Baby, baby…

‘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.

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!)

41 thoughts on “Baby, baby…

  1. Ach.
    I kinda don’t want you to do it? You guys love your lives so much, and I strongly feel to do justice to children until they’re in their teens, you really have to sacrifice a huge amount of yourself to them to set them off right. You have to be selfless – and it’s really hard. A saggy vag is the least of your worries, really. Though it is a thing.

    A child with a disability is a scarier prospect than labour, to me. There’s a lot you can do to prepare for labour and help it go the right way. There’s not much you can do to prepare for a child who has special needs, except get rich and organise yourself into a flexible job and make sure you’ve a rock solid relationship, I suppose.

    The emotional toll of labour affected me a lot more than the physical experience, and I had two completely unmedicated homebirths. It doesn’t have to be terrible. I beg you to read some Sheila Kitzinger (Pregnancy and Birth Guide/Birth Your Way) and Ina May Gaskin (Childbirth) to balance your fears of pathological birth that you’ve seen.

    Having a child could be far worse than your fears, or far better. No guarantees. People don’t say this often, it’s not the done thing, but I wish I hadn’t. For many reasons. I wanted it enormously, I didn’t have your fear – I thought I’d be great at it. I’m not. I don’t have what it takes to do it right, and it’s not fair on my kids. I suspect I’m not the only person who feels this way either, but no one lets you say it. It works the other way for lots of people too, though, doesn’t it?

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  2. Every generation a woman in my family has made the conscious choice to not have kids – and the pressure to change her mind has been horrendous. They, however, still did not have children and never regretted the decision.

    I consciously made the choice to be a mother – but I acknowledge that it was my choice, not something that I feel everyone should go through.

    Whatever it is that you decide, you seem strong enough to know your mind and body, and I’m sure will do what is right by you alone. That is my hope for you.

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  3. Hi there, this post resonated with me a great deal as I remembered my younger self, so horrified by the prospect of all the things you mention I swore never to have a child… And then did it four times. I have spent most of my adult life raising children and they are all now grown and independent.
    To say I have never regretted this decision would be wrong, there have been moments that I have wondered what would my life have been like without them and considered the career and travel and money that might have been mine, and then remembered the richness of the life I have chosen.
    You have the disadvantage of too much experience of when birth and pregnancy have gone wrong for this not to colour your quite valid worries but my body amazed me with its ability to run this marathon four times. I count those times as the most life affirming experiences of my life and there was something much more precious at the end of the process than a medal – a physical representation of our love that challenged and deepened our capacity to love and feel forever.
    My body has changed, my cunt wasn’t ruined, my libido has risen and fallen, and my life has taken turns I would never have guessed or even chosen at times but that is just life isn’t it?
    I know that for me no thing and no experience could have done for me what having my children has done. They have all given so much more than they took from me. I know this path isn’t for everyone but I just wanted to share my perspective as I very much shared your feelings now before I started on this journey. Good luck in whatever decision you and your love make x

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  4. First of all, I want to sit down with you and a bottle or several of wine and talk about it all. I was terrified. Frozen in the headlights, not knowing how to breathe anymore terrified about all of that. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognise that fear until a couple of days after I was pregnant. I’ve written a post about how that changed. And I did it again and again.

    People describe me as a mother. I am a mother through and through but that does not push out any other part of me. My work is what puts constraints on my life more than any part of being a mother. I lived a full life with my kids. My sex life only skipped a beat for about 10 days after birth each time. My cunt bounced back and, although it must have changed since before kids, it’s utterly awesome, wonderful, strong and responsive – pelvic floor exercises and stating active works. My body is shit and fat but that isn’t down to pregnancy. The shape of my lower stomach (more noticeable when I lose weight) is impacted by it, but even so, I’m still beautiful and desirable. I am sure that you will always be gorgeous and you have such a good body positive attitude that you will love you.

    Saying all that though, kids are life changing. For me, there are three people in my life who I would take the world to pieces for, stay alive to be here for and would give my everything to. Babies are easy (ish). There is a reason that they sleep a lot and aren’t born with the ability to talk. It gives you a chance to concentrate on all the new stuff and get to know them as they develop.

    I know reading this, you might have a quizzical look. I have made sacrifices. I haven’t travelled – that was a lot to do with the mortgage that I took on before I had kids.

    My only advice is to do it with your eyes open and remember, the scare stories aren’t everyone, and the best laid plans will change when you’re talking about a whole childhood.

    So, how about that chat?

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  6. Oh thank the gods you wrote this! I sometime thought I was the only person who felt this way to feel this way! Wonderful read on a Sunday morning and quoting one of the best podcasts and writers around is an extra !

    All I can say about having babies , it is the hardest things I have ever done. It does not change or define me as a woman , but it does give you something you will love more than you thought you could.

    Pixie x

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  7. I totally hear you here. Whilst I’ve never had any maternal instinct there have definitely been the ‘what if’ moments. And the pressure put on us to be ‘normal’ and have children just because I have a uterus.

    Luckily that choice was taken away from me, the combination of PCOS and an incompetent uterus (thanks medical profession for that term) have meant having a child is incredibly unlikely. And that actually means there is no pressure on me any more, yes people still ask when children will apprear but knowing it won’t puts my mind at rest.

    But all your fears were mine too. I don’t feel that attractive now so further changes terrify me and being seen as just a mother and not who I am is mortifying!

    I’m sure I’d make a terrible mother, hell I’ve forgotten to feed the cat once or twice!! I can’t afford to give up work, I love the freedom a salary gives me. The mortgage is paid I can travel and see the world and I buy the things I need, ok want, without thinking. I can’t imagine my partner giving up his job to be a stay at home parent.

    But, if a family is what you really want then whilst there will be sacrifices you will find your way.

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  8. There are risks, of course there are risks. Like travelling to unknown countries, or pushing yourself physically for extreme sport, or reaching for the hardest, most gruelling career, or loving someone so hard that you embark on sharing your life and name with them. It’s frightening and difficult and challenging. But Livvy, all the best things are.

    Best of luck wrestling your feelings to the ground. x

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  9. I fell pregnant when I was 16, and never one day have I thought about having a child. About whether I wanted it. Whether I want to be a mother. What it would do to my body. I never was a young girl who dreamed about marriage and babies. But still, I fell pregnant when I was 16 because I wanted too. I needed to ‘escape’ a situation. My second child was born when I was 21. I almost lost him when I was 13 weeks pregnant. I love him dearly, but I know the universe tried to tell me something then. He’s my problem child. Turning 30 in 2018, autistic, depressed, still living with us. It’s hard. Like others have said before me, there are no guarantees. The girls both were easy children. Grew up in a blink of an eye. My son was hard work. Every. Fucking. Day. And still is. Cammies said it – it should be your choice. And making the choice isn’t easy either.
    Like you said: ignorance is bliss. In my situation, naivety was bliss too…

    Rebel xox

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  10. When I was a teen, I wanted babies someday. I adored my cousin’s baby, and was enamored of her as a toddler but I soon grew to find that she was not like most babies – she was calm, chill, EASY. Not like the others that came after her, lol. She’s still that way. I got pregnant by accident in college and had a miscarriage – I’d been fucking terrified and didn’t want it, but when I lost it I did mourn. And then my dad died and I was broken. Two years later I got pregnant again, and we chose abortion. We weren’t ready. The pregnancy was AWFUL while it lasted. I couldn’t get out of bed from the serious all-day morning sickness. I couldn’t remove my bra due to the breast pain. I think it was a combination of my father dying, and the PTSD it gave me, plus the awful 2 months of being pregnant, that quietly cemented my fear of another pregnancy and of childbirth, and of having a baby. I couldn’t fathom not being constantly terrified the baby would die in their sleep (that’s how my dad died, and I’d found him). Or the toddler. Or constantly being terified when I didn’t know where the child was or if they were safe (bus late, friends parent late) because I was having those fears about my fiance and mother, so surely a child would be worse. But I think I also knew I wouldn’t be a good mom to a kid.

    And I still know that. I barely have the patience for needy cats many days. Sure I see some of my friends with awesome kids and I have pangs and I worry about our future as elders when our parents are gone and there’s no more family, how lonely it’ll be. But that’s surely not a reason to have a child. Taken into account my health problems it would never have been easy. Taking into account my husband’s mental health struggles it would have been even worse. I know I made the right choices but I still have pangs of “what if”. I see how much my husband struggles and the pain I feel that I literally cannot fix what ails him and I know how much more i’d feel that pain if I had a kid. All in all…. having a child just was never whats best for me as the person I am, for my life, for my health, etc. I’m 90% confident in my choice. I suppose that if I hit a place where I do a 180 and want to give something to a child, I’ll foster.

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  11. I have a lot of the same feelings you do, Livvy; I just got sterilized on Friday (post forthcoming) because of the realistic and – yes, sensible – fears you write about. I like kids a lot once they’re old enough to talk in complete sentences, but growing one inside of me (and dealing with other people’s advice about it) hasn’t ever been something I’ve had any interest in. I hope you and EA do whatever feels right for you, and that you are happy with whatever decision you make!!! ❤

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  12. No one should feel compelled to have a baby to be a woman. Being a family unit of just you and EA also has value and worth in society, even if it doesn’t always feel it. You have different opportunities and different experiences but they are valid. Feminism is about choice to do what we want with our bodies, our lives.

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  13. All of your fears are justified. Everything you wrote is true. Your body will never be the same. The relationships you have will never be the same. Your life will never be the same. Every night (EVERY G-D NIGHT!!) I wake up to go check on her and make sure she’s ok. Then I go back to bed and try to pin point all the times she was unsafe, or I was distracted, or I snapped at her, just so I can try and be better the next day. My kid turned 4 on Christmas Eve (I was due on the 9th, and I was in labor for 40 hours and STILL had to be a C-section), and I can say WHOLEHEARTEDLY: I can’t imagine my life without her.

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  14. Hi, Liv… and EA… I’m not giving anyone advice on this, but I will say it is a part of life that if you guys can and decide to do, it will be rewarding. It will be a lot of things actually, most will be rewarding. I’ve got two daughters, 50 and 46, I regret many things I have done, but not those two. Besides, think what fun it will be buying little tiger outfits. xoxo ~ e

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  15. I’m a physician, a mother and a lover. Honestly, being a physician is the hardest of the 3, at least per my experience in the US. You’ll always feel that you aren’t good enough or putting in enough time in any of your roles, and that’s something that it is helpful to just accept. And yes my body changed because of 2 pregnancies and 2 years of breastfeeding but lots of other things have changed my body, currently perimenopause. I have zero regrets about becoming a mother. If and when you want it, just do it—there will never be a perfect time. You’ll figure it out, especially with a supportive husband. Good luck!

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  16. Lots to respond to here so I will stick with the things that immediately came to mind.

    Although I ended up having almost every intervention possible (but had a vaginal birth) what kept me very calm up to and through delivery was telling myself my body was meant to do this. Accept that interventions may be needed, but don’t get caught up in all the planning (and I’m a planner, so this was hard).

    My cunt remains awesome 😂.

    I’m a Mom and am a fairly insatiable slut. I’m not sure if you’ve ever read my blog, if so you’ll know my marriage / relationship was nothing like yours is. However in my 45th year with a 9 year old, I’m having the best sex of my life and successfully navigating being a Mom and my sexual self.

    You can do it, if you want to do it. Surround yourself with the positive thinkers, and do what’s right for you. I never knew for sure I wanted children but my child has brought joy to my life which I never thought possible. But it’s not for everyone and if you don’t want to do it, you shouldn’t.

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  17. I have 2 – the first birth was horrifying – was shit scared when waiting to have the second but she practically fell out. But what horrified me more than the births, more than how my perfect body changed, more than the fact that you are now responsible for another human being – was the way society treats stay at home mothers- appallingly But i so wish you both well in whatever you decide. I do not regret my gorgeous adult kids at all, but if I had a parallel existence I would not have children – just to see where I could have gone…

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  19. I always pictured myself becoming a mother someday. But I am afraid with the thought of giving birth. But then again, I wanted to be a mother and did go for it. And I’m glad that I woman up and conquer my fear, now I’m happy with my kids.

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