For years, it has beaten inside. A rhythmic throbbing that grew so quickly, so loudly, that it merged seamlessly into me. A dull hum that lay within — a backdrop to life’s scenes.
I’ve known for a long time that I want to be a parent. Not knowing in a conscious way… more an underlying assumption. Having a child was never my life’s aim, nor an all-consuming passion. I wasn’t a girl who played with dolls or developed an impressive collection of miniature infant paraphernalia. I was, in fact, a bookish child — thoughtful, quiet and analytical.
In my teens and early twenties, I envisioned being a parent. I just assumed this was how life unfolded. But I didn’t give the idea more than a passing thought. Motherhood would occasionally flicker across my horizon, or dip briefly into my dreams, but it wasn’t a concrete vision. It was more a pale, wan ghost of a future, a glimpse of a me, somewhere, down some road.
And then, as I rambled through my twenties, collecting a partner, marriage and career, motherhood began to coalesce into a solid shape. A decade of travel, work, marriage, upping sticks, country-moving and general merriment disappeared in dust. And the hum, the constant companion, burst into flames. No longer a gentle, unobtrusive presence, it now insistently tugged at my being. It was a burning need. My baby radar kicked into overdrive, and an alien invasion of maternal feelings settled in for the long haul.
I read obsessively about parenting, devouring books and articles on birth and conception. I planned, in intricate detail, the first year of my fake-child’s life. Staring wide-eyed at pregnant women on the bus (sorry about that, lady in the red coat), I felt a trickle of disappointment as each month bled away. I felt gripped by a wave of unfamiliar fever. I’d never really understood when other women spoke about baby fever, and was chagrined to realize I was seized by it.
I dreamed away several years — the perfect birth, my ideal names, daycare arrangements, finances and a million other over-planned activities. And yet, deep inside, I knew we weren’t yet ready for a baby. It pickled my brain — the feelings flew through me whether I wanted them or not.
At times, I grew tired of being hijacked by these uninvited visitors. Other days, the excitement and dreaminess provided welcome refuge from the mundanity of daily life. And one day they simply vanished. Overnight, my captors snuck out of the house and disappeared, leaving little trace of their previously-constant existence.
I have no idea what happened. One minute, I was boiling with the need to have a baby, staring melty-eyed at little ones in the street. The next, I was cold and empty. The desire had extinguished itself, leaving hollow indifference in its place. I riddled over what force possessed the power to do this. Perhaps it was a particularly difficult babysitting session with a screamy, parent-missing girl. Or maybe a heartfelt conversation about parenting with my partner.
But I’ve barely thought about parenthood. I have however, given a great deal of thought to why I no longer think about parenthood.
Once the puzzlement abated, I reveled in the re-discovery of my old, independent, level-headed self. It was a relief to be freed from the ravages of an all-devouring beast. But that beast, for many months, was a companion. A background friend. Company on a long train journey. A pleasant dream. A happy future. Oddly, I felt a little bereft without it.
After a few days, abandonment panic set in. What if the beast never came back? What if I never wanted children? All those years — 29 of them — of assumptions, of a future laid out, of anticipation: gone. Was I the type to be childless? Was that me? Is there even a childless type? I always, always always assumed that I would be a mother. Eventually, some day… but now I am beginning to think I may not want to be at all.