32. With the ‘dreaded’ mid 30’s within sight, this is the age from which many women consider their fertility to be a ticking time bomb. It suddenly becomes a race against time on the quest of ticking off all the boxes that our society prescribes. Falling in love. tick. Buying a house. tick. Successful career. tick. What’s next? Why of course, the baby. Many of my closest friends have been encapsulated by this path, giving birth left, right and centre, to the extent that my weekends have gone from boozy brunches and laid back pub lunches to poring over newborns and absorbing the rants of my sleep deprived friends.
Yet I remain riddled with indecision. This isn’t the commonplace ‘undecided’ that many of my peers face, such as the sleepless nights, the giving up of one’s free time and saying farewell to spontaneity and lie ins. Having dogs has meant giving up almost all of those things anyway. To me the ‘undecided’ remains in the crippling fear of my child suffering the same fate as me, the loss of my greatest love, my mother. And as I age and the idea of having a child becomes more and more of a reality, this fear embedded inside of me only grows stronger and deeper.
Let’s get one thing straight. I don’t for one second resent my friends with babies. Far from it. To me, there are few sights more beautiful than seeing someone I adore looking into the eyes of their greatest love and seeing their completeness. A love so deep that it penetrates to your core and you cannot imagine a life without them in it. I know that feeling well. That feeling was mine, before it was suddenly ripped out of my heart leaving me paralysed with the knowledge that I wouldn’t be able to survive it again. This is the emotion that drives my crippling fear of motherhood. I know it exists because I feel it with my dogs. Every time I leave the house I am terrorised by the thought that this could be the last time I see them. We’ve even cancelled holidays in the past because I refused to leave them behind.
You know the saying that ‘it is better to have love and lost than to have never loved at all’? Well I can confirm, with conviction, that this does not apply to maternal love, if you are fortunate to have been touched by it. There is nothing like losing the unconditional and unequivocal love of a mother, at a time when they are your whole world. Friends have said to me that having a child will make me feel whole again and that being a mother may even replace the love I lost when my mother died. I understand that perspective but I cannot see the situation through their eyes. For me, this loss drives me to question whether I should have a child, for the thought of inflicting what I suffered on them is just too much to bear. Yes every mother has deep-set fears about something tragic happening to their child, but this fear somehow becomes more raw, more of a reality when you have felt that loss.
Can I do it without my mother?
The fear of agonising heartache is compounded by that of taking such a monumental step in my life without my mother by my side, for she was the one person I turned to for the most turbulent and distressing periods of my life. She held my hand during my first wax, fed me ice-cream after my first heartbreak (and the subsequent others), guided me through my first breast biopsy and operation and most significantly, sheltered me from the perils of living with and dying from cancer, right to the very end. When I picture myself in a delivery room, feeling terrified, anxious and overwhelmed, my mother is there. When I picture myself emotionally and physically drained, desperate for even a second of respite from the sleepless nights, my mother is there. Yet, reality forbids it.
Being 20 when I lost her, I never got a chance to ask her all the questions I now have about motherhood. I will never have the discussions I know that my friends all continue to have with their mothers, even those discussions which morph into disagreements about how best to raise a child. My child will forever be without a grandmother to shower him/her with love when I am too exhausted to provide it. There is nothing like a (grand)mother’s wisdom and nurturing, and I know that we will always be without it.
Where do I go from here?
I know in my heart that I want a child and if I make the decision to have one, I hope that it happens. That being said, I don’t believe for one second that once I hold my baby in my arms for the first time, the insecurities bubbling away inside of me will suddenly be replaced with love. If anything, having a child and loving said child will only magnify those insecurities further. However, like many aspects of grief, this is something that I know I will learn to accept. I accept that my experience of having a child will be irrefutably different from those of my friends, who lean on their mothers for support and guidance. I accept that the bond I have with my child will be tarnished by the loss I felt when my mother died.
But like many aspects of life: learning to love again, changing careers and finding my purpose, I refuse to let my grief get in the way of my happiness, rather I will find a way of transforming my grief into something magnificent.
Meera Elbay, Founder