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Day twenty-two

November 22, 2016

Before my trip to Nigeria in 2006, I read a fair bit about the country. One of the things I discovered was that for a woman to be unmarried and childless was the worst imaginable tragedy. When the women of Alhazai, a northern  Nigerian village, asked me how many children I had, I could have been honest. I could have admitted I was unmarried and childless, but I didn’t. I lied. I told them I had two daughters. It turned out to be an interesting conversation.

I found myself thinking of those fictitious daughters last night. One of the newer members of the theatre group asked me if I had any kids. I said no. The conversation moved on. As it would with nothing else to add.

It wasn’t the first time I’d been asked that question. It’s a fairly common getting-to-know-you question. (Not that I’ve ever asked anyone myself.) But for some reason, when I was asked last night, I thought of a cartoon, one of a series that did the rounds back in the 1980s. This morning I successfully Googled the image.

forgot-to-have-children

It’s not that I forgot to have children. More a case that the timing was never quite right.

When I was in my early thirties, I had a conversation with a gay friend of mine. He knew having children was probably not in his future, even though he would have really liked to be a dad. I wasn’t feeling particularly maternal at the time, but I did vaguely think that having a child would be a nice thing. My friend and I made a pact. If, by the time I was thirty-five, I hadn’t met anyone with whom I wanted to have a child , he and I would make a baby. There was one proviso: the baby had to be made the proper way. No turkey basters for me. He said he thought that would be a small price to pay.

By the time I was thirty-five, I was thousands of miles from London and we’d lost touch completely. (Years later Facebook would justify its entire existence when we found one another again. By that time the baby boat had well and truly sailed, but it was still wonderful to be reunited. It got me to Cornwall for the first of many times.)

There have been other opportunities to reproduce. Two terminations and a miscarriage to be precise. The first was when I was far too young to have a child. Whatever life had to offer me would be ruined. At the time I didn’t fully appreciate the toll raising me on her own had taken on my mother, but I knew this wasn’t the future I wanted. I didn’t even think of what was inside me as a baby. I thought of it as a tumour or a growth that had to be removed. And it was. I confess that over the years it has occasionally crossed my mind, in an abstracted sort of way, that in some alternative reality I could have a son or daughter who was twenty or thirty years old. Regrets? None whatsoever.

The second time I thought I might be pregnant, I was sharing a flat with a mate who, when enough beer had been consumed, became what is now known as a friend with benefits. I was putting off buying a test to confirm my suspicion to give myself time to think about it. I was still working as a journalist at the time. My salary wasn’t particularly big. I had no savings. How could this work? I was not in love with the sperm donor for this hypothetical baby, but I did like him very much and I thought he would be an amazing father. I wasn’t after marriage – or even financial support – but I did not want all the responsibility of raising a child. (By that point I had a clearer idea of what it had cost my mum.) What if it was a boy? It was one thing to contemplate raising a girl solo, but a boy? Who would teach him how to kick a football, swing a cricket bat. I hated sports. So I decided: if my mate was willing to make a cast iron commitment to acknowledge parentage and play an active role as the father of this child, then, yes, I was prepared to become a mum. I didn’t have to buy the test, because the next day I had a miscarriage. Obviously this was not meant to be. At first I wasn’t going to tell my mate about the pregnancy. What was the point? Then curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to know what he would have said. So I told him about the offer I’d been planning to make. First he commiserated about the miscarriage, then he grinned at me and said, “All the fun of being a dad without any of the responsibility? Of course I would have agreed.”

A year later he met the love of his life, a lovely, lovely woman with whom I hit it off immediately. I’m pretty sure she could have taken her soon-to-be husband’s first child (and me) into her stride, but I’m glad she didn’t have to do so. Regrets? No. It was the closest I ever came to actually wanting to reproduce, but, as I said, some things are not meant to be.

A drunken New Year’s Eve fumble shortly after I moved to Vancouver in 1990. I honestly thought we were too pissed to even get the job done. Nice guy, but, you know, just one of those things. Turns out, even though both of us were sure he hadn’t managed to keep it up long enough to get inside, that one of his more determined sperm had made the leap when it was in the neighbourhood and swam for its life. Bloody hell. I was pregnant. In the early weeks, when I was blissfully unaware of super-sperm’s death defying leap, I had (a) consumed rather a lot of drugs and (b) traipsed around a radioactive nuclear test site. Even if this was the last chance saloon, it was a no brainer. Regrets? Absolutely none.

I do know women who feel an aching emptiness in their lives that only a bun in the oven can sate. I don’t get it. I’ve more than once joked that I must have been looking elsewhere when they were passing out the maternal gene on the assembly line.

Don’t get me wrong. I love children. I think they’re great. And they’ve always seemed to like me, the crazy adult who’s always willing to get down on the floor and roll around with them. But the keyword there is “children”.

I’ve also often joked in the past that, if it was possible to be pregnant for nine months, give birth and two months later have a three-year-old toilet-trained and talking child, I’d be happy to have more than one. Actually, neither is a joke. I don’t get the appeal of babies. I remember one of my female cousins and a friend of hers (both suburban mums) laughing at a cartoon of a harried mother saying, “We all want babies, but we keep ending up with children.” Seriously? Little kids rock. Babies, not so much. Everyone says it’s different when it’s your own and that could very well be true. At this point I will never know.

And why am I writing all this today (and what a lot of this there is)? Because for some reason being asked if I had kids at rehearsal last night reminded me, as the question has sometimes before, that I didn’t figure out what the point of babies was until long after the sell-by date on my ovaries had expired.

Babies turn into kids who turn into teenagers who turn into adults. If you haven’t badly buggered up as a parent, these adults love you and you love them. Whatever else happens, however alone you turn out to be in your life, there is still someone in it, still some love to be had. If you’re lucky, these adults will visit you. If you’re really lucky, they will take care of you when you are old and decrepit. (A stage of life which is now alarmingly closer than I ever thought it would be.)

Not feeling sorry for myself. Just stating facts. Oh, well.

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From → Black dog diary

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