Last week myself and a swim buddy, a married mother of two, were sitting in the warm evening sun after a swim eating chocolate cake, sipping tea and chatting. I have been feeling good lately. A couple we knew came by to say hello. The woman started to tell us about a friend who went to Greece on a swimming holiday and how she had met a man and how it had changed her life. She was now living in a cottage in County Clare with her soul mate and their young twins.
The man of the couple then said to me… “You see Clare. It could happen for you too…” I am 47 years old.
I did ask why he thought my life needed changing, us women did rag him, he did try and get out of it and dug the hole deeper and I then threatened to bury him in it and it was all very good humoured but it left me with a sour taste that has lasted for nearly a week.
Often, as a middle-aged childless woman I feel that I am relegated to a place on the edge of society, that I am struggling to operate in a world not designed for me, that people look down on me, pity me, don’t take me seriously. Because I haven’t made it to those pinnacles of womanhood:relationship, baby. Sometimes I feel I am being paranoid and then someone makes a remark like that and I know I am not.
Feminism was supposed to make it different, open up our lives. To me, feminism has failed. It is quite spectacularly mind-blowing how women, in escaping the tyranny of traditional womanhood, ran out of the enclosure shouting, screeching and burning bras to be nearly immediately herded back into the enclosure of motherhood and yummy-mumminess only now clutching, along with the sweetener of sainthood via motherhood, the booby prize, so to speak, of also getting to be breadwinners too. I mean, duh.
The people doing the herding I suppose were men in the shape of the media because at the end of the day the thing that drives the world to put it crudely, is men getting their hole.
It has to be said that it’s quite smart the way feminism was used in this way to get men additional bonuses:an extra wage, freedom to roam, free sex.
You may think from this that I don’t like men but the opposite is true. I do. I love them. It’s probably why I have never been in a meaningful relationship with one, relationships seeming to me to operate mostly on wifeys contempt for hubby and hubbys desire to have an excuse for bad behaviour. “What did you expect?”
As for the babies, well, to go back to the start. I was a happy child until I got my first period. It’s no exaggeration to say I have been depressed nearly constantly since then. I am not even sure if depressed is the right word. I was suffering a lot of unidentified things:anxiety, stress, low esteem, anger.
I existed in a mental fug for decades. I appeared lazy and unfocussed because,well, I was. I was also terrified. Of everything. I went from confidently roaming my world, adamantly liking pink and purple, jumping into hay bales and devouring cheese on toast to not having a clue what I liked. Not a clue. All fuzz. All misery.
Looking back from the depths of peri-menopause I think now that the hormones that began washing through my body did not agree with me then and continued to not agree for the last three decades. I think now too I understand why my mother was so miserable when we were growing up. She tells me now that motherhood was her biggest joy. I don’t believe her. I was there. I know how hard it was. I do know that she is happier now. I have great hopes for the menopause…
So my adult life has been shit but I am proud of the one decision I was able to make when I was lost in the fug. In my haze of misery I was forced to fall back on logic and rationality and so I determined that whatever it was that was happening to me would never ever EVER be passed on to anyone else. I would not get pregnant until I knew what in the hell was wrong with me.
I was able to make this decision because of the feminism that introduced condoms to Ireland and that allowed me to earn money and made it OK for me to walk into a pharmacy to buy them but also because of the science that invented the pill and the morning after pill. Science that was built by men and some women who were, it has to be noted, free of work of domesticity.
Whatever other regrets I have in my life, the lack of focus, the lack of companionship, the poverty, it is this decision I remain fiercely proud of.
These days, after a decade of therapy(my best therapist told me at the age of 30 that she was surprised I wasn’t dead already) some drink, a small amount of drugs, no drink, health kicks, desperate travel, reclusiveness all accompanied by a continuous low buzz of greyness and loneliness, I have gradually, slowly, painfully come to some hard-won feelings of strength, capability, intelligence, and humour.
I would probably make a good mother now but at 47 I consider myself to old to go that route. I imagine if I have any eggs they are dozing on my ovaries, getting confused about where they left their glasses and using walking frames to get about.
Besides, though there may be desire for children in me, and there has been, I suspect, as in others, it’s the fear of death, loneliness, aging, purposelessness, and emptiness that inspires it and I am used to facing those things down by now. I will continue to do so too.
Having being forced by my foggy circumstances to use logic to maintain the baby decision I have developed other opinions of this all pervasive desire of women to have babies and I am not convinced it is all to do with nature. We are separated from the animals by our use of reason. If we did not have that, we humans would not even be here. Think about it. But that is for another post.
If you think the lady doth protest too much well I do. I am angry. I am living like Alice in an upside down world where no matter what I do, I am a failure, I am lesser, I am of a lower caste than someone who has produced a sprog, something that takes no skill at all whatever about the skills needed to to rear a child, which many, if you ask me, don’t seem to possess either. I don’t even get to go around saying “Dogs and puppies ladies, dogs and puppies!” as it seems to annoy people…well I do say it sometimes 😉
(I like the children I know by the way. They like me too. Also, I have six amazing nephews and nieces.)
Anyway, unlike Alice I am getting furiouser and furiouser.
Everywhere I turn I meet societies contempt for me from the smelly, hungover man who smilingly tells me he wants sex(not especially with me either) assuming I will roll over and present my bits to him out of the supposed desperation of spinsterhood to the special parking spaces(surely you ladies need to work off that baby fat?) to the people who tell me I am too selfish or too weak to have a relationships to the bechildred women who refer to my life as stress-free(huh?!) to the colleague is doing the same job as me yet, due to tax breaks, state income supplements and child support is pulling in literally hundreds more than me a week and who advises me to buy my own house. Like she did. Me. Who can hardly buy a coffee.
I guess all of this would not hurt me so much if I didn’t buy into this child centered world too, to some degree. Its hard not to when you are the minority to the self-righteous majority.
It doesn’t help either that potential allies like the various bloggers and groups springing out of the growing group of older childless women (yes, beware we are advancing…) seem to also be obsessed with children or the lack of them. Silent Sorority is one group. What a fucking name!It conjures pictures of heavily robed and hooded women, silenced and hanging their heads in shame. Jesus ladies lighten up!Look to the good stuff we have.
The shame is pervasive. I know older women that have had wonderfully rich lives but are hounded by the regret of childlessness. I tell these friends how wonderful they are, their lives are their achievements are and how desperately delighted I am they didn’t risk sinking into the dullness that comes to many women sucked into humdrum domesticity so that I have someone to talk to.* But many of them can’t hear me. I may be driven to ask them to adopt me to see if it will assuage their feelings of loss…
*Dear friends of mine who are mothers, you know your are the exceptions or you wouldn’t be my friends.
Feminism was supposed to be the thing that unshackled us to become whoever we wanted to be:successes or failures, business women or beach combers, mothers, artists or accountants, alcoholics, losers, inventors, drifters, dreamers. Instead all is the Mother and the rest of are wannabes. Apparently.
Well fuck the world. I’m as important as anyone. I can love as well as anyone. I used my mind and my will to protect my unborn children, my sons and daughters whom I love as fiercely as you love yours. Or even more.
I walk the beaches now the wind in my hair, no-one to go home to. The sounds of the sea and sky are the voices of my unborn:the daughters I did not have to watch knowing they were facing decades of misery, the sons who did not have to shuffle along to an early death, leaden, weighed down by self-hatred. They are free. They are free because of me. I am strong.
In the meantime I see in my mind’s eye a tiny little cottage somewhere in County Clare. The rain sweeps past over low rocky hills, a tree is twisted beside a broken gate. There is no car there. He is working in Ennis or away, at sea. The thick, faintly damp walls keep out the heat. the tiny windows keep out the light.
Moving past the gate and over the scrubby grass I creep up to the kitchen window, spattered now with drops. Faintly I can hear some wailing, something breaks. A pale, tired face appears at the window, a thin hand pushes some strands of hair back as dark shadowed eyes peer longingly out into the fading light.
“While she slept she had a dream. She dreamt that the Neverland had come too near and that a strange boy had broken through from it. He did not alarm her, for she thought she had seen him before in the faces of many women who have no children. Perhaps he is to be found in the faces of some mothers also.”
Peter Pan, JM Barrie