On the 31st of August last year, on my 41st birthday, I found out that I was six weeks pregnant. Two pink bands on a supermarket-brand pregnancy test in the toilet cubicles at work suggested the possibility, and a blood test at my local hospital confirmed it. On the scale of surprises, this fell somewhere between discovering water on Mars and Serena losing the US Open: not impossible, but…seriously? Back in January, I had agreed to stop taking the Pill; between my geriatric eggs and my husband’s creaking sperm, I reasoned, the chances of anything actually happening were small.
But not that small, as it turns out. So it is that the least maternal person on the planet, whose ovaries go into hiding every time I witness a tantrum in the supermarket — who flees in the opposite direction whenever somebody brings a baby to the office (what if they want me to hold it? What will I do?!) — is now facing the prospect of having one of these alien beings of my very own.
It has taken some adjustment. Since I was five years old, I was very aware that having children one day did not form part of my ambitions. Straight A’s, obviously. A husband? Children? What for? Not having children wasn’t something I felt strongly about either, you understand — I just imagined that the question would resolve itself at some point, like learning to like asparagus or conquering my fear of small talk at buffet tables.
It never did. The years passed by, and my biological alarm clock kept snoozing. At the age of 35, I went through the kind of emotionally exfoliatory divorce that leaves survivors unpleasantly bitter and cynical. I moved in with my parents, drifting into a life of deep depression and listless flings with inappropriately young men. Much of the time, I wanted to die, and I thought about death often. The agnosticism I’d maintained regarding procreation began to harden into a realization that not having children was not only a likely outcome, but a desirable one. I blogged about how I felt, and male readers — always male — would approach me on Facebook or send me mails telling me that I was making a mistake, and that having a child would solve all of my problems.
My mother despaired, quietly. I told her that my younger brother and sister would take up the slack for me, and, being reliable, they did. In my late thirties, it appeared, my childfree state was a done deal: it was never going to happen, and I was fine with that. More than fine.
Then I got involved in a relationship which became very serious very quickly, though I nearly ended it after the man who is now my husband told me that his children had changed his life for the better, and that it could do the same for me. I could think of so many reasons not to want a child — not wanting to pass on my dubious genetic heritage for one thing — if there is a type specimen for the pimply, asthmatic, socially awkward child, it is me — and not worrying about or feeling responsible for the state of the world for another. How could I justifiably bring a life into a world of climate change, extinction, crime and inequality?
And yet here I am, twenty-seven weeks pregnant and counting. According to the app on my phone, the tenant who has taken up residence in my uterus is now the size of a cucumber (38cm, .98kg). Together, we have made it over the hurdles of multiple blood tests and scans for Down’s Syndrome, which at my age is a distinct risk. The baby is a girl, and she seems to be fine.
My husband and our families are unreservedly, genuinely thrilled. I have been working through what has been a fundamental rebooting of my sense of self. I’m still the same hopelessly unmaternal, impractical person who loves wine and work and travel and sleep, and now I am doing something that (let’s be honest here) happens to be mildly to completely incompatible with all of those things. This is as far from my comfort zone as it is possible to be without tying myself to the end of a bungee rope and flinging myself into space.
All of the assumptions I have nurtured about myself and the meaning of the life I lead have been rendered moot by the simple fact that, inside me, a small person sucks restlessly at a tiny thumb and a heart throbs at 146 bpm.
That heartbeat is all the questions of existence made flesh. I hope that the answers that we come up with together, this little person and I, will be good ones.