As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted children. My family is a big one: I have two older siblings, fourteen cousins, thirty-one second cousins and now one nephew and two nieces. From the moment I was old enough to think about my life as an adult, I knew children would be a part of my future because they’ve always been a part of my past.
The idea of my “perfect” family hasn’t always looked the same. I’ve gone through different stages — from considering single motherhood via artificial insemination, to adoption and fostering. The reason for this is that, at age eleven, I was told by doctors that I should prepare myself for serious conception issues. I was told, “You won’t care now, but when you’re older, you should come back to us and we’ll talk you through your choices.” But they were wrong. I did care back then, but I was eleven and had Harry Potter books to read, so I put it out of my mind anyway.
Now I’m nearing thirty and the tick-tock of my biological clock is sounding. I’ve been recommended to have children before 35, which leaves me about six to seven years total to get my act together. The reason for this is because I have a hereditary genetic condition called Incontinentia Pigmenti.
I’ve lived my whole life with this condition and I’m lucky enough that its effects are, in comparative terms, mild. I’m severely short-sighted, have a few eye hemorrhages occasionally, plus syndactyly and "invisible" bone and teeth anomalies. I’m also ginger, but I can’t blame that on IP, unfortunately!
Sad to say that my future child has no such guarantee of a similar mild condition because IP is unique to each person when they’re made. Blindness, brain anomalies, skeletal growth problems and more are serious possibilities for any child born with IP and there is no way to predict an individual’s level of severity whilst in utero. I could have a healthy daughter, or a healthy son, or I could have a daughter with IP, or… well, honestly, a miscarriage if it’s a boy with IP. Getting pregnant for me will be a roll of the dice every time, and my time is running out — I can’t put off motherhood for much longer if I want to maximise my chances of healthy offspring.
I’ve made my peace with all of that. My partner is aware of potential problems, as well as the choices that may come up because of it, and he’s on board 100%. He is also — irritatingly — desperate to start a family; he’d have a baby tomorrow, if he could.
But I’m not ready.
When I was thirteen, my sister gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. As a live-in, active aunt, I remember sleepless nights, early morning feeds, nappy changes, being constantly aware of my surroundings and baby’s activities, being a nurse, playmate, sounding board, teacher, and everything else between. Motherhood is hard work. This time, I won’t be able to give my baby back to its mother at the end of the day, because I will be that mother. I know how much effort and commitment a baby is; children are a 24/7 commitment for the rest of your life. The decision to have a child is a decision to be responsible for another human’s well-being and development for as long as they need you (which is to say, forever).
Is anyone ready for that?
I now no longer want single motherhood. I love my partner and the support he gives me, even if he is both messy and opinionated even when I’m clearly in the right. I’m very glad that, when I start on the next phase of my life, he’ll be with me. But when do I know I’m ready to take that next step? Will my mind switch one day, and I’ll suddenly be a capable multi-tasker with six arms, eyes in the back of my head and an innate confidence that I’m not doing this all wrong? I doubt it, although it would be useful.
And what of my other question — to adopt or not to adopt? Do I pack away my two-and-a-half decades of wanting to see my face reflected in my child’s as biological vanity, and give a home to a child who needs it? When phrased like that, I can’t imagine me ever saying no. I’m the woman who, as a card-carrying dog lover, rescued a fourteen-year-old cat from a shelter because no one else wanted her. She needed a safe and comfortable home for her twilight years, so I took her home with me without hesitation. But adoption, too, brings its own set of complications to the table, and children are not cats (although you might disagree if you ever met my cat. She’s… unexpectedly needy).
There are so many questions attached to impending parenthood and all of them have been asked before, by someone else, somewhere in the world. To my knowledge, there is no answer to this. There’s a checklist, of course.
I’m financially responsible, with a steady job and 14 years' experience of childcare under my belt, including (most recently) how to handle teenage angst and heartbreak. I own my own home, am in a steady relationship with someone I’ve known 13 years and, as yet, have never poisoned myself from my own cooking. My youngest niece often jokes how she wants me to adopt her, much to my sister’s irritation. On paper, I’m ready. In my head, I know I can handle it. If I was presented a baby tomorrow, I know I could take care of him or her without missing a beat. But in my heart, I’m still a thirteen-year-old daydreamer who spends her days planning an around-the-world trip. My mum still claims she feels twenty and my dad sixteen, so perhaps this is normal.
But wanting children and knowing you can handle rearing them… that’s not quite the same as being ready, is it? Ready to give up your life for someone else. The time is coming soon when I need to stop deliberating and choose to have a child, or risk never having one. With that latter option being no option at all, I’m faced with the worrying fact that, perhaps, I won’t be ready until that child is nestled safely in my arms.