Monday, 2 July 2007

Children haven't always made me cry

I used to be quite a rational being, but every now and then my hormones, evidently ignored, kick in with vengeance. Last month, two Chinese babies in the pub turned me from a laughing wife to a tearful wreck in the space of seconds. Somewhere inside me a knife was being turned, and the pain was so intense I couldn’t speak.

Broodiness was something I had always associated with other women. I love my nieces and nephews, but as a grandparent does, happy to hand them back at the end of the day. I met my husband when I was 36 and, being eighteen years older than me, he was anxious to make it clear that he didn’t want children. I happily agreed. We wanted to sail and go adventuring. We looked pityingly at exhausted mothers lugging screaming children around supermarkets, and thanked God that wasn’t us.

Then at the age of 42, my body clock, like the crocodile in Peter Pan, started ticking loudly. It followed me everywhere, and around every corner lurked danger. Pregnant women, mothers with buggies or children with dummies were too painful to witness. The sense of deprivation was so powerful that I felt winded. Why did these women have children when I didn’t? How could I bear the fact that I would never hold my child in my arms? But I was happily married, in love with my husband. Why did I feel like this?

This phase lasted for months. We talked about it rationally, when I wasn’t weeping. My husband agreed that if I really wanted, we could adopt. Tearfully I thanked him, all the while suppressing feelings of disquiet. If we adopted in the next year, my husband would be in his eighties when the child was 20. I would be 60. We have several friends who have opted to have children later on – but this much later?

I have always felt that having a family is a tremendous undertaking, and one that should be discussed very carefully before embarking on. It is, after all, other people’s lives at stakes. So I asked myself endless questions. How would our relationship change, for it must. Would it survive? Would it be fair on the children, to have such older parents? Would it be fair on us? I’d always thought parents should be there to play football with their children, to adventure with them. It looked like we’d be doing it from zimmer frames.

And what of the sleepless nights? Could I cope? Would my husband ever be able to get back on a boat and sail around the world one last time? Probably not. How could he not feel resentful of the fact that I’d chosen children over him, and denied him his dreams? Wasn’t I just being selfish?

Could we afford children? We could pay the bills, but there was no money left over for anything else. How would we feed and clothe a child, buy toys and outings, what about schooling?

For the first time in my life, I was free to do what I wanted. I had recently left a job that was making me ill with stress, and had my own business as a seaside landlady, letting flats. I could chose to devote my time to writing and running my business, or I could become a mother. At 43. My head knew what it wanted, so did my heart, and they were utterly separate.

Throughout all this, my husband couldn’t have been more loving and supportive. He never tried to influence me, though I knew how he felt. But his relief, when I decided to concentrate on writing, was palpable. The financial outlay needed to bring up children was enough to bring both of us out in a sweat. I made my decision for several reasons – the answers to my questions above. But also because I wanted to become a better writer.

In order to alleviate my hormones, which were still mutinying at the choice I’d made, I started writing a short story. No prizes for guessing the topic, but at least I was able to give my anguish to someone else. You’ve heard of retail therapy? This was diversion therapy. The story became a novel in which a broody woman’s answer is granted, in an unexpected way. My pain was absorbed into the book, and I started learning the complex business of writing a novel.

My broodiness still rears its head, usually out of the blue. It’s painful and tortuous but it’s something I have had to come to terms with. I have time to write, run a business and work part-time which I would not be able to do if we had children. I can see friends, go to films and walk the coastline. We don’t need much money because this is Cornwall and we have only ourselves to look after. With children things would be very different. If we’d met when we were younger, I would have loved children – particularly to adopt. But we didn’t.

Two years ago we became the proud owners of a Jack Russell puppy who stole our hearts. Her first night with us, it was my husband who jumped out of bed and cradled her in his arms, crooning to her lovingly. I looked at him then and knew he’d make a wonderful dad. Everyone who knows him says the same thing. And last night in the pub, he spent ages teaching a friend’s 6 year old a trick. So should I have insisted? Should I have stuck to my guns and been selfish? Did I make the right decision?

It is this sense of loss that keeps me writing. Everything – my books, my articles and stories – published or not, are my children. They are nurtured, cried over, keep me awake at night and even argue back. When they are criticised, I cringe with humiliation. When they won’t behave, I am exasperated. When other people enjoy them, I brim with pride.

Life is too short for regrets.


Rebecca Taunton said...

If time could be reversed, you may have made a different decision...but time can only go one way and it seems that you made the right decision for your circumstances at the time.

I agree with your last statement: life is too short for regrets. We must make what we can from what we have, whatever decisions we've made.

Akelamalu said...

Things don't always turn out the way we want them to, we make the best of what we've got. You have made the decision that is right for you and your lifestyle. I'd love to read the book you've written, is it published?

Flowerpot said...

It's always difficult to know, isn't it? The old What If....
No, the book isn't published akelamalu - it needs a bit more fine tuning to make it marketable, apparently! Thanks for the interest though. Am hoping the current one will have more success.

Akelamalu said...

You have another one published? What's it called?

Blackcornish1964 said...

What a wonderful Mother you already are to all your friends who need a dose of TLC or a kick up the a**** every now and time you are feeling broody you can come over and deal with my lovesick teenager or tidy my son's bedroom!!!!!!!!

Miss Understood said...

I does sound like you made the right decision at the time. It is hard though to not look back, to stop yourself asking those 'what if' questions. And it's only natural that sometimes your heart strings will be pulled, and the pain will lodge itself in your chest.
Hugs. x

I'd love to read the book.

Motheratlarge said...

Sad reading. Life can be so difficult, can't it. I only met my husband when I was nearly 36, and had almost given up hope of having children. I'm so sorry to hear of your pain. I know our situations are very different, and I'm lucky enough to have my daughter, but having recently had a miscarriage I know something about yearning for a child you can't, for whatever reason, actually have.

Flowerpot said...

Many thanks for all heartwarming comments! A - no, haven't got any novels published - YET - just articles, but was referring to the novel I am currently writing - it's a long learning process but hope to get there very soon! Blackcornish good to meet you - I have a friend with a non-lovesick teenager who said of her current boyfriend, 'nice boy, shame it has to end.' And that was on Date 3!!!! And glad to hear of someone else who met husband late on in life. My grandmother had my mother at 46 which gave me false hope for a while - but you never know what life will throw at you, do you?