Monday, 17 October 2011

Grow up? But I don't wanna!

It seems as though everyone around me is growing up. People I went to school with or worked with are all off buying houses and having babies and the like and my Facebook news feed won't let me forget about it. Don't get me wrong, I'm very happy for them all, but as a married woman of child-bearing age I must admit it does tend to pile on the pressure somewhat.

The Yorkshireman and I realised a long time ago that we there seemed to be far too many stories out there about people who married young, had babies almost immediately, spent all their time working or being parents and all their money on a mortgage and their offspring, and then suddenly realised at the age of forty that they hadn't done anything they really wanted to do with their lives and had nothing in common with each other any more except for the aforementioned children. "There but for the grace of God…" we thought (well, I did - the Yorkshireman is agnostic teetering towards athiest - but our sentiments were the same).

Hence we decided that whilst marriage would likely only enhance our relationship (which it did - our kitchen is much better equipped after all the wedding gifts we received), that whole financial strife and procreating thing would just have to wait. We both love travelling and had seen disappointingly little of the world, so that became our new mission. Together we've saved hard and have already explored lots of exciting places with a few more ideas in mind for when our savings allow.

People often react a bit oddly when we tell them about our travelling plans, saying things like, "oooh lucky for some!" We don't earn massive amounts of money so I guess people probably wonder how we can afford such luxuries, but in reality it's down to good old fashioned budgeting, saving and planning. Could we afford to fly over to the USA next year if we had a massive mortgage to pay or children to take care of? No, definitely not. But that's the choice we've made and for now we're happy with it. That's not to say that there won't be a mini Yorkshireman or a Friday-loving toddler causing mischief in a few years' time, but for now we have other priorities.

Not everyone "gets" it though. Some people tell me I'm "just right" to not have rushed headlong into years of dirty nappies and tantrums (the latter probably being from me) but they look a bit doubtful as they say it, as if they think we're making a terrible decision but are too polite to say so. Other people tell me reassuringly that I'll "be next", as though they're convinced the reason we have not yet sprogged up must be some kind of medical problem that must not be mentioned.

However the majority of those who genuinely seem to support our decision are those who themselves did not become parents until later in their lives. They say that they're glad they waited until they felt ready for that big step in their life because otherwise they would have regretted not doing what they wanted to do beforehand and would have resented parenthood. That, to me, makes a lot of sense.

Let's face it, being a parent is difficult enough even when you enter it willingly. If you felt like you'd been pressured into it in any way I can only imagine how depressing it would be to try and comfort a colicy baby at 3am, deprived of sleep, the sound of constant crying grating on your last nerve and feeling guilty that even though you know your child is in pain, you can't do anything about it and you just want the thing to shut up already.

Then again perhaps I'm just too aware of the negative side of parenting for it to be particularly attractive right now. My brother was born when I was thirteen (sadly older than some girls who have become mothers) and my sister and I helped take care of him. We sterilised bottles, learned how to make up formula so it wouldn't clump in the teat, fed him, burped him, got covered in vomit, were woken up in the middle of the night when he was teething or sick, were drooled on, laundered a veritible sea of bibs and onesies, picked him up when he hurt himself, comforted him when noisy household appliances frightened him, bathed him, dressed him, fought to get him into his high-chair, jiggled his buggy to try and calm him down when we were out and about and he was overtired and cranky, tried to feed him and then wiped smeared baby food off his cheek when he inevitably turned his face away at the last second...

I'm certain I changed more nappies than my father and I remember wriggling uncomfortably in my chair at school because my back was aching from a night spent walking around the house, stooped over, holding his little hands as he wobbled around learning to walk. Don't get me wrong, I didn't mind most of the time because he was my adorable baby brother and I love him to bits. But, ever the realist, I learned pretty early on that babies are hard work. And he was a good child! I've since worked in a childcare setting and some of those little horrors would have you running off to Google "tubes tied" in about a minute flat! Not to mention that my once adorable baby brother is now a wise-ass, ungrateful fourteen year old emo, so I know how the story ends.

I know there is also the positive side of parenthood. Creating a little version of you and your partner (actually in our case that's fairly terrifying) to love and cherish and feel fiercely protective of. Feeling proud when you see that little person you created learn and grow and turn into an actual human being with their own personality. Seeing them smile at you and tell you they love you. It's all very sweet and lovely. Everyone I know who has become a parent, regardless of how they felt about it beforehand, tells me that you won't understand the overwhelming feelings and emotions until you actually have a child of your own and that they wouldn't change it for the world.

But then again there are statistics that say that 1 in 10 women suffer from post-natal depression. I'm no medical expert but I'm fairly sure that your chances of such things are heightened if you're not entirely secure in your decision to become a mother in the first place. Not to mention the cost of having children. Between clothes and furniture and equipment and childcare and birthdays and Christmasses, etc, etc, it's no wonder there's a debt crisis. Personally I'd rather not take the chance of being depressed and broke right now. Until the Yorkshireman and I both feel ready to inflict a collaboration of our genetics upon the world (be afraid, be very afraid…) I'll be very happy about our procrastination and staunchly defend our right to do so.

In the meantime, please can the rest of the world do me and all other married women of child-bearing age a favour? Should I opt for a non-alcoholic beverage, or put on a bit of weight, or leave work early to go to a doctor's appointment, please do not assume I am knocked up. And beyond that, do not then have the further audacity to look disappointed when you realise you were wrong. When I decide to baby-up, I will let you know. Until then all suggestions are welcome for destinations for our next great adventure - just make sure they have good beer and a child-free spa.

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