To mother (v)
I am of a certain age.
( I wonder who first coined this phrase, and what was the exact age they were referring to, and were they referring to a man or a woman when it was first said and did they have any idea how the phrase would work itself into our vernacular)
Anyway, I am of a certain age where it is very conceivable (and yes the pun is entirely intended) that I could be a mother. (Please insert your choice of the following three sounds effects; 1.Beginning of the opening bars of Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 — de de dom 2.Sickly sweet sigh — ahhh 3. Nervous laughter). And if I want to be one this is the decade to do it.
The whole concept of being a mother was much easier when I was eight. Back in Primary School my girlfriends and I had it sorted. We would play ‘giving birth’ at little lunch. The births were dramatic and painful and short enough that we had enough time to experience our maternal bliss, deliver each other’s babies, eat our apples and chips, and possible play elastics before the bell rang for class. Those were the days.
I find it amusing, and to be honest a little disturbing, that we used to play ‘giving birth’. Was it practicing? Genetic memory? Cultural Conditioning? Whether I like it or not, the whole motherhood thing has always been there. And it ain’t going away.
It was there in my teenage years. No matter how cool and rebellious my girlfriends and I got, no matter how much black we were wearing (90s grunge, not Noughties goth), no matter what illegal activity we were plotting or cafes we were haunting to agonise over university choices and formal dress colours, the topic of what would you name your children came up regularly. However, when we were teenagers, the idea of being a mother belonged to a very distant future, after we had won our Oscars, worked for the UN and owned our own apartments with harbour views. So that was at least after we were 25. Those were the days.
(NB Those hypothetical conversations on hypothetical babies’ names are still happening. It was only a few weeks ago when I was having dinner at friend’s place when this topic came up. My good friend Rors and I both realised that we both had a particular soft spot for the name Olivia. We laughed it off, but a close observer would have noticed our slightly flared nostrils and that we both made a silent and some irrational vow to get knocked up asap so that we could rightfully claim the name.)
In my university days I was fairly insistent I was not going to have any children. Children were so bourgeois. Indeed, for the majority of my twenties, most of the conversations I had with my girlfriends that even related to motherhood were really about pregnancy; and how best to avoid it. Those were the days.
So, for the last five or so years when anyone has asked me if I am married or have children I have chortled ‘Oh god no. I am way too young for all that’. That has been my answer. It has come from a deep and instinctual place. But as I ascend or descend into my thirties (however you want to look at it) I realise something has shifted. Strangers have stopped referring to me as ‘that nice young girl’ and have started referring to me as that ‘nice young woman’. (and sometimes they drop the ‘young’ and ‘nice’) I am getting invited to baby showers. Hell, I am throwing baby showers. These are my days now.
And it has got me thinking.
See, when I say I am of a certain age, what I really mean is I am of a certain age where I could possible still have a few more lone overseas adventures, some exotic, passionate but ultimately misguided love affairs, a brilliant career, an ethical investment portfolio. And then find the right stud, I mean man, to settle down and procreate. Sounds like a plan.
However, I am also at an age where I have learnt (and learnt and learnt) that there is a limited supply of fairy godmothers out there to grant you your wishes. And even fewer princes who would be bothered to go out of their way to return a lost shoe to a girl.
So, here it is. What if I want children and there isn’t the right man, enough money or enough fertile little eggs? What if being a celebrity becomes a pre-requisite for adopting and that optioned is ruled out? What will I do with my maternal instincts? Or, what if I have children and find out I don’t have any maternal instincts? And then there are other instincts that come into play. I have the instinct to reproduce. It’s quite fun actually. I get the biological drive thing but what about our instincts as human to survive on this planet. With overpopulation and so many people already on this planet in need of looking after, could it just be irresponsible to think about creating more?
And then there is this; the thing about having children is that it inevitably consumes your focus, for most people their families are their world, and as it should be. Blood is thicker than water. But what about the world beyond your family, the secondary world that flashes by on the news or stands next to you on a crowded bus, which begins at the point where all that is familiar to you ends. If blood is thicker than water, well, who is looking after the water? And to be honest, it is the ‘water’ that I have always known I wanted to jump right into.
One night I vented all this to two older friends who, over a few quiet drinks, shared their own thoughts and experiences on the conundrum (And one of them is a man. While we ladies may take up most of the seats when it comes to the issue of motherhood, they are not entirely reserved for us. The fellas have their concerns too).They gave advice, laughed, listened and guided. And later it occurred to me I had been ‘mothered’ on this issue. ‘Mother’, verb, not noun.
And the panic somewhat subsided.
How many ‘mothers’ have you had? How many people have ‘mothered’ you? How many men and women have popped up with sound advice, a loan of twenty bucks the day before pay day, told you to go for it, told you it was ok to give up, gave you a place to stay, a cuddle when you needed one and a kick up the bum when you needed one of those to?
When was the last time you did some ‘mothering’ yourself? What will I do with my maternal instincts if I don’t have children? The same thing I have been doing with them for the last thirty years; giving them to the people around me who needed them. Surely that is a life well spent.
I don’t know if there is a little Olivia or Max (that’s my boy’s name -Hands off!) in my future. It would be lovely if there was, but I am equally sure that life will still be lovely if there is not. What I do know is there are words to be written and new places to be explored, plants to be watered, children to be read to and a world in some serious need of some tender loving care and a smaller population.
And regardless of how many dependents you have or you don’t; some mothering for us all to give and get.
(I dedicate this piece to my mum. And to Max and Olivia)
Written by Gemma O’Donoghue
Read more of Gemma O’Donoghue here: