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"Childbearing is Not Our Only Purpose"


Blimey, it feels like I’ve only been here five minutes and now I’m buggering off for a couple of months, just as I feel like we’re starting to get to know each other.

But I’m eight months pregnant so I’ve really got to head home, get the place ready and scour Google in the hope that there is some breaking news that means the whole baby-delivery process has changed and you no longer have to push it out through an orifice I’m convinced was not intended for that purpose.

I tried for an elective caesarean, but in practice you can only get one if you go privately. And the idea of spending five grand to have myself sliced open was as painful as the alternative, so I’m compromising on an epidural. I wanted one on hand from March, though it turns out you can’t get that either. Sometimes I wonder what I pay my taxes for.

So it’s all quite daunting. Though not quite as daunting as deciding to have a baby in the first place. I suspect this is because, for me, it was a primarily intellectual decision. I had always imagined that it would be the result of some primal, irresistible urge that would threaten to take over my every waking thought and hour until I finally gave into it. But then I realised – that’s never happened to me in any other area of my life. It’s probably not going to happen here.

I am not one of life’s emoters. I build a lot of slack into all my systems to enable me to take calm, reasonable, unpressured decisions. I don’t respond well to stress or external advice or interference. I like to take my decisions seriously, mull over my options and then, more often than not, choose to preserve the status quo. It’s safer that way. Certainly easier.

I consider myself fortunate, therefore, to live in a time in which such a temperament and approach to life can be accommodated even when it comes to such massive gamechangers as choosing whether or not to procreate. Contraception buys us time in quantities unimaginable to our grandmothers and with a reliability unknown even to our mothers. We earn our own money, marriage and relationships are, by and large, governed by choice not economic necessity and so the trade-off of a family for our keep no longer casts the spell it once did. The idea that women’s only true purpose in life is to reproduce is still there (even Helen Mirren has only recently been able to enjoy interviews in which the question of her childlessness does not rear its head) but its hold is loosening. We are now pretty well established as a bit more than the sum of our ladyparts.

We are now pretty well established as a bit more than the sum of our ladyparts.

And yet. It is still not the done thing to admit that you conceived for any other reason than a primeval urge to do so. I only admitted it to myself when a friend of mine and (devoted) mother to a six-month-old said that she had done it because she was 35 and had make the decision as to whether she should risk having a baby before she felt ready or risk missing the boat and dying alone full of regrets. She had the baby and couldn’t be happier. But it was a leap of faith, not the pursuit of desire.

And I feel more or less the same way. My thinking was clarified and my hand forced, when it became apparent, through some blood tests, that my ovaries were thinking of packing in their monthly efforts and going part time, but the news didn’t cause me to collapse in a panic as it would have if I were an earth-mother type. It remained a primarily rational decision. Much as I would like another five years to give the maternal instinct a chance to kick in, I don’t have it. Do I think – knowing everything that I do about myself, my husband, my vaguely held ambitions – that I should steel myself to do it now, as it were, cold or buy into the notion that it is better to risk the dying alone full of regrets thing unless you can conceive your child on a floating cloud of beautiful instincts and maternal urges?

I took my decision and don’t regret it, especially now that I know how many of my up-duffed peers felt the same. We now form a little support group – formerly shamefaced, and still slightly under the radar within our wider circle of fertile acquaintance, but getting bolder.

Ours are all wanted children. We’re just overly rational people – I accept that it’s as possible to be too rational as it is to be too wildly emotional – but that’s our nature. And, as any earth mother will tell you, you can’t change nature. And nor should you try.

Contact Lucy Mangan at lucy.mangan@stylist.co.uk and on twitter.com/lucymangan

Picture credit: Rex Features



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