I had it all figured out. I had a plan of what I was going to do when I got pregnant. I was going to have photos taken every month of my baby bump, from the day of confirmation all the way up until the birth, Artsy, candid shots of my blooming belly in soft lighting, but not hiding any of the messy bits of pregnancy like stretch marks or rosacea.
Then, when the baby was born, I was going to have a pagan midwife and use meditation and hypnosis to give birth drug free. We were going to have mood-filled family pics, rose coloured and achingly beautiful. The miracle of birth. New life. All that.
I got older. We had donors lined up, my lesbian wife and I, but they all fell through. Then I turned 40 and we decided that probably the only way I could get pregnant was through IVF, and that was hella expensive, so the choice was made for my wife to bear our children. All my plans for the documenting of my own pregnancy was transferred to her, as was most of my life. She would have photos every month, she would have a pagan midwife and lovingly cradle our newborn addition in that rose coloured light. I was so excited for a brown baby, for my little rainbow family. We planned for it, had names picked out, godparents chosen, shared pictures of baby and toddler fashion that our very cool kid would wear.
And then everything changed. And I mean everything. Shattered marriage leading to a new job, new life, new couch to surf, new goals. Whether I liked it or not, my existence shifted. I found myself cleaning houses for a living; the suburban homes of the working mother, some married, some not, all with children of different ages, different stages. The one thing that became abundantly clear to me is that children take over everything. And I mean everything.
These women I clean for are all intelligent, hard working, motivated career women. They have jobs, they have partners, they have lives. But one thing I noticed that they all shared was that their lives and their homes were dominated by their children. They were mothers first. Women second. People third. Their lives were defined by their offspring. It made me feel anxious.
I went home, back to New Zealand to figure out where I was going. I tested the waters back home, trying on the possibility of moving there, having a baby on my own. My dad and his husband are there, both big fans of the idea of me progenerating little Bentons everywhere. I had a chat to one of my cousins about how her life had changed since she had kids. She said unequivocably that she loved her sons, but all her dreams for herself had taken a back seat. I looked at her face. She was tired.
On the plane flying back to Australia I thought about all the times I’ve been pregnant, ended in either a termination or miscarriage. My doctor had told me that I was very fertile, that despite the polyps in my ovaries and the scarring in my uterus, I had a “very viable womb”. If that were so, why so childless?
The realisation settled on me like dust settles on polished wood: I would make a wonderful mother. But I will never be one.
Quite simply, I’m too selfish to give up my life for a child. I gave it up for a partner and it nearly destroyed me. I would love that child until I had nothing else to give, but I would grieve for my childless life. I understand that everything changes when the child is in one’s arms, but to be honest, I don’t want that change. I’ve just emerged from a cocoon of my own making, all my insecurities and neuroses woven into a personal carapace that blinded me as it protected me. I have broken free of not only an abusive and toxic relationship with another person, but also with myself. I’m not ready to put that aside to dedicate my energy to someone else, fruit of my loins or no. By the time I am ready, I will be too old. I’m already too tired.
I wept painful racking sobs over this decision. I had longed for a baby since puberty hit at age 11 and I had always assumed that it was an inevitability. Even as I flip flopped about marriage, shooting out a sprog was unquestionably a thing that would happen. But as I’ve matured and grown and realised what being a parent actually entails, I’ve chosen myself instead. I look back at all the sacrifices my mother made for us kids, how the decision to have a family impacted her life. She died stating that her greatest achievement was her children and I am so grateful to her for that. But I just can’t do it.
I’m okay with it now. In another life, in a parallel universe, I am a mother and I’m damn good at it. In that existence, my kid is ridiculously talented, intelligent and beautiful and will grow up to change the world. And in that world I would be content with being a mother first. I would be proud to be a mum.
But not in this one.