What I firmly believe is a shared delusion for the sake of our sanity is when parents together talk about how they can't imagine a life without children, and don't understand the appeal of a life without children. I've heard it time and time again and, to avoid being given the look of aghast horror I am certain would be coming my way, I nod along in agreement. But it's a lie. I don't agree.
I completely and totally understand people who say they don't want children. I can imagine it, and I definitely understand it.
I'll hasten to point out that I don't in any way regret my decision to be a mother. This is not a "what a mistake" type thought. Indeed, I truly wouldn't have it any other way and if I went back in time I'd still have sex with my idiot ex-husband at the same time on the same day to make sure that the exact same little human was produced from that union. That doesn't take away my understanding however.
Becoming a mother changes your whole life from the moment you get that little plus sign on the pregnancy test. When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter I stopped living for me.
I stopped drinking wine and caffeine, was careful to avoid food on the banned list, and avoided any none essential medication. I suffered through weird cravings and horrible aversions, drinking my body weight in Ribena (stuff I ordinarily cannot stand) and getting horribly sick at the sight and smell of falafal (stuff I ordinarily love). After she was born I was insanely hungry to keep up with breastfeeding, and then had to adjust to not needing to eat at that rate, even though the desire remained, after I had finished.
My body changed. Where I was smooth and soft I was huge and stretch marked, stretch marks that remain until today. My boobs are forever changed both by pregnancy itself and the infant dangling from my nipples for the majority of her first ten months of existence. I was bashed and battered from the inside, with baby feet being shoved into my ribs and kicking me in the cervix (fanny daggers anyone?) and then endure birth where I was cut open and had her pulled out of me after she got stuck. I was in labour for three days before she was born and suffered with pre-eclampsia. After she was born I bled heavily, had cramps and pains, and had to, in a state of exhaustion, adjust to having a small human attached me to constantly.
I found that I worried from the moment I conceived to this very moment. The fear of miscarriage was overwhelming at times, and I was strapped to machines after I stopped feeling her move at around 21 weeks. I worried she'd die in the womb, I worried she'd die during labour, and I worried she'd be born damaged or severely ill. After she was born I panicked about the chance of cot death, had terrifying nightmares about her being abducted or killed, and found her being out of my sight terrifying. Now she's at an age where she can run off, and sometimes does, and we're surrounded by heavy traffic and potential child abusers on every street corner (in my head at least). She can get ill and die, she can fall in the street and be run down, she could fall under a train. Someone could kidnap her from nursery school or there could be a fire that burns her to death. The worry of motherhood is something that, I am assured by my own mother, never fully goes away and it's like a weight in the brain you can never escape.
My freedoms have been taken. I didn't have a night away from her until she was fifteen months old. If I went out, she went out. If it was somewhere she couldn't go, I didn't go. I still have very limited freedoms and have to book babysitters in advance before a rare night out and when friends come here to visit I know I may have to disappear and leave the party if she wakes up and needs me. Financial freedoms are definitely gone. If I need shoes and she needs shoes, she gets shoes. She needs school uniforms and books and shoes and clothes (she grows ALL THE TIME) and activities. If I have spare money (what's this? I mean space in my overdraft) it goes on her.
Dating became a challenge... albeit one I was totally dedicated to conquering. I couldn't go out on dates, they had to come to me. And, if you know men like I know men, you'll know they usually assume that means it's a booty call. I'd have to ask them to leave if she woke up needing me, or I'd cancel if she was ill. I couldn't go out and meet their friends or take them to meet mine. And having a child in the first place puts a bit of a strain on new relationships, if they even agree in the first place. Some would be jealous that I wanted to spend more time with her than them, others would expect to start telling me how I should be raising her. Some would want to be in my life but not interested in her, no deal we're a package deal and if you're with me you're with her. Others wanted to be a "daddy" to her immediately and seemed put out when I explained she would need to take any meeting and time with them slowly.
I get tired. I don't mean "busy day at work" tired. I don't mean "was up all night partying" tired. I mean the kind of tired where you've not had a good night's sleep in years, your body aches at the idea of standing up, and sometimes you don't even have the energy left inside you to cry about how tired you are. So tired you think you're going to throw up. So tired your head spins and you forget what your feet are. So tired that you would sooner go hungry than get to the kitchen. And, in the face of all that tired, you still have a child demanding time, attention, food and love. A child who you know full well will continue waking you for the next three months to come. A child who, if you do just fall asleep on the sofa for the next twelve hours like your body is begging you to do, could die. People who don't have children will say "I'm so tired" and I just want to laugh.
I look at my friends without children. They have spur of the moment meals out or trips to the pub. They go on exotic holidays and take last minute bookings. They have large, clean, homes filled with clean floors not chocolate stains, nicely stocked bookshelves not heaps of toy boxes. They spend money on decorating their homes, buying clothes, and doing things they enjoy. They don't worry about getting home at 3am and they don't turn down a date with someone they're interested in because their child has a cold or they can't get a sitter. They have sex as loudly and as frequently as they desire because there's nobody to wake up and nobody is going to wander in complaining they've had a nightmare. They have no idea what Paw Patrol is.
I get it. Having children is a commitment which takes over your life, your body, your mind and your heart. Nothing will ever be the same again.
Do I regret it? Never. Never have, never will. But that doesn't mean that in the middle of the eighth feed of the night, or whilst cleaning the vomit off her clothes before I clean it off my face and hair, I don't idly let my mind drift to an alternate reality where we are young, free and childless. Would I live there? Never. Do I like to visit? Yes.
Don't have children unless you really, really want to. I can't imagine surviving and loving the life I lead as a mother if I resented it in any way. If I regretted it even a tiny bit. But mothers do, they're out there wishing they were anywhere else and still managing to raise their children in the world of parenting that is so all consuming. I don't know how they do it. Sometimes I don't even know how I do it and I adore it.
I understand not wanting children. I am immeasurably fortunate that I love mine. And now I have three, now I'm even more tired, even more stretched, I still have absolutely no regrets about taking on this challenge. But that doesn't mean I'm blind to what a challenge it is. And what the alternative life could be.
You can check out all my contact info and links on www.jjbarnes.co.uk, I'm on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so you can get in touch on there, as well as find links to all my work. There's also www.sirenstories.co.uk where you'll find other work from Siren Stories and extra information. My first novel, Lilly Prospero And The Magic Rabbit, is out now and available on Amazon.