Follows on from The Things We’ll Miss.
Herbert agrees to draw up a pregnancy bucket list with me. I expect a gushing-forth of profound longings and long-held ambitions, but I am wrong. Instead, he says,
‘Do you really want to skydive? You’ve never mentioned it before.’
‘Yeah I’d like to skydive.’
‘I think I read somewhere that you have a one in four chance of breaking a bone when you skydive.’
‘So you need to be in a fit state to drive me to hospital if anything bad happens.’
‘Right. So we can make a list, but only if you approve it?’
‘No. Well…yes. Oh okay, you can skydive if you really want to. But it had better be bloody important to you. And I’ll be pissed off if you break your ankle.’
After that, he’s out of ideas. But as it turns out, so am I. When I try to pin down my sense of anxiety about what I’ll lose by having a baby, it’s vague and elusive. It centres around a fear that I’ll lose my identity, or have to abandon my own dreams. But, somehow, I’m not quite sure what those dreams actually are.
What’s more, the rebel in me is appalled at the notion that a child will stop me from doing anything at all. I’m full of the urge to challenge the notion that I have to put myself under house-arrest just because I’ve reproduced.
But I know, too, that few people manage to get through the experience without sacrificing something. The question is, do we only actually surrender the things that don’t matter to us anyway? And are we sometimes grateful to move on to the next phase, setting aside the parts of life that we’ve long since grown out of?
In any case, after much debate (and no small amount of bickering: ‘Your ideas are rubbish!’ ‘You’re oppressing me!’), we finally come up with a list. Some of these are mine alone, but some are joint aims. In no particular order:
1. Throwing a final after-pub party, where everyone dances in the kitchen until the early hours of the morning.
2. Learning to be fit as a part of everyday life.
3. Developing a regular meditation practice, that won’t get lost when the baby comes.
4. Going to see the Northern Lights.
5. Confronting our joint fear of anything to do with being a parent.
6. Getting my career in order.
7. Learning to dance the tango.
8. Working out how to have good (read: ‘useful’, ‘entertaining’ and ‘productive’) evenings in.
9. Indulging in grown-up pleasures – the stuff that children would ruin if they were there: city breaks, expensive restaurants and art galleries.
10. Finding role models who are mothers.
11. Herbert still maintains that he wants to sky dive.
And we’re making a start next week: we’ve booked tickets to Tromso, Norway’s ‘Paris of the North’, where a sighting of those Northern Lights is as near to guaranteed as it can be. I can’t wait to get started.
I tend to see life as an upward curve, and difficulties as problems that have yet to be solved. My glass is not half-empty; it just has room for the aromas to circulate.
And yet, the first trimester of pregnancy floored me. Despite the fact that this was about as far from an accident as possible – we’d thought it through for thirteen years, for goodness’ sake – I was swamped by pessimism. Clearly, few people feel entirely jolly when they’re permanently exhausted and nauseous, and are additionally on high alert lest this turns into their third miscarriage. But there was something extra here, a dredging-up of fears and anxieties that I’d never been conscious of before.
Who the hell was I? Laying on the sofa for hours at a time, there was little else to do but inventorise my life. I was happy with everything, as long as it was a work in progress. My twenties had been devoted to laying foundations, learning to create a stable relationship, making a home, working out how to become a writer, finding work that interested me. I felt like I’d made a slow start, but had plenty to build on.
But there loomed the great unknown. What would a baby do to me? Sure, I understood that there would be huge changes – I wanted those changes. But would there be any room left for me as an adult, who needed to achieve things? How would I ever find a balance between the baby and my ambitions? In my imagination, motherhood became claustrophobic, lonely and desperate. I could only picture myself stuck at home, bored to tears and desperately conflicted. I hated myself for putting such a negative spin on such a wonderful event, but equally, I felt engulfed by a tide that I couldn’t push back. I was terrified.
After a few months, this tide washed away as suddenly as it had flooded in. I had come to terms with a few things. This is the biggest rite of passage you’ve ever been through, I told myself. It was comforting: I was enduring a test that millions of other women had endured before me. It was okay not to cope, to take my time in understanding it all.
I was haunted by the thought that I wasn’t enough of a grown-up yet, that I’d always imagined I’d do so much more before I became a parent. I thought I would have seen more of the world, had a stable career in place, become a bit more, well, interesting. I thought I’d be routinely invited to glamorous parties full of fascinating people, to which I could sneak out in a gorgeous, perfumed haze that my children would still recall with great awe in their later lives. I thought, frankly, that I’d be able to afford good childcare. But here I was, slightly skint, with a peeling bathroom ceiling and a blank space where my future should be.
But then I hit an idea: there was still time. In December, I got my energy back, and was overtaken by the urge to turn out every last cupboard and drawer. And I felt like I needed to sort out the less tangible things in my life too, the emotional cupboards and drawers in which I’d stowed things away for an unknown future date when I’d know what to do with them.
Barring the vomity bits, the forty weeks of pregnancy can be seen as time to prepare, with a clear deadline at the end of it – hopefully. I decided to make a list of all the things I want to do before the baby comes – a kind of gestational ‘bucket list’, if you will – and work my way through them over the next few months. Some of them are about taking stock of life, some are just plain fun, and some of them are loving goodbyes to the things I’ll miss, even if only for a short while.
Tomorrow I’ll be sharing my list; but in the meantime, tell me yours. If you’ve already got children, what are the things you did, or wish you’d done, before the birth? If you’re planning children in the future, what would you like to achieve before that happens? And if you never want to have children, what are the things that you think you’d lose?