Caroline O'Donoghue: 'Thirty might sound like a bit late for motherhood to be first occurring to me'

Caroline O'Donoghue: 'Thirty might sound like a bit late for motherhood to be first occurring to me'

I’m hitting a lot of milestones at the moment. Today is the six-year anniversary of me and my boyfriend’s first kiss. Next week will be my 30th birthday. And tomorrow, it will have been two weeks since it first occurred to me to consider having a baby.

1. Thirty might sound like a bit late for motherhood to be “first occurring” to me.

Generally, the possibility “first occurs” to you in your early twenties, and you sort of wrestle with it for a bit and come to a conclusion from there. But for a very long time now I have felt very firm— fixed, strident, slightly defensive even — about not having children.

“But surely, you and Gav are so settled,” friends and family would say.

If you were to get pregnant — well, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, would it?

2. But it would, I protested. The idea of being pregnant and staying pregnant filled me with not just horror but a sense of perverse injustice, like a teenager being forced into marriage.

“But…” my mother said to me, utterly perplexed. “You’re not a teenager.”

This was huge, coming from my mother, a woman who refers to me as ‘The Baby’ to her friends. It’s not that I don’t like children. I love being an aunt, and I think babies are nice, and I’m a big fan of how they slump against my boob and fall asleep whenever I hold them.

I’m not afraid of nappies or hard work. I’m not afraid of having crap smelly clothes for a while, because my clothes have always been a bit smelly, and a bit crap.

3. For me, the fear around motherhood is the fear around losing everything I’ve worked so hard to attain: namely, a life where I get to write all day, every day.

It was my only dream growing up, and the only thing I’ve sincerely worked at.

And I have it. It happened. It’s done. But like a dragon suspiciously guarding its treasure, I am convinced that this will be taken from me.

The nature of my work is that I sit at home all day and try to write things, and I’m afraid a baby will destroy that. That I will never focus on anything again, that I would loathe my own child for taking away my writing career, and that this would manifest itself as resentful, Joan Crawford-style mothering.

I am afraid, in essence, of giving up a job I am good at, for a job I think I will be bad at. So I’ve shut that door in my head. And mostly, I have felt fine about it.

4. Until two weeks ago. I can’t pin it on any one factor, but a combination.

Turning thirty is the most obvious one, but it isn’t necessarily the most relevant.

The fact is that spending a long time locked in my house with my boyfriend has made me realise what a good team we are, how long our patience thresholds are with one another, and that during every single boring Groundhog-ish day of the coronavirus, he has made me laugh.

Being in a pandemic and having a newborn aren’t exactly similar situations, but are parallel in the sense that they both involve a lot of time solely depending on one another for comfort.

5. Once I allowed that thought, the first few gentle waves of broodiness started to descend on me at odd moments in the day. Not so much cooing and fantasising as just admitting to myself that it would be interesting.

Interesting to have a very small friend. Interesting to see how the dog would get on with it. Interesting to see whether Gav would become one of those creepy dads who’s obsessed with his Little Princess; interesting to see whether I will become one of those creepy mums who always acts like she wants to get off with her own son.

6. I start to realise that my fear about my career is much less a dragon guarding treasure and more Schmiegal from Lord of the Rings, so focused on gazing at the prize that real life wastes away in the process.

“The thing about the writing,” Mum says, briskly.

Is that if it really matters to you, you will make it happen. It wasn’t easy before, and you made it happen.

7. I realise that this will not be a surprising — or even vaguely interesting — revelation for most readers. A woman gets older and realises she may want children after all.

A couple matures and begins to consider their future. This is not an announcement that I am going to start trying for a baby right away, or next year, or even the year after that.

To be perfectly frank, I’ve had no guarantees that I’m even able to have a baby. It’s just something that we all assume we can do until we discover we can’t. But the idea feels real to me for the first time in my life, vivid where it once seemed troubling and murky.

It’s a less easy milestone to point to than a big birthday, I’ll admit: “April 15th was the day I began to consider possibly reversing my thoughts on motherhood” is not a headline. But it feels important to mark, to jot down, to write about.

Maybe in a few years I’ll take a box of old newspaper clippings down from the attic, and show them to my small friend, and say this — this was the day I changed my mind.

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