As little girls we are very often given a baby doll to play with. A birthday gift perhaps, or a present wrapped under the Christmas tree. Little boys get a racing car or a truck. You might think I am about to launch into a debate on gender appropriate toys; or state that little girls like trucks and cars to play with just as much as boys. That male children can be extremely happy playing with dolls and gender specific toy giving is sexist. All relevant topics worthy of discussion. But we’ll shelve that for now and take it as a given.
I’d actually like to talk about the first time as females we are expected to respond to the concept of being a mother. It is worth clarifying at this juncture that I am highly in favour of kiddies – but have never had one of my own.
My paternal grandmother gave me my obligatory baby dolly. After she had been excitedly unwrapped I dutifully named her ‘Anne’. I examined the little feeding bottle and potty she came with whilst grandma looked on proudly. I recall my immediate concern was if I put water or milk in Anne’s head end with the bottle provided for that purpose…. it would consequently shoot out Anne’s opposite end and make a mess. I didn’t have siblings and I was rather an uptight child from an uptight family. I didn’t do mess. Nnoooooooooooooo. Having politely thanked my grandmother, I tenderly plonked baby dolly on her potty and moved to my next birthday gift. Poor Anne continued to perch on her pink plastic throne for many years in my toy cupboard. I’d bring her out into the light of day when my grandparents came for tea. As well as being an uptight child, I was unerringly polite to my elders. Even if I proved somewhat of a failure as a baby doll parent.
I did enthusiastically play with dolls. I loved doing their hair and dressing them up. Anne’s ‘potty situation’ however was a total non starter as far as I was concerned.
The truth of the matter was I had no interest in Anne, or her bottle or her potty. I was a feminine child who loved pretty dresses and dancing and music lessons. The older dolls, and subsequently Barbie, with their outfits and accessories were my personal bag. Babies really held no interest for me. I determinedly stalked the neighbourhood cats and dogs constantly for pats (as my parents wouldn’t allow me a pet). If someone had a new puppy or kitten I was instantly clamouring for a cuddle. If someone had an infant sibling I was habitually polite, but never asked to hold them or see them. I’d slip away from the circle of parents and children and go occupy myself elsewhere. (Most often with the family dog who was looking forlorn in the backyard).
High school years arrived, and friends were talking about how many kids they’d like when they grew up and got married. I always confidently replied I was not getting married and not having children. (Got it half right). As a teen there was no circumstance where I could envisage myself with a flesh and blood ‘Anne’. As I was an affectionate child, it was assumed this was a phase and one day I too would decree, ‘I want a boy and a girl!’. Yet school years passed and my opinion did not alter. Ditto my University years. I was valiantly sticking to my guns.
Obviously as life chugged onwards, the girls of my generation began to have families. I was always very happy for them. I attended baby showers, bought gifts, sent cards, handed out hearty congratulations. This was what my friends wanted and I was incredibly happy for them. I was still a bit of a youngster, so my statement I would not be joining the motherhood train was not taken that seriously. I was becoming aware however, that it was starting to be viewed by some as less of a ‘quirk’ – and more a character flaw. My grandma had handed me that baby doll for a reason. It was my apparent destiny as a woman to eventually desire a live ‘Anne’ of my own. Tendrils of inadequacy started to wrap around me that I found difficult to shake.
I did marry. #dontmentionthewar. I went into that union being transparent that I didn’t want a family. About a year in, my ex husband stated (in not wildly pleasant terms) that he expected I’d now have a change of heart. He had subsequently decided that he wanted a child and expected me to comply. Nnnoooooooooooooo. I had quietly wondered if I would experience some invisible ‘click’ somewhere along the line. A sliver of me secretly hoped my baby gene would magically kick in and I’d join the club. That unpleasant marital exchange was a pivotal moment. I decided that, even if my biological clock started ringing, I would shut it off again.
It had a mild jangle a couple of times but never enough to be of any consequence. The faint dinging was only heard on about two occasions when I saw a very doting and protective dad with his bubba. At those times I ‘got’ what it was about. It had no bearing on my own circumstances though.
Being childless was a burden for many years. I dreaded every baby shower, every birth announcement and every awkward question which now bordered in the invasive. People wanted answers. Why was this seemingly nice woman who obsessively mothered her dogs not producing offspring? My favourite was, “Can’t you have children?”, to which I retorted, “I don’t know. I’ve never tried”. I became an aunt to two little ones, which gave me great happiness. Still does to this day. They were the first two babies I ever held. My terrified countenance as I cuddled them is forever recorded as you see here. I was very concerned I’d drop said tiny infant…. or its head would fall off. Both are now old enough to drive a car and survived the ordeal.
My marriage failed, but not for reasons linked to lack of offspring. I am immensely grateful I stuck to my ‘no baby’ guns. It was one of the only times I stood firm in those early years. It was simply too important a fight to lose, despite incessant berating and pressure. A baby is a little person who deserves things to be done right. I was never going to be a mum if I wasn’t confident it was the right choice. It would have been a catastrophic choice.
I have cried tears of joy for friends who have fought terribly hard to have a baby and finally succeeded. Tears of sadness for those who have wanted it so badly and it never happened. The person I have never cried for is myself. In my own circumstances, to be childless was the right path.
I am single and older now. The baby ship is inevitably heading out to sea due to age; and enough arthritis drugs on board for the last decade that cause birth defects to make things impossible (even if I were espoused). The awkward questioning is growing silent, although it still pops up. Had #dontmentionthewar ended sooner, perhaps I would have met someone different and changed my mind. Perhaps he would have been the protective, decent type of guy who made my alarm clock ding on occasion. We’ll never know, and it is not something I have ever dwelled on.
I have learned one thing. I think as women we all ‘mother’ in many ways. I’ve realised I am brimming with maternal instincts that are used in other capacities. I may have rejected poor ‘Anne’ with her bottle and potty…. but I have still been a mother. I have mothered my nieces. Most notably I have mothered my fur children to bits; and will undoubtedly be doing that for the rest of my life. (And they’ve made much bigger , stinkier messes than dolly on her potty could ever have achieved).
A message I would send out into blogland is to never ask people too many questions on the baby topic. Unless you are personally invited into their story. You never know what raw nerves you may be pulling. Only now can I answer the difficult questions I was asked as a young woman. Indeed, it is only now I can begin to sort out the jigsaw in my own head of exactly what my journey was.
They say “It takes a village to raise a child”. It’s always lovely to be part of that community. My little duties as a villager have all been precious. No regrets. 🙂