a parent and you want to be the best parent in the universe or spoil your children. Some people probably are, but the vast majority are doing it our of a survival instinct not to have every single day of their life filled with screaming.

You have to make sure your children are getting what they want and need at any given moment, and that if they are not, you have a strict time limit on how long they will go without. That means you have to be prepared. They may want to run - that means you can't be in the middle of Euston Road at a time when they are reasonably likely to want to run, because if you are, and you don't want them to run into traffic, the only solution will be to tell them that no they cannot run right now - cue screaming.

This is the difference between people with children and people without. They think that screaming only happens when there's something seriously wrong, all that all screaming children can be soothed with a cookie. No - not if they don't want a cookie at that particular moment. They are tyrants and they are unreasonable. And not to subject others to that isn't spoiling your children - the time to teach them not to be tyrants, to learn how to be reasonable (a long and arduous process) is not in a nice coffee shop surrounded by freelancers and people trying to have a nice conversation. So when you're taking your kids out, you anticipate their needs and give them what they want, within reason. That rules out all kinds of activities. It rules out long journeys that don't end with grass or swings or both if you have a crawler and a toddler. It rules out lunches in places without high chairs. It rules out lunch that isn't followed by a playground or a park or soft play. It rules out being outside after 5.30pm. It rules out 99% of stuff you would jump at the chance to do if you didn't have kids. And the frustrating thing for young mothers today is that nobody cares about that sacrifice, not even your friends, until they undergo it themselves.





Wednesday, 25 July 2018

How Letting Go of Control Helped Me Enjoy Motherhood

My brothers were 17 and 11 years old when I was born. I was pretty lonely as a child whenever I wasn’t at school or at a friend’s house so I always hoped if I had more than one child they’d be close together. 

I wanted a sibling for Francis as soon as he was born, and the desire only grew as the months passed. And yet when I found out I was pregnant again, I was filled with hesitation. Looking after one baby was hard enough. 

Once Louie was born, I became anxious about Francis being too little to share his mum. I worried he wasn’t getting the attention he needed, and that his peers were getting. I watched other mums calmly chatting to their toddler, and I felt guilty as I struggled with my fussing baby and gave Francis cake to stop him from whinging that I was not able to focus on him. I’d feel worse that when the baby slept, I was so exhausted all I could do was be awake and make sure Francis didn’t hurt himself. Sometimes I’d even fail at that. I started thinking I should go back to work. I was harming my children - well rested professionals would do a better job of caring for and educating them. And then maybe I would feel better too.

I spoke to my husband and we decided on a compromise. Francis would go to daycare for three hours every weekday. I felt I had failed at everything. I wasn’t a full time mum, but I didn’t have a job either. 

But from the moment Louie was born, there have been moments every day where my heart has soared with joy at the sight of the two of them side by side. The promise of a bond to come. The hope that they would have a companion for life in each other. 

These moments have only grown in frequency and intensity as time has passed and I have adjusted to the demands of my new role as mother of two. Often that adjustment means making my life easier. Finding a good daycare. Putting the Night Garden on. Not cleaning the house as much as it needs. Cooking frozen food. Asking my husband for even more help. Falling asleep with the children instead of relaxing with a glass of wine. Having a glass of wine instead of ironing. These adjustments, that once felt like failures, now feel like triumphs. I’m triumphing over my own limited view of what a good mother looks and acts like, and in doing that I’m creating space for joy. 

Louie has, mysteriously, always found Francis very funny - in spite of being an otherwise pretty serious baby. Francis will put his finger in Louie’s mouth - his favourite ‘joke’ - and before I can stressfully tell him to be gentler, Louie is laughing his head off and trying to put his own finger in his brother’s house. I watch them laughing uncontrollably and feel so grateful that they have one another. In order to feel this gratitude, I need to be present and awake and conscious to experience it. That takes work. 

Having two babies close together has been a lesson for me. A lesson in letting go of control. A lesson in realising that whatever you envision your family to look like is going to involve a struggle, and it’s going to demand flexibility. There will be unforeseen challenges along the way. Some of them may force you to change the picture a little. But it’s not going to change beyond recognition. It’s not being downgraded for a lesser picture. It’s becoming the work of art it’s intended to be. And the real moments of joy it brings will be fuller, clearer and better than they could ever be in that image in your head.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Do Clever Women Have a Responsibility to Work?

I graduated from the University of Oxford in 2012 with a degree in English Language and Literature, my third language. Three years later, I got married. My son was conceived that same week. I didn't mess up my period maths. There was no broken condom. I knew what I was doing. The following spring I gave birth to my son and left my job as an editor for a financial research firm in London's City. My second son was born the following year, four months after his brother's first birthday. I have been working in the home uninterruptedly for over two years. I have been a wife and mother, a housewife, for the past two years.

I was raised on benefits in a single parent household by a father who left school when he was still a child. Before applying to Oxford to read English, I had applied for philosophy at Cambridge and failed. I had been studying philosophy at UCL for a few weeks before I mustered the confidence to apply to study English, my true passion, but a language that I'd only learned in secondary school. I feared I would never be at native speaker level, and certainly not to study it at one of the most competitive courses in the country. UCL's English Faculty interviewed me and rejected me soon after. Oxford, not just one of the most competitive in the country - one of the most sought after courses globally - also gave me an interview and said no. A year passed, and I interrupted my philosophy degree and applied again for English. UCL said no without an interview this time. Oxford offered me a place.

I am not a quitter. And I have all the pieces of paper to certify that I am one of those people that some refer to as 'very clever'.

Writer Laura Wade is one of those people. According to Wade, 'your responsibility if you're a very clever person is to be part of the workforce.' She talks about when she sees 'the very clever alpha mums at the school gates who start to treat motherhood as a job because they're so gifted in so many areas. Sometimes these women can over manage,' she explains. 'You have parties that have been done by party planners for two-year-olds and all the rest of it, and you think, you should be in the workplace because you're brilliant and you're frustrated and you don't even know it.'

I could get angry. I could get uppity about Wade suggesting she knows What Women Want better than those women do themselves. About her suggesting that it's somehow smarter or more fulfilling to work outside the home. About saying that motherhood is treated as a job by misguided people - suggesting it does not in fact count as a job.

I don't think it would be particularly difficult to demonstrate that Wade is frightfully reductive with her point of view to the point of bordering on the offensive. That there exist mothers who choose to stay at home, or to seriously reduce their working hours, and they do so consciously and happily. That there's nothing inherently frustrating about homemaking, that not all housewives are morons and not all CEOs are brilliant.

But what I think is more interesting than complaining about a couple of un-pc comments, is to talk about why someone who is arguably neither demented nor idiotic - a well regarded and established playwright - has reached some rather dubious conclusions regarding motherhood, work, and that dreaded of all questions, 'can women have it all?'

The received wisdom seems to say:

1. Each woman should be free to choose what they want when it comes to balancing home and work.
2. Each woman is different.

Neither of these conclusions help us, and here's why.

1. The fact is, women are not free to choose. The majority of women have financial pressure forcing the choice, but even if they don't, they have to 'choose' while the baby is still 12 months or under. That's not a real choice because it means that no one can choose whether or not they want to raise their children having experienced it. Everyone has to anticipate what it might be like, and if there's one job where no year and no month is the same as the last, it's parenting.

Women have to make the choice based on the first, arguably most difficult, stressful and in some ways least rewarding, months of parenting. I've met women who returned to work after 3 months and said to me 'I don't know how you do it.' But the 'it' they're referring to is different from what I'm doing. I haven't spent the last two years of my life looking after a newborn. I wouldn't have lasted. It's thankless, gruelling work. Yes - all parenting has an element of that - but raising and educating your family is something that makes more and more sense the longer you do it, something that becomes easier, better and more rewarding the longer you do it (like almost any career). And yet women are being told they have a 'choice', based on the fact that we can take a few months to test out whether motherhood is for us. Realistically there is no way for us to make an informed choice - it's not like an office job where an internship is reflective of what you'll be doing: maternity leave is completely different from long-term mothering. Women have to take a complete gamble based on inadequate information and experience, or 'try it out' for a few year, seriously harming their chances of finding a similar job if they choose to return to work later.

2.  Yes, each woman - and each human - is different. But that doesn't mean that there aren't also similarities among us, as well as identifiable trends. It is not clear that women don't have a biological predisposition to look after their children that is more effective than it is in men. What is clear is that for many women this is either not possible or not desirable. Caregiving is an extremely low status position: who earns more, and who do you assume to be smarter, a nurse taking blood pressure or a scientist doing experiments in a lab? Our society does not value nor respect caregiving positions and motherhood is no exception. Wade's concept of the 'very clever alpha mums' is a product of this bias. She's wrong - but it's an easy assumption to make: that taking care of your family is mindless work. I know so many mothers who have said they look forward to going back to work and 'using their brain', I've heard this phrase so much I'd describe it as a trope of maternity leave, along with coffee mornings and the sleep training vs attachment parenting divide. And yet, for me, mothering has been more intellectually stimulating and demanding than my Oxford degree. Am I just weird?

Maybe. But maybe there's a different issue at play. That anything done in utter isolation, receiving little societal support or value, becomes mindless drudgery. Even discovering the cure for Cancer - if you do it in a grim abandoned lab with no colleagues to assist you, thus having to spend the bulk of your day washing test tubes and cleaning the lab floors instead of being able to focus on the science part, would lose its appeal in that context. Imagine that you did discover the cure for cancer in such a setting, and once you contact the press, nobody is interested in it. Nobody wants to cure cancer, they think it's better to accept your fate. And certainly nobody thinks it's impressive or worth talking about that you've spent years working on this cure for something that doesn't need to be cured. You start to feel as though you constantly have to justify the value of your work, which you have done in isolation. Does it still sound appealing?

And that's what's happened. With just 20% of mothers choosing to be Stay At Home Mums, those that do are unlikely to do so in community. Humans are herd creatures. The menopause is nature's way of ensuring grandmothers are able to help raise their children's offspring - most mammals are fertile until death but humans are not because we are raised in community. That's because infant humans are born prematurely: they need such constant and undivided attention that one person is not enough for them. The mother cannot be the only one with this task. Not even just the father and mother. A community is absolutely necessary and until recently, it was the unchanged way in which humans were raised.

The biology is clear: mothering is not something you are supposed to do by yourself. Mothering entirely by yourself quickly becomes a horrific ordeal. And then it's easy to see the appeal of the rhetoric of choice. We shouldn't have to be trapped at home, we start to say. And it becomes increasingly problematic to talk about what women want in anything other than extremely individualistic terms. The problem with individualism at that extreme degree is that it doesn't leave the possibility for an individual to want anything that doesn't purely relate to themselves. If all we focus on is enhancing individual agency, we don't acknowledge that collective identity is a necessary part of human fulfilment. It's good being able to eat an ice cream if you want to eat an ice cream but sometimes what we want is to throw an ice cream party, and for people to come, and for them to enjoy the ice cream too.

Maybe women want to want similar things to other women. And maybe that's not insecure or anxious or stupid. Maybe it's sensible. It might be that women want their choice justified by seeing that it's also what others do. Maybe that's why Wade believes that anyone who's clever is going to be happiest in the workforce. Because then she's made the right choice. That's not just down to random insecurity.  It's because parenting humans is impossible otherwise. 

You cannot be abandoned to make the choices of exactly how to raise your children entirely by yourself. Humans are social, they go by received wisdom. We don't just guess what to do with a baby, there's nothing blindly 'natural' about it either. We need instruction, guidance, support, tradition, discussion, care, love. That's the fabric of human life. And women are better at both seeking and giving it. Women are more anxious and insecure than men because it's sensible to seek validation and recognition if you're responsible for infant life. It's sensible to be hesitant and to seek validation from others. A parent who doesn't do that to some degree is raising the next Hitler.

Breastfeeding forms a great example. Breastfeeding is impossible for most women who don't actively receive support from at least one other woman. It can be a family member or a nurse or midwife or doctor, but you are very unlikely to just naturally know what to do and encounter absolutely zero problems along the way. The majority of pregnant women will attend a pre-natal breastfeeding course - the NHS funds these: it's clear that breastfeeding is something passed on and learned in community.

And just like breastfeeding, every single parenting decision holds a huge burden of responsibility on the individual. We want to read books. We want to hear from others. We want to see what others are doing. We compare. Not because we hate ourselves or because we're cripplingly insecure - although it becomes that when there's so much shame attached to not being assertively self-confident. It's because it makes sense to. It makes sense for women to want to err on the safe side and look around and not be too wacky when it comes to looking after their babies. So when society keeps telling us there's 'no right answer' and 'just do what's best for your family' it suggests that a good mother 'just knows' what's best and that you shouldn't doubt that innate knowledge. That's just not true. Everyone has moments of drowning in self-doubt, perhaps not every day and every hour, but only a sociopath brings a new life into the world and thinks I'm absolutely smashing it. 

Monday, 18 June 2018

The Two Worst Pieces of Advice Given to Writers (and the Best)

There’s lots of great advice for aspiring writers out there, but there’s two things that are repeated again and again, and I personally think it would be no great loss if nobody advised them ever again. 

The first is, ‘if you want to be a writer, write!’

‘It might seem obvious but,’ begins every published author’s advice ever, ‘stop talking about how you want to be a writer and just write!’

Whenever I heard this, previous to taking my writing ambitions seriously, I’d just think ‘how??’. My brain would start running off the list of ‘excuses’ it had for not writing. No time, no ideas, no clarity on what kind of writer I was, no feedback, no ability. No amount of Nikeslogans made a difference to me. The thing about this mental list is that it’s not really excuses. It’s all real. You probably don’t know how to make the time. You probably don’t know how to identify specific ideas in your endless internal monologue. You probably have no knowledge of what the different kinds of ‘writers’ that actually exist are. You’re probably too embarrassed to ask for feedback. You probably need someone else to tell you where your abilities lie. 

What is going to allow you to go from not really writing to writing isn’t a platitude about just doing it. In my experience, the number one thing that’s going to make a difference is getting  to know writers

Being a ‘writer’ is like being an ‘actor’ or ‘musician’ in that it sounds like a self-indulgent dream for attention and fame rather than a reasonable aspiration (especially to people who don’twant those things). So you need to meet these ethereal beings. Go to a writers festival. Email a journalist you like. Call them. Take a course and ask the tutor to go for coffee. Organise a Meet Up. As soon as you start meeting writers in the flesh, very quickly you will see what being a writer actually looks like. It’s much easier to bake a cake if you’ve grown up in a family with a baking aficionado and you witnessed cakes being baked and assisted in the process countless of times. If you’ve literally never seen anyone do it, you’re going to struggle through the most basic steps and give up by the time it comes to the difficult part. The same goes for something less ‘visible’ like writing or singing or acting. There are still processes behind every art – there’s a craft and a job aspect to every creative ambition, and the sooner you acquaint yourself with it the sooner your romantic dreams will become palpable realities that you can begin to emulate.

The second piece of terrible advice given to hopeful writers is to ‘write every day’. 

There is a shift for everyone who has an ambition, ‘creative’ or otherwise, from that ambition seeming like a ridiculous dream, to it becoming an actual goal for you. When it becomes an actual goal, it really doesn’t matter at what frequency you’re pursuing that goal. Writing every day is a sure-fire way to know that you’re exercising the muscle and cultivating the craft – but lots of people don’t have the resources or need to write every day, and that doesn’t make them ‘not writers’. There’s no sense in feeling like if you don’t carve out an hour or more to write every single day then you’re not really the person for the job. It would be like deciding to run a marathon and then thinking you have to train every single day or you’re not on track. 

The absolute best advice I’ve read regarding this was in a book which said that you only need to write one hour a week to complete a book in one year. What I love about this advice is that not only is it true – time-wise that is enough to reach wordcount – but it’s also helpfully concrete. It’s so important for writers starting out to acknowledge (and physically practice) the dictum that ‘finished is better than perfect’, and the best way to do this is to have an extremely manageable goal. One hour a week is exactly that: it’s quantifiable, and it’s doable – and I say that as a mother of two pint-sized dictators. Once you make that regular time every week, then you may well start writing more frequently or for longer spans of time – but it’s a great initial aim because it allows each writer to discover their own rhythm.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

How to Talk to People About Having Children

When I was running around my toddler and pregnant with my second, a neighbour said to me, ‘it’s good you’re having them close together, so you’re done quickly!’ 

That same neighbour recently asked me for any hand-me-downs I can give to her friend expecting a boy. 

When I walk around with my boys, strangers ask me jokingly ‘when’s the third coming along?’ Constantly. I usually smile and laugh along, but once, in a more irritable mood, I replied ‘soon, hopefully!’ The man stared awkwardly, unsure if he could detect sarcasm in my tone. 

I know women who have five or more children who tell me to get used to it. They have even had family ask them ‘surely, this is your last?’ with each pregnancy that followed the third. 

My friends who don’t have any other children complain of people asking them when they’re going to have a baby. Especially if they’ve been married a while. 

‘There’s no wrong or right time,’ my (male) friend said recently. 

‘Well, there is a better time than others, in terms of what’s physically viable.’ I couldn’t help but say.

‘What would you say is the best time?’ my other friend asked.

But it’s not a subjective question. It’s to do with our bodies. I don’t actually know when the average woman is least likely to face complications in pregnancy or labour. But I do know that after a certain age you are automatically ‘high risk’, so there must be a ‘better’ time, physically speaking. 

But that doesn’t mean we are free to assume anything about other couples’ experiences regarding their family. Maybe that couple who ‘still haven’t started a family’ have been trying for years. Maybe that woman with three under three is pregnant. Maybe not everyone sees pregnancy as a binary between ‘wanted’ and ‘unwanted’. For some people, believe it or not, the answer to ‘are you trying for a baby?’ lies somewhere on a spectrum.

I don’t think we ‘shouldn’t talk about it’, I don’t believe we should compartmentalise everything profound and personal to the ultra private sphere to the point where we only secretively discuss things. But neither do I believe these are things we can talk about with a neighbour as we run out of the door to the supermarket.


There are some things you should only ask about if you’re in the mood to listen. Because otherwise you just create frustration in the other person, who feels they have to give the answer you’re looking for, the answer that validates your own choices and beliefs. And when it comes to parenting, although there might be scientific information regarding the physical side of things that we should all be aware of, there really is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. There’s only infinite stories, feelings, anxieties and hopes, in an insurmountably broad spectrum of possible experiences. 

Thursday, 24 May 2018

5 Pro-Choice Sentiments I’m Tired Of


  1. ‘If you don’t agree with abortions, no one’s forcing you to have one.’
Imagine murder became legal. Imagine it became far more socially accepted. You say you’re against its legalisation, and someone says to you ‘if you don’t agree with murder, you don’t have to do it.’ The argument makes no sense. It’s ignoring the fundamental disagreement regarding the question of when a human is legally recognised as a human. 

  1. ‘Women aren’t just baby making machines.’
This has always seemed a case of strawmanning to me. I have felt zero pressure to make babies. If anything I have felt societal pressure to do something other than make babies, or more precisely, to choose between making and raising babies myself or delegating this in order to do something else. We could argue it’s just pro-life groups putting that pressure on women but the Catholic Church is pro life and pro nuns. Nuns don’t have children and they are in no way seen as inferior to mothers.

  1. ‘My body my choice’
Ignores the philosophical disagreement of whether it’s just one body or two.

  1. ‘It’s a woman’s right’
So many women have abortions because they feel they have no choice. So many women perceive motherhood as their individual responsibility: if you choose to have this baby you have to get the space, stuff, money, food, enter need here, for the rest of their life. So many women are not helped before nor after an abortion. So many women’s lives are affected negatively because their maternity is handled catastrophically by society. This is not just about abortion. This is about our society’s entire attitude towards motherhood. Almost all mothers are abandoned and isolated in some small way, because our society is extremely out of touch with what it means to support women. 


  1. The complete silence on the fact that you can abort a child with an abnormality as minor as a cleft lip up to birth, but you can’t abort a child with ‘no abnormalities’ beyond 24 weeks of gestation. Why is the Left so comfortable with this clear prioritisation of ‘normal’ foetuses over ‘abnormal’ ones? My guess is no one is comfortable with it, they’re just not talking about the disturbing truth that our society still does not value disabled people as highly as able ones.