Sometimes, just knowing that someone else understands what it’s like to be driven mad by the whole ‘baby’ issue is all it takes for the pressure to ease, just a little. For someone to reach their hand down to you as you sit in a funk in your dank, dark tunnel and let you know that they understand. It’s good to know you’re not alone, but still… You’re so mad you could spit.
When the number on your fertility speedometer reads 35, or maybe the needle’s pushing 40, 41, 42… the scream in your head can be so damn loud that you might not hear their whisper of understanding anyway. And that hand of support stands the risk of being bitten off in fury. Especially if it comes from a woman who’s had a family.
Congreve wrote that “Heaven has no rage like love turned to hatred / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned” and we all not our heads sagely. After all, who hasn’t gone a bit nuts when a relationship’s ended or been on the receiving end of some pretty crazy behaviour?
Yet if a mother’s love for her baby is fiercer than even this, why are we so surprised and disapproving of a woman’s fury when she’s scorned in her desire to have a baby? That’s unrequited love too, and it’s a bitch.
Try telling a woman of 40 that there’s still plenty of time to have a baby, plenty more fish in the sea… Good luck to you on that one.
Bitterness, resentment, envy… these are the slimy, dark emotions that coat the fetid wall of our tunnel, our private 3am hell. The ones that nice girls aren’t supposed to have, and certainly not express. We have to remain positive, sunny and hopeful. Peppy. After all, what man is going to want an angry and disappointed harpy for the mother of his children?
But what are we meant to do with these feelings? And more importantly, what are they doing to us?
They eat away at us, from the inside out. We get lost in sadness, loss of ambition, insomnia, illness, depression, neurosis, comfort eating, overwork, drinking too much, watching crap TV, isolating ourselves, frantic internet dating, fantasizing… whatever works to distract ourselves from the ache of that empty womb, or the worry that if we don’t have a baby we’ll always regret it.
Our refusal to see beyond the tunnel, our unwillingness to embrace the possibility that maybe if we don’t get what we’re sure we want, it won’t be the end of the world is turning us into zombies, sleepwalking through some of the most powerful, fertile years of our life. And I mean fertile in the widest sense of the word.
Thirty-five brings the biological boundary into sight. Probably for the first time a woman glimpses that vague, uncharted realm ahead leading to what demographers so aridly call the end of her “fecund and bearing years.” The deferred nurturer is running out of time to defer. The unmarried achiever must face the motherhood issue squarely. […] And some of the most high-powered, late-boozing, unmarried and unsentimental career women simply stop in their tracks and fall in love with the new experience of being pregnant. (Sheehy, 383)
So wrote Gail Sheehy in her groundbreaking 1976 book “Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life.” That was 35 years ago. The tunnel is not a new phenomenon, although perhaps the number of women in it is. So many women in a hellish limbo that they didn’t see coming and can’t predict how it’s going to turn out.
With time (or with help) the scorn and fury hopefully pass. Some of us end up with the family we craved and some of us don’t. But the damage we did to ourselves whilst in the tunnel can take decades to undo. The opportunities we missed, the dreams, health and friendships that we neglected so that we could obsess about becoming a mother. Women who are mothers can tell us till they’re blue in the face that it’s not the answer to everything, but we ignore them. What do they know!
If we have it in it us to take care of our children, we have it in us to take better care of ourselves.
How are you neglecting yourself, your dreams and your potential? Please comment below.
Jody Day is the Founder of Gateway Women (UK): an organization to support, inspire and empower childless & childfree women live fertile, passionate, meaningful lives. A qualified counsellor and training psychotherapist, Jody runs groups & workshops for Gateway Women, and also offers one-to-ones for women looking to explore issues around identity, maternity & fertility. If you would like Jody to speak at one of your events, or to write for your blog or magazine, please contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org