There was an article this morning in The Guardian by the journalist Bibi Lynch, which you can read if you you click on this link.
I read it this morning and it has been swishing around in my brain ever since. There is a kind and beautifully thoughtful response to it here.
I have since posted it on Facebook and got a variety of responses from women friends, some of whom have children, some of whom do not. The ones who do not are women who I esteem greatly (and the ones who do!). They are women who have tried, and so far been unable to have children. We have talked about their situations in the past and I have nothing but sympathy for them and the greatest respect for what they have been through. They are brave women who have gone through great sadness and difficulties, and some of whom continue to suffer in their attempts to conceive.
I wrestled over whether to post the article on Face Book and as to whether to blog on here, as I do not wish to be seen to diminish or to be disrespectful of what they have gone through. I write the rest of this post as a response to what I see in Bibi Lynch’s article, not as an attack as to the rights of women who do not have children to complain about their lot, or to express their feelings about what they have suffered.
Hunker down. This is a long one.
The gist of the article by Lynch, if you don’t want to read the original, is that Lynch is saying that mothers who moan about the trials and tribulations of motherhood should get over themselves and shut up.
She elaborates that the reason for her fairly unsympathetic stance is the fact that she herself is not in a position to have a child. She has never found the right partner, she is too old for IVF, and biologically time is running out for her.
She also seems to be surrounded by people intent on rubbing her nose in it, and feeding her a pack of lies about what it means to be a mother.
For which I am sorry, and can only conclude that she needs to pick her friends more wisely.
She is now bereft, as she claims that the love between a mother and child is the only true expression of love that counts and that a woman who does not have a child is somehow an empty husk who has never fulfilled her true purpose on this earth.
She is obviously very hurt and very angry and very sad at the position she finds herself in. I do sympathise with her pain. Truly, I do.
I paraphrase, and maybe I am doing her a disservice, but I think not.
I really struggled with this article for these reasons:
It is not that she could not have a child, biologically. She chose, for various reasons, not to have a child or to try for a child until she was in her forties. She could have had a child through any one of a number of routes in the past, or at least tried to conceive, and she chose not to. She chose this, nobody else did. I understand that she now regrets this decision, but this is not a valid reason for wanting everyone else to shut up.
We all make choices we regret. Some have devastating consequences. We do the best we can at the time. Sometimes the result is painful, and it is fine to get angry and upset about it. It is not fine to put the responsibility for your pain on other people’s shoulders. It seems from the article that Lynch seems to think she might feel better if those of us with kids would just shut up about it. This is nonsense.
She may still be able to have a child, one way or another. Adoption is a possibility. She could choose a surrogate parenting route. She could foster a child. She could go to another country and look at their laws regarding IVF etc. She has no ties. She clearly has a decent income and an education. There is nothing to stop her looking at these options except her own beliefs about what it is to be a parent.
I am not saying these are easy choices or options. I am not even saying they are desirable. What I am saying is that parenting is not as cut and dried as she makes out. I am saying that she still has choices and that maybe things do not need to be quite so terrible as she makes out. I am also saying that there are a lot of children out there who need someone to love them, and if she wants to experience fulfilment through her love and care of a child, that door is not yet shut to her unless she wants it to be.
She claims that she is not unsympathetic to mothers, but that all the problems of parenting are finite and surmountable, so we, as parents should shut up whining about them. I find this a completely reductive and frankly stupid statement. Having a child with cancer for example is not necessarily one you can solve overnight. Having a child who is disruptive and angry, a child who hates you, an autistic child, a child who won’t eat, sleep, stop crying. These are not small, insignificant problems. These are not things you just shrug off and smile about. These are things which can be harrowing, soul destroying, ruin your marriage. These are things that can eat up every waking moment of your life and shatter your sleep and your sanity, and at worst, make you hate your own child, which is an awful thing to have to feel.
Children are not objects that are born to make you feel better about yourself. They are not a box of chocolates or a relaxing bath. They are human beings, you and me, only small, and totally dependant. They are not finite and surmountable. They are 24/7, but sometimes it feels longer.
In a nutshell, what she is saying is that we should all feel sorry for her, and people in the same position as her, but that she doesn’t have to feel sympathy for anyone who is in a position she wishes she were in but can’t be. I find this attitude extremely selfish. I understand that she feels under attack, but lashing out so irrationally in the national press seems like a futile way of trying to even the score.
This might sound like sour grapes. After all, I am one of those mums she hates. I am one of those women who are lucky enough to have their life completed by the joy of having children. I have fulfilled my biological destiny, according to Bibi.
I am also one of those women who whinges about the difficulties of being a parent. Which apparently is very bad form.
Here is the thing.
I do have genuine sympathy for Bibi’s predicament. I lost children before Tilly, and Tilly was my last chance at getting pregnant. I was so devastated by my miscarriages, and my ectopic pregnancy I had reached the point of giving it one last try and then stopping. I was raw with grief, and totally ripped up by the desire to have a child. I wept when I saw children playing with their mothers in parks, women cradling babies in their arms. I am not unsympathetic.
If you want children and you cannot have them, it is miserable, and painful and unbearably sad. I have utter and total sympathy for women who want to have children, and for whatever reason cannot. Including Bibi Lynch.
But, even when I was in the throes of being quite mental with grief, I never blamed other people who had what I couldn’t have, for being able to do what I couldn’t. It isn’t anybody’s fault. Would that it were. That would make everything so much easier.
I sympathise with her anger. Her article reads like the feelings of someone who is struggling in a morass of grief, and it seems like she really needed to get this off her chest. But it is not anybody’s fault. If every mother in the land shut up about the trials of living with little Johnny it wouldn’t make her feel any better. I suspect, in the emotional state she is in, this would perhaps just make her angry in a different way.
I think Bibi Lynch just needs to be bloody angry. She needs to do what children do, which is lie on the floor and scream and bang her fists and drum her heels and shout: ‘It’s not fair.’ And you know what? I agree with her.
Life isn’t fair. Mostly life is a bit of a bitch, and people are constantly being forced to deal with horrible, miserable situations that are not of their making and which they have to suffer through. Some of those people are parents. Some of them are not. It’s nobody’s fault. It just is. But it’s no good blaming other people for what is inside you, and for something that you have to learn to live with or let go of as best you can, because sometimes you can rail against fate all you like, but it isn’t going to change anything, and if you cannot make your peace it will just keep on tearing you apart forever.
And I would really like to say to Bibi Lynch that her view of parenting is both simplistic and incredibly naive. Having a baby and then raising that baby into a hopefully, healthy adult, is nothing like you think it is going to be when you first embark on that journey.
No book can prepare you. No advice. No course. It is not like anything you will ever imagine.
Yes. It does have elements of what she talks about in her article. It can be joyous and amazing, and there can be an incredible bond of love between you and your child.
But it is not a given, by any means. Recently I have had the great misfortune to meet children who frankly would have been better off without their biological parents, and who wouldn’t understand Bibi Lynch’s picture of the bond between a mother and a child if you drew them a diagram, it is so far away from what their lives are like.
That love, that link, it does not always just appear like magic. Sometimes, and for lots of different reasons, it simply isn’t there, and creating a bond with a child who is, to all intents and purposes a helpless parasite can be really hard going, and sometimes it simply does not go at all, to the great detriment and heartbreak of all involved.
And if you think that suddenly having a child is going to fill that aching void inside of you and make everything alright, and mean that you finally feel whole and complete I am afraid you are on a total hiding to nothing, and anyone who tells you any different is lying to you, and to themselves.
When you have a child it doesn’t know it’s supposed to be there to be a balm and a succour to your incomplete soul. It has no idea of any of the wonderful plans and ideas you have for your and its future together. Mostly it just wants to survive, by any means possible, and putting a weight of expectation on its newborn head for both you and the child is a seriously problematic way to start a relationship that lasts a lifetime.
Having a baby, in my experience, pushes you to the total and utter limits of what you can cope with, physically, emotionally and mentally. It makes you look at who you are and what you are doing. It makes you totally reassess your entire life up to now. It forces you to make choices you never even dreamed you would have to make. It is rather like walking into a fire and coming out the other side with all the chaff burned away.
If you’re lucky.
And how the hell can you know if you’re going to be any good at it, or love it, or take to it, if you’ve never done it before? The people who chose to have children are taking as much of a punt with destiny as the people who chose not to. It is not a this is better than this. It is that this is different than this.
The people I feel sorry for, heart achingly sad for, are those people who have tried, and tried, and tried to have children, who have sacrificed so much, who have given their all and gotten nothing in return. These are the people who deserve our sympathy. I find it harder to sympathise with people like Bibi.
I know she says that she wanted to have a baby with the right man, and she waited for this reason, not because she was a hard nosed career woman leaving everything to the last minute, but I cannot help thinking that if you genuinely think that one day you might actually want a child, you do not leave this particular decision making process until after you are forty. Even with all the advances in modern medicine you are pushing it. In your early thirties medical notes call expectant women ‘old’.
And if you do make that choice, and things go badly wrong, and they look like they have for Bibi Lynch, then you cannot take that out on people who got on and lived their lives differently just because other people didn’t do it like you, and now you wish you were them.
Bibi Lynch sneers at other mothers and their failure to ‘woman up’ to the job of parenting, but if this petulance in print is how she copes when she cannot have what she wants, I wonder how she would behave if she did get the baby in the end?
And as a rather lovely friend of mine said on Face Book in response to the debate:
It breaks my heart to know that you sometimes feel that way, though I don’t even know you. Here is where I say that some of the most amazing people in history, people that really made a difference in this world, never had children. These people enlightened us with their words, their music, their politics, their love, their compassion, their knowledge. Let me know if you need a list. ♥
You do not need a child to complete you. You do not need a child to make you happy with who you are. You do not need a child to feel like you have a right to be on the earth.
You might like to have a child. It is alright to feel this way. It is natural to feel this way, but you have to accept the fact that you do not ‘need’ one, and if you, by some sad circumstance end up in a position where you do not have a child, you need to know that you are absolutely fine, just the way you are.
I do not, by the way, disagree with Bibi Lynch’s right to write this article. I feel sad that she feels that she has to write this article, and I feel very, very sad that she has to attack what she so desperately wants to somehow make herself feel less hurt, and cross and sad and lost.