‘There are so many things I want to do and see and write and talk about, and I just don’t understand how all my wild plans for the future can be married with a small thing that needs baths and sleep and feeds. And I’m not just scared because my body will change…but scared in a profound, unnervingly quiet way, like a shark below the water’s surface…I’m scared of what will happen to me.’
– I’m frightened of having a baby – and maybe that’s sensible, Marisa Bates
I started this blog way back in 2014 because, at that time, I didn’t have anyone to talk to about sex and relationships and kink; I wasn’t ready to talk to my friends and I couldn’t talk to my family so I started writing. And, damn, it worked pretty well! Jump forward three years and I no longer recognise the person I once was or the fears or attitudes that used to consume me. I’m also not writing as much. Mostly that’s a time problem, but I’m also not as lost or conflicted as I used to be and I don’t need the clarification that I gained from writing anymore. I know myself better and, thanks to this brilliant sex positive community, I have people/person to talk to.
But this post is different. Unusually, the more that EA and I talk about this subject, the more I can feel that pressure of confusion and fear that I used to feel when I tried to talk about sex. So much so that I almost didn’t write this as I don’t really want it to turn into a discussion – I won’t believe you if you tell me I’m wrong but will see confirmation in your agreement and it risks worsening this ridiculous phobia. But I’ve been turning this over in my mind so much that I can’t avoid it anymore. Maybe by dissecting and exposing my fears, I can finally process them and maybe even get over it. Maybe.
So here it is: I am terrified of having a baby.
It has taken me a long time to see through this all-consuming fear to realise that I really, really do want what comes later – I want to share my children’s lives and see them grow into the person they’re destined to become. I want a family; it’s just that the pregnancy/baby part is so horrifying that it almost puts me off the whole thing. In fact, it was only when I met EA and realised the depth and strength of his support, forever, that I could even imagine doing it at all. Not for him but with him. And that is genuinely exciting!
But there are years to get through before I can get to the parts that I am excited about.
Basically, whoever said that ignorance is bliss was extraordinarily wise! So much of my fear is medical and I have so much knowledge that I wish I could forget. Because I do know; I’ve seen! I have been taught about pregnancy and birth – both in sickness and health. I know the best case scenario involves pain. And swollen ankles and acid reflux and fatigue and stretched abdominal muscles and nausea and insomnia and breathlessness and discomfort. My cunt will never be the same again! Especially if birth requires instrumentation – forceps and suction cups and all sorts of brutal looking equipment literally designed to rip the baby out of me. The horror… Pregnancy will change my body forever, and not necessarily for the better. I love my shape and my curves, but that has taken work and I’m afraid of having to start all over and learn to love my body again.
And my knowledge-based fear isn’t only about the best case. My friend is a paediatrician, my sister is a midwife and I am a medic – I have seen and been told the worst cases too. What if my amazing beautiful body that has run marathons and carried me up mountains can’t do this? Pregnancy is still the most common cause of death for women my age and remains a significant danger to our health. Family members admitted to intensive care with sepsis, friends rushed to bigger hospitals as their doctors couldn’t control the bleeding; people I know and love have nearly died. Within the hyperbolic whirlwind of my phobia, I feel like I have to decide if a family is worth risking my whole life. Do I want this enough to die for it?
But I am able to rationally push my fears of pain and fourth degree tears (don’t look them up) safely into perspective, or at least ignore them for now. What scares me more is the social impact. Let’s say I physically survive having a baby, can I survive? Can I still be the women that I am now? And, if not, am I willing to change that much?
Because at the moment, I am Livvy first. A professional, independent feminist woman. I can be as selfish or as magnanimous as I want, but I get to choose. Adding a baby changes that. As often happens, I have been scarred by a popular sentimental statement that I have interpreted differently and shudder at the claim that when a woman has a child, she ‘stops being the picture and instead becomes the frame.’ Fuck that, I don’t want to be a frame! I don’t want to be defined as a mother only and let everything else that I am fade into insignificance. I can’t bear the idea that being an individual person or lover or doctor or writer will suddenly stop being important or relevant.
And I’m just as afraid that it will stop being important. That everything that I have ever worked for will become meaningless because I’m a mother and I’ll become that cliche that terrifies me. I’ll stop caring about everything else that now enriched my life, from running to this blog. I’m scared that I won’t have time for my friends, and I won’t care. I’m terrified that I won’t have space for my husband. What will happen to our sex life? I’m already very aware of how fatigue affects my sex drive and I’m already tired most of the time. What if I’m just too tired to enjoy sex the way I do now? And what if the baby becomes the ultimate cockblocker? The cat scrabbling at the door is bad enough; I can’t exactly gently push a baby onto the floor if it’s getting in the way! What if this risks our relationship? I know these fears are irrational but I still struggle to quiet them.
I’m also afraid for my career. What kind of a parent can I be as a doctor? It’s not easy… And what kind of doctor can I be as a parent? The effect on my career would be both galling and undeniable. From time out and delayed progression to missed opportunities, everything would be different. And as much as I enjoy my job, some days I do wish I could just give up and never go back. Having a child gives me that way out without having to admit to failing. Society at large wouldn’t judge me for choosing not to go back to work, even if those close to me might be somewhat surprised. Being a stay at home mother is hard and under respected and a worthy career choice. But it shouldn’t be an escape and I’m scared that I might use it as one.
And then there’s a perceived risk to my independence. To carry on living in the manner to which I’ve become accustomed, I will have to rely on my husband financially as I would struggle to support a family on my own, and this makes me oddly nervous. It’s so stupid as I know he doesn’t mind, but it’s still a challenge to face up to the psychological barrier of suddenly being dependent on someone else for the first time since I was 18. By having a baby, I will be dependent on him. And it won’t be easy to go back to our current position of (admittedly tenuous) financial equality. I don’t know that I’m ready for that kind of change in our dynamic. Honestly, I don’t know if I ever will be.
Most of all, what if I’m a terrible mother? I’m not very maternal and I am unable to talk to children like children – they are pets or adults and I don’t know any other way. What if I ruin them? What if I kill them? What happens if I damage them in some psychological way? Or worse, what if I hate them? What if I resent them for everything I’ve lost? What do I do if I regret it? There’s no way to go back and that is fucking terrifying!
But I know that I’m not the only one to feel this afraid. Several months ago, there was an article in the Pool that spoke of my fear in a way that I’d rarely seen documented before. Marisa Bates was confessing to everything that terrified her and, in a strange way, it soothed me that she didn’t have answers either. I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t wrong for being afraid. And I read it again and again, and felt a bit better.
And then my favourite and often quoted podcast, the Guilty Feminist, had an episode on motherhood in early October and again I found my horror lessening thanks to some sort of masochistic camaraderie, despite the fact that the panel literally described my fears and confirmed that they are true!
In a brilliant segment (from around 26:45 to 28:40), Deborah Frances-White equates having children to a heroin addiction. The highs, the highs! It’s worth it for the fleeting moments of joy amid the hours of horror. Obviously, our lives were objectively better before…but the highs! It’s hilarious and horrific, but it’s the truth and it’s so relatable.
Just as I was soothed by Marisa Bates’ shared fear, I found this acknowledgement of the difficulties of having children to be unexpectedly empowering. Pregnancy and childbirth and babies are so often held up as the pinnacle of a woman’s life; what she was born to do. I’d felt like I was letting myself down by being so terrified and for having such significant doubts. Women are led to believe that we’ll feel unfinished or like a failure if we don’t have children, but not enough people talk about how hard it is or what women have to give up. Thank God, that is changing and women are speaking up!
Am I more afraid because of everything that I know? Probably. But am I better prepared for knowing? No doubt! I am grateful that I will make this choice with my eyes open. That I’m not rushing blindly into the biggest change in my life without first acknowledging it and facing it. I’m also angry that, despite having every privilege you can imagine including the emotional and financial support of a wonderful partner, I am still scared. What does that say about how society treats mothers?
I don’t know when EA and I will actually put our conversations about potential families into action but, despite everything I’ve written, I hope it will happen. I hope that my body won’t let me down and I can do it. I hope that my spirit won’t let me down and I can cope with it. It turns out that I have so much hope that it almost, almost drowns out my fears…
(See – over 2000 words on fear and I end with hope. This blog is magic!)