I didn’t have a pram in the hall to destroy the possibility of me making great art. I had a second-hand pushchair. I had very little actually, not merely out of poverty but because when I had a baby the idea, seemingly crazy now, was to travel light.
To stay on the road. Child in tow. I continued my studies, as I was in the second year of my degree when I got pregnant. She was born in October, I worked while she napped, and got a First. Two more children came so the road was not only taken, it was well trodden.
Now I find myself in discussions often with women who desperately want to have a baby and can’t physically, or won’t for a tickbox set of daft reasons: waiting for the right time, or the right man. They are sadly talking to the wrong person, since I know what “mothers” are meant to say but I can’t really be arsed to trot out the clichés.
I don’t fully believe them for a start. Motherhood is meant to make you understand love in ways you never knew possible. The emotional state of motherhood is meant to be elevated, and so the practical support for anyone not in this elevated state is zilch. Motherhood is where self-indulgence and self-sacrifice meet. It’s all weird.
So I often think about the road I didn’t take of child-free fabulousness – and I am not being sarcastic. I think my life would have been different but great. When my girls have screamed at me at various times, “I don’t know why you even had me”, the only answer is selfishness. Yet it is the child-free who are deemed somehow selfish in our culture. In my other life, unencumbered by small children, I would have travelled more, taken more risks, written wonderful books, had more or maybe less stupid men. Maybe I would have learnt what others do? Baking? Gardening? Trepanning? Some kind of bullshit mindfulness? Maybe I would be less restless. But even as I write that, I know it’s crap. My children have given me structure I could never have imposed upon myself. Contrary to the famous Connolly quote, I could easily have gone astray and produced precisely nada.
I think of the other life on the high road of the child-free, and part of that fantasy is that I would have concentrated my energies and done something really worthwhile. Without dull domesticity I would have been liberated. Just like all those idiot blokes spaffing nonsense about never needing anyone else.
I just fear for me it would have involved simply going round in circles and describing it as freedom.
The road I didn’t take is a noble path for some. A steep old climb. I utterly respect it and bow down to it. I wish children really did belong to all of us and not become the ultimate privatised commodity. That is the road I wish we all walked together.