Throughout my teens and early 20s I was fairly adamant that I didn’t want to bear children. I thought that, maybe, I might adopt one day if I really wanted to start a family but otherwise I had no intention of inviting a child into my life on any kind of permanent basis. As far as I was concerned, I had more important and interesting things to do than childrearing.
I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly maternal individual. I have two younger brothers and nearly a dozen younger cousins and, while they’re brilliant humans and I love spending time with them now we are all adults, there were times throughout my childhood where I, precocious and difficult as I was, found being surrounded by young’uns a bit of a chore. This is a failure in myself and not in them, but maybe that accounted on some level to my apathy. When my youngest brother was born I used to spend a lot of time singing to him in his little bedroom, but I was sent to boarding school when I was 8 and he was 3, and missed seeing him growing up. At boarding school I was bullied pretty badly and, aside from a couple of sweet and wonderful friends, it was a rocky decade. To put it simply, I didn’t even like children when I was one.
During my awkward young adult phase at University I was still broadly disinterested in having a kid, and paranoid about pregnancy, especially after having a miscarriage when I was 18, losing an embryo I didn’t even know I’d been carrying. This experience only made me more averse to the idea of ever getting pregnant on purpose. Anyone I dated from 2008 until now will tell you that I am prone to panic, buying pregnancy tests in bulk and squinting at them for the merest hint of a suggestion that my eggs have defied all the odds (and all the contraception), found a stray sperm somewhere and got fertilised without permission. Stupid eggs. Why can’t you just stay in my ovaries until you’re called upon?
Maybe it doesn’t help that, as the eldest in my generation of my extended family, I didn’t know many people around my age with babies. Broadly speaking, that’s still the case. Without spending any real time with small children I had built up an aversion based on my perception of strangers’ babies and toddlers in public places; screaming, mucky, sticky, inconvenient and wearisome. I wouldn’t say I actively disliked children but I sure as hell didn’t want one.
Whichever way I pictured my life, there were no children in the frame. I didn’t quite have a handle on how my career or home life were going to develop but I planned to be too spontaneous, too busy, too chaotically creative and itchy-footed to procreate.
What I did want, and have always wanted, is a life filled with animals. Lucky for me that’s exactly what I’ve had. There were always dogs in my family, but for the last 5 years I’ve had pets of my own, from a small fish bowl (which was fairly quickly upgraded to a tropical tank), to “just one” rabbit (which ended up being 13 adult rescue bunnies and two accidental litters over 4 years), an ill-fated dog adoption, three fostered semi-feral tabby kittens and, finally, two weird, wonderful, stroppy adult cats who have claimed my home for themselves and are kind enough to let me lodge there as their live-in butler.
I don’t know how, with all this in mind, I found myself staring at a negative pregnancy test two weeks ago, filled with unexpected disappointment. I’d taken one because my ever-unreliable period was even later than usual and I was due for a brain scan, which I wouldn’t be allowed to have if I was pregnant. I needed the test to be negative. My partner and I are not trying for a baby, nor are we ready for one. So why on earth was I upset by the result I expected?
As it turns out there are a few possible culprits for my unprecedented broodiness which, looking back, has been making its presence felt more and more over the last year or so. While I don’t think I’m especially affected by the number of acquaintances in my social media feeds who are expecting, or have recently had babies, I do hold my friend Jess partially responsible. Last summer she had her first baby, an amazing tiny person, and spending time with them both has got my uterus glowing. Jess is so capable and so engaged as a mum, and I swear she has magic powers (including a song about corn which stops baby tantrums in their tracks like a mute button). Even her birth story, which is more of a cautionary tale than anything else, didn’t silence the voice in the back of my head saying “You want one of these mini people.”
To a certain extent I think my colleagues have had an impact too. I’ve never worked with so many parents before, certainly not young, creative, ambitious ones. Seeing them juggle parenthood with a hectic and demanding career, in a company that respects their home life, has opened my eyes to a modern parenthood that I saw as an ideal rather than an achievable possibility.
I definitely blame my wonderful partner, Alex, who is already a parent. We were friends for years before we became a couple, and the photos and stories of him with his daughter (who was 4 when Alex and I first met and is 8 now) always made me melt a little. The way he talks about the number one girl in his life means I’ve never struggled with the fact that I am, at best, number two. I have yet to meet her, but I know enough about her to write a compact encyclopaedia. I don’t think anyone has a longing to be a step-parent, but I can’t wait to take a more active role as “daddy’s girlfriend”.
Don’t get me wrong, I (and we) are categorically not ready for a baby. We don’t live together, and my house is still not finished. Technically, though separated, Alex is still married, and although we’ve been friends for nearly 4 years we’ve been a couple for less than 6 months. I’ve only just made it through the probation period of a new job and have barely done any of the things most people want to cover off before introducing the encumbrance of an infant. But, all that aside, I think it’s safe to admit that I’ve changed my mind on motherhood. It might not ever happen, and if it does it shan’t be soon, but one day I would like to have a baby. Maybe. Just the one. Or maybe two. And a dog.