Reading Penni’s meditation on the choice to have – or not to have – children – I have been thinking about my own choices. As she points out, it’s a discussion that is somewhat fraught, because not everyone makes the same choices, and not everyone is given these choices to make, and the pain of this can be terrible.
I was never possessed with a burning desire for children but I always assumed I would have them one day. I remember realising in my early twenties that yes I did want a family of my own, but it wasn’t forthcoming at that time, so I quickly turned my focus back to other affairs, like stories about dragons, European cities, and medieval poems. As I progressed through my late twenties it remained clear to me that I wanted children at some point, and I remember discussing this with Michael, telling him that he needed to think about whether this relationship was really long term or not, because if it wasn’t, I needed to know.
My desire for children at this point was intellectual, deferred. I had never had much to do with them.
The other consideration, of course, was career. If you finish a PhD aged 30, you really need to factor in several years of post-doc work, if you’re lucky, most likely preceded by several years of patchy contract teaching, trying to write, research and publish at the same time, and if you are lucky enough to get a permanent position at the end of all this you need to be prepared to move to wherever in the world this might be on offer. Which would mean, if I did everything right and was lucky as well, I might get a permanent position in five or six years. But where would that be? And where would that leave us? I decided not to find out.
So there were a multitude of little choices. I chose to move to Norway. I chose to accept a job there that had nothing to do with my career prospects but would provide not only an income but paid parental leave. Just in case.
As I finished my PhD we both started thinking about it and wanting it more and more. Michael was very keen. And in the end it was pretty much a physical compulsion to stop taking the little pills. My body wanted babies. And my mind, and my heart, and my partner agreed. We expected it to take a while.
We got pregnant immediately. Shortly after this, it went spectacularly wrong, and we were faced with a much more difficult decision.
We conceived again quickly, but the four months between ending my first pregnancy and discovering my second were painful and strange. I hadn’t anticipated how vulnerable you suddenly become, when you decide to say yes, let’s do it, let’s see. Because it’s not really a decision to do or to make or to achieve something, it’s a decision to let life happen, to open yourselves up to transformation and change which may or may not come, and often not in the way you expect, or at the times you had planned.
And now we are a family and our lives are changed and we are changed. We are only at the very beginning, and we are feeling our way forwards. We are learning how to balance our needs and our desires with the very pressing needs and desires of our little one. Michael reckons we should have got started five years earlier. I don’t. I relished the freedom and confidence and geographical, social and intellectual exploration of my late twenties. But right now I am entranced, challenged, and utterly in love with this little being we brought into the world. (And of course still exploring the world and relationships and ideas, but in different ways.) It is a marvelous adventure.