No Woman No Child.

Fuwairit

Travelling with children didn’t come naturally to me. Actually, forget the traveling, having children didn’t come naturally.  It’s fair to say that when it came to motherhood I wouldn’t have been nominated as girl most likely. There were no maternal urges, but the minute I knew G and I were having our first child it all changed. My party girl habits were curbed while I analyzed baby books, added folic acid to the shopping list, and searched for car seats and strollers.

That first pregnancy was a confusing nine months. I wasn’t smoking, barely drinking, and so many of my usual haunts lost their appeal. Friday night drinks ceased to move into boozy dinners followed by a 1.00am nightclub visit which involved shooters and jumping on the stage with the band. For the first time in years I felt no need to organize a boozy wine tour to the Barossa, and as I got bigger and slower I noticed that so much of the conversation around me was actually focussed on me. “How are you feeling?”  “When are you due?” “Do you know what you’re having?” “Will you find out?” “Have you had morning sickness?” “Are you craving anything?” It appeared that friends and colleagues couldn’t ignore the elephant in the room, literally.

When our precious bundle arrived I realized that pregnancy was only the beginning. Breast or bottle? Cloth or disposable? Stay at home or head back to the office? Part-time or Full-time? There was so much advice, so much discussion, and somehow I joined it, almost reveled in it. One morning in Jakarta I sat with a new friend discussing the idea of putting the bottle of breast milk in the microwave rather than a heated saucepan as if my child would explode if I was to make the wrong choice. All decisions at that stage required referral to subsection 2, paragraph 3 of the latest baby bible for an answer. We were both away from home, muddling our way through it, terrified something was going to go wrong. On occasions if I managed to make any successful change it had to be documented. “I fed from the left breast, wrapped her in the green muslin, took three steps to the right, lunged to the left, and that seem to settle her. I’m going to try it again tonight.” I’d announce to G who very cleverly nodded in full agreement while silently thinking who are you psycho mother and what in the hell have you done with my well adjusted wife?

But naturally like many parents before me, I began to relax as time went on. When baby number 2 arrived I didn’t join a baby group, I gave up on the green muslin having special powers, and I had no idea which breast I fed from. Having not broken the first child I’d gained some confidence. By the time I had my 3rd baby the books had gone to goodwill, and by the 4th baby my biggest accomplishment was if we were all fed, clothed and occasionally clean – rarely did I meet all three goals. Within those six years of arriving home to four different houses in four different countries with four new babies, there were many times I cried in the shower, took myself outside to count to ten, or looked in the mirror and wondered who in the hell I’d become.

I often wonder who Kirsty with no children would have been. Would G and I have travelled as much? Would we even have gone? Would we have survived if it was just the two of us. I have no idea. You know when people say something is unimaginable? A life without G and my children has become truly unimaginable, I can’t picture it. Me, the girl who was single until she was 30.

G and I went out to dinner with a girlfriend recently. Towards the end of the meal we struck up a chat with the couple at the table next to us. They also had a place at the beach nearby, we introduced ourselves, talked about the neighborhood, favourite haunts, why we were there, and why we lived overseas. The conversation then turned to children. “You have 3? Oh, we have 4. How old are they? Boys or girls?  We also have an eleven year old girl! We should get them together! Do they like it here? Are they playing sports? Where are they at school?”

As the conversation moved on I noticed my girlfriend becoming quieter, withdrawn. When we got home she explained to G and I that as lovely as it was that we tried to include her, she really felt quite invisible, and that it happens often. Not just with us. There was nothing to say, she was right. We’d taken the conversations down a path without thinking of her or whether she wanted to go there.

I was reading an article yesterday about the advantages of being childless and saw a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert.

“Women without children are perfectly capable of being happy. What they’re often missing isn’t kids, but a society and a culture that values and respects them.” 

I became so consumed by my babies that I now cannot imagine who I would be without them. This has nothing to do with career aspirations or a loss of identity, I’m fairly sure I could be running a software company and be feeling the same way. It’s because they arrived like atomic bombs in my heart and in my life. Everything changed, exploded, feelings amplified. And after the bomb was dropped life never resumed as it was. Sure, I returned to a world where I jumped on stage at the end of the night (G and I nearly got ourselves evicted from a recent Oktoberfest) but my mind has never been clear of he felt like he had a temperature, maybe I should just call, where is the sleepover, what time do we need to be up for soccer tomorrow.

The number of childless women in the US has doubled in the past thirty years, from 10 – 20%. And I imagine those numbers will increase as women find themselves with more options, choices and possibilities. Some will choose and some will have the choice taken away from them. As mothers and girlfriends we need to make sure we’re building a society and a culture that values and respects them – not only for our friends, but also for our daughters.

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