There are two halves to most women's lives, clearly divided: BC (Before Children) and AD (After Delivery). As was the case with Jesus (should you be religiously inclined), welcoming a child into your life causes time to start all over again. Such is the significance.
For most, as soon as that second faint blue line appears on the pregnancy test, there comes a complete mental shift in attitude, long before any physical changes are apparent. The carefree, party-til-dawn kinda girl is immediately replaced by a responsible vision of virtue, much like the revered Virgin Mary herself.
Whether the newly-discovered foetus in her womb was the result of a drunken quickie or carefully-planned conception, it makes little difference once the nurturing instinct kicks in. No sooner has the pee dried on the plastic stick than she's tossing that half-empty bottle of Malbec in the wheelie bin and snapping up the Marlboro Lights in disgust. The devil's horns of yesterday's vices are discarded along with the duck liver pate in the fridge, cast aside with the blue cheese and the sushi. Out comes the halo and the wholesome holistic lifestyle. Mung-beans and muesli are on the mummy-to-be menu. For now she is about to enter Life: Part 2.
Shit's about to get real.
Of course, she always knew this day would come. Usually, it's a welcome relief. As much as she loved the clubbing circuit and hectic social scene, she was secretly growing a little tired of the accompanying hangovers, the wasted Sundays (in both senses of the word). Now she can decline the invites with a simple sage pat of the tum, without the insistence that "you simply must come!"
But what about the 1 in 5 women for whom this joyous day never arrives? Those of us who went from dreading a positive test in our younger years, to positively yearning for one later on? Those of us who end up in all manner of awkward positions, mentally and physically, as a steady stream of health professionals peer, prod and poke our vulnerably exposed bodies, shaking their heads forlornly. As the realisation dawns after yet another failed fertility treatment that the day will now never come. What then?
Well, we smile and congratulate every friend, colleague and female relative as they make their announcements, beaming with happiness. We dutifully attend baby showers proffering gifts of baby clothes and toys (or hand over the ones we'd previously bought for ourselves, for our own future families). At this stage, we are still able to contribute to the constant baby-related babble; ironically, having been through years of fertility procedures and spent countless hours researching online, we know more about the subject that most actual mothers.
Later, we hold the gurgling new arrival in our arms, hoping that the mother doesn't catch sight of the tears we're fighting to quell. She never does; she's in a drug-fuelled fug of love hormones, intoxicated by oxytocin.
Our lives take on a limbo-like quality as we limp along, smiling sweetly and doing all the things we've always done, as there's no good reason to change. We're the Peter Pans of the party scene, for whom the parenthood fairy never visits to sprinkle her baby dust and declare "Enough! The party's over! Now for the meaningful stuff...."
And that's the tough part. Whilst all our friends are now knee-deep in nappies, busily planning play-dates and lunches with like-minded mummies, us Non-Mums are left smiling along, standing awkwardly on the sidelines of society, our existence barely acknowledged. It feels as though we're driving the wrong way down the motorway of life.
Everywhere we look we're reminded of the ease of procreation: in the creche-like coffee shops on our lunch breaks or the many Baby On Board badges on the morning commute; those lucky ladies cheerfully counting down the days until they can wave goodbye to the office politics and welcome their Mini-Me.
Henceforth follows years of carefully deflecting the endless enquiries of well-meaning strangers:
"So, how many do you have?.....How old are your kids?" ...."Oh, did you not want any?"
Questions that are hard to answer without either choking up, getting into a full medical history or simply sounding rude.
Suddenly, around the late thirties mark, the interrogation mercifully stops, as people become aware they're now in dangerous waters with those fishing questions. The relief is short-lived, however, as it becomes apparent that the inquisitive look in their eyes has been replaced by something far worse. Pity. Sometimes, other women hint at selfishness : a shallow personality explaining the lack of children. Okay, so I have my nails done and go on holiday from time to time....wanna swap?
It takes time to accept the life unexpected. To move on. Allow yourself to mourn the family you've lost; just because there's no body doesn't mean there's no bereavement.
Life has given us lemons, so we've made lemonade...and then found ourselves with no-one to serve it to.
So we add ice and vodka.
And rejoin the party.
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