A recent article about famous women’s reactions to childlessness had me thinking about my own situation as a woman with no children, especially how much my feelings on this subject have changed over the years. The full spectrum of feelings we experienced through our journey regarding having kids really is something we wouldn’t be able to guess if we hadn’t experienced it first hand.
As a young woman I never really imagined having children and certainly didn’t yearn for any like other girls did, and yet, contradictorily I always saw myself ending up married with kids, such is the effect of a heteronormative context. In my early teens I can remember making a pact with my friend Christina that we would meet in a certain pub just around the back of the Tate Gallery in Pimlico on January the 1st , 2000 and re-associate ourselves and introduce our respective husbands and family. We were worried we might be too old by that date to have kids afterwards (aged 28!), so we should have them by then, for sure.
This childish dream shows just how unrealistic we were at that age. Not only were we not too old at 28 – heck women have kids in their early 50’s these days – but there was no way on earth either of us was going do trawl our families together on the 1st of January in the millennium with such a inevitable hangover. Of course, the biggest assumption is not only the existence of kids but of a husband at that age, neither of which I had (Christina in fact was married with kids by then I have since heard, maybe she even turned up?!) The assumption of a central role being played by kids – and the absence of a seriously appreciated career, I was just starting up shooting porn with my company Easy on the Eye at that age – went unchecked at that young age.
At age 20 I had an abortion. I knew that it was going to be the only chance I had at having a child, even then because I had a rather rocky road with my cycles from the start so I figured things were never going to be easy. Still the decision was easy, I wanted a youth full of adventure, not of nurturing another child. My female friends at the time noted I wasn’t ‘upset enough’ but deep down I knew that was because of social conditioning, of them, not a failing of mine.
When I met my husband in my mid thirties I was like most women, well aware of my rapidly aging body and the infertility that comes with it. Once married, we discussed whether to try for infertility treatment and we both agreed that we felt ambivalent, we could take kids or leave them, but it made sense to try, just in case the dreaded “what if?” hit us in later life and we hadn’t even tried; such an omen plagues the imaginations of all childless people I’m sure.
We were lucky, I got pregnant immediately and remained so for a good two months until the bleeding came like a sign from nature that I was never meant to have kids, the truth I knew from my teens. No wonder they make warning and stop signs red, it makes complete emotional sense, red is never as red as blood.
The next few times we became completely enwrapped in our striving to have kids; nothing seemed more important. We even gave up drinking alcohol for that 3 ½ year period. I kept losing them or not getting pregnant and each time the doctors said that there was no reason we couldn’t conceive, and so the carrot gets pulled along always just out of reach, bringing you further down as it goes on. Confusion is the main memory I have of that time, such constant conflicting emotions, such a lack of self knowledge looking in the mirror when your very identity relies on entirely on your biology.
Our final attempt at fertility treatment involved a Harley Street clinic that offered a boot camp experience where they took multiple phials of blood out of me daily as they stuffed me full of a drip bean immunosuppressant to stop my body attacking anything. But still the two little hearts stopped beating one day and that was that. It took my catching septicaemia (blood poisoning) which needed intensive hospital care and four pints of blood transfusing, along a scan of my womb that looked like a chalk drawing of various types of odd-ball cartoon characters for us to realise, having a baby is not worth dying for and it was never going to happen for us. That didn’t stop us trying surrogacy with a dear friend with the remainder eggs, which alas didn’t work either. That just felt like spreading our pain onto another innocent person. We were so pleased to hear recently that she is expecting twins of her own, it felt like poetic justice, she definitely deserves it.
So then we were left not so much bereft but confused. The route of least resistance turned out to be full of obstacles. That we once were ambivalent to having kids was a distant memory. And all around us people catching pregnancy like the common cold.
But I have to say that since then both our feelings have changed significantly. My near death experience helped to wipe the slate clean, to take us back to being a couple that focused on each other rather than children. A couple of years ago I heard another woman who is married with no children talk about how good her marriage is compared to her friends that have them. It struck a cord so I told Tim and we both agreed, not only are we blessed with a lack of children in our marriage but that the experience has brought us together, we were definitely stronger for it.
What people with kids perhaps don’t see is how so many of them secretly declare their frustrations with their children, and sometimes their envy of those without them when you mention that you weren’t able to have kids. It happens surprisingly a lot. I now have the view that having kids is very much a mixed experience and there is a lot of sacrifice that goes a long with them. I always knew that, I was never the naïve type that thinks it is all about cuteness, but the relentlessness nature of parenting is something else. It happens every day, without respite. I still look at couples with children and wonder whether on balance its best to have them or not. There are certainly a lot of people who are terrible parents who ostensibly appear to regret having them yet would never voice as much in public. It’s one of those things in life where you can’t sit on the fence, you either have your genes passed on or you don’t, you either like your kids’ personalities, or you don’t.
Anyway, there are plenty of ways to be a parent, to other people’s kids or to animals, for instance, or to leave a cultural legacy. All right, I don’t get to pass on genes, but I did make a shed load of films instead, most of which I like. I rather enjoy having the freedom to parent two whippets and move half way across the world, away from being down the road of the second best school in the country, which would have otherwise chained us down in Kent for many years. Whippets are cheaper too, we get to eat and drink pretty much what we like each month, and you can leave them alone for a few hours from a young age.
So I don’t really see myself as “childless” but as having a different type of life that has other joys in it, joys I probably wouldn’t have with the presence of children. But most of all I’m so pleased Tim and I get the time to say “love you, love our life” everyday. Plus we get the time to scrib the whippets behind the ears as much as we want. That can’t be so bad.