When I first told my husband over the phone that I had a positive pregnancy test I cried and kept saying ‘I’m sorry’ over and over again. My husband laughed about my reaction, he was instantly delighted. As my tears slowed I started to realise I too felt happy. Later we would both laugh about my seemingly irrational reaction to being pregnant. My husband would ask me what on earth I felt I had to say sorry for and I could never really answer him.
For some reason, 7 years later on a train home this memory came back to me and I finally felt like I knew why I had been saying I was sorry. I think now that I was apologising to myself. The pregnancy was not a planned one. We had been married less than a year. I was 27. I had just gained a more senior Physiotherapy role in the NHS. I had started my Masters degree. When my husband and I had discussed children we felt we had plenty of time to think about these things. We had agreed to leave it for a few years. We had even had a frank discussion of what would we would do if it never happened for us. We had decided that if we found out we couldn’t then we would be happy to be together, childless. And if I’m perfectly honest I had no maternal feelings. The sound of a baby crying would make me cringe and shudder. I would decline offers to hold babies, making my excuses while looking for the nearest exit. I wasn’t even sure I liked children. Even my own mother, when I told her I was pregnant, admitted to me that she never expected for me to make her a grandmother.
So when I was saying sorry seven years ago, I wonder if I was saying it to myself for the things that I was going to miss out on, that I might not be able to do. As far I was concerned being a mother was the end of so many things. For many things it would be. I didn’t complete my Masters then. I ended up with a Postgraduate Diploma. Still not too shabby I guess. I became less focused on progressing at work. Mainly I think because sometimes my personality is a bit all or nothing. Or possibly because I also found motherhood and trying to be a good mother all the time overwhelming. I read so many books and internet sites on parenting that it sometimes became difficult to know where to turn for advice. Or maybe motherhood was like a mirror being held up to me showing me what I disliked about many aspects of my life, including the place that I worked.
What I have learned is that women, mothers or not, are the great adapters. We are malleable. We can transform and adjust and find other ways of doing things. The plans I had originally made were no longer feasible. My job made me unhappy and I realised I didn’t want to stay there, becoming ever more resentful and bitter. It had taken the extreme of motherhood to reveal to me that there wasn’t one ‘right way’ to do things: full time job, employing child minders and nannies, holidays, cars, having stuff. Motherhood revealed to me that I could do things a bit differently. I might not have ‘it all’ but I didn’t know what ‘it all’ was and I didn’t know if I wanted ‘it all’. There were other ways of doing things: be self employed, budget, take different kinds of holidays, network, make new friends, go back and study on my terms. I was seeing things from a totally different perspective.
I admit it was never that simple in coming to this conclusion. I think many mothers would be lying if they didn’t think ‘what if?’. The jobs I could have had, the holidays I could have gone on, the sports car I had been looking at and all the nights out I could have had. But I was never a corporate ‘yes’ person. I loved my vocation but I had developed a dislike of the organisation I worked for. I was never a massive traveler and I was never a ‘ roll in at 6am’ kinda’ gal. I have thought many ‘what ifs?’ but I realise that I’m wishing away 7 years of love and joy that I could never have predicted in a million years. I never planned for the last 7 years but I feel so blessed that they have and that I have two amazing little boys in my life. What ifs and what were and what could have beens become irrelevant and pointless. It is what it is.
Motherhood has really brought home to me how judged women are whether they have children or not. I can’t say I have ever really given much thought to whether female friends have children, want children or have made a decision not to. I’ve never felt it was any of my business. Occasionally I have felt judgment from colleagues and strangers about the fact I had my first child at what would be considered a young age now i.e under thirty. I remember a female patient, who on realising I was pregnant, inquiring as to my age. When I told her I was 27 she looked at me with such a mixture of pity and disgust that I may as well have been a 14 year old in trouble. People are obsessed with when the ‘right’ age to have a child is. I know that there is an ideal biological age, but even that age can shift between individuals. But it’s weird that the choice to have a baby at any age, to not have a baby, to not know if you want to have a baby can stir up so much in complete strangers who then feel compelled to share their opinion with you.
I wish women didn’t have to justify their decisions constantly. I wish that our fertility wasn’t always the focus for media outlets. I remember watching a documentary about so called barren women in India who were attending fertility clinics and having babies into their sixties. My husband pointed out then that none of the men were tested for their fertility. It was always assumed that the woman was barren, she was the one who was at fault for failing to conceive. Yet during that documentary men’s fertility was never up for discussion.
Going back to where I started this post originally I know that I really had nothing to apologise for. Yes, having children has altered the path that I had set for myself but there is no shame in the fact that this changed. I do not have to justify why I did not follow the original path I had set for myself. Instead I veered off from life’s sat nav and paved a different way. I have achieved things that I’m not sure I would have if I had never had my first son. I have run two marathons. I have met fantastic people through school. I have even reignited old friendships. I have discovered an inner strength I never knew I had. We even doubled the amount of love in our little family. I don’t know what would have happened if I had not had my first son, my happy surprise (never, ever ever a mistake). But it is what it is. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.