Having babies is a choice and a sacrifice
Before we had children, my husband and I had dual careers. We both jumped on planes at a moment’s notice, saw each other when we could and, in rare, quiet times, pinched ourselves because we had jobs we loved.
Then I became pregnant. My husband bought baby clothes. Lots of them. Being the literary tragic I am, I daydreamed about a daughter with a Shakespearean name: Cordelia, Ophelia, Perdita. As if.
What we didn’t think about, because neither of us are planners, was how we’d share looking after said baby. I was determined to be a mother, first and foremost, but I was also young, freelancing and the first of my friends to have a baby. Wouldn’t it just fit in?
Thanks to that cavalier attitude, we got a screamer – she could have recorded sound effects for horror films. “Some children are just born highly strung,” said our helpful GP.
Much as he wanted to lend a hand, my husband had to work. He’s a photographer. Wars, tsunamis and celebrities don’t rock up to your front door; you have to go to them. So he did, leaving me – the one with breasts – to soothe and feed our daughter.
Late one night, while he was away, an editor from London rang to ask if I could go to Thailand for a story on the mistreatment of elephants.
“When?” I asked.
That night, I wrote an angry, self-pitying letter to my husband. But, really, it was a letter to myself. I felt small, diminished, as if I was the only one making a sacrifice. I loved our baby, but in gaining her, I’d lost a part of me.
For many women, the shift from career girl to mother isn’t easy. Some choose to give up work; others have to because the demands of their partner’s job make it impossible. That’s why I don’t give a monkey’s about Karl Stefanovic complimenting his wife’s arse at the Logies (who wouldn’t want their bum admired after three kids?); it’s what he said after winning the Gold that really matters.
“I’d like to thank my wife, first and foremost,” he said. “She had a promising career of her own with the ABC and she gave up everything for me… and to raise our three kids.”
Sometimes that acknowledgement is all we need; a few words that say “you are valuable in my eyes”.
There’s no such thing as a non-working mum but, nevertheless, most women I know who no longer do paid work still wrestle with that decision. “I feel like my entire self-worth would fit into my son’s lunch box,” my friend Jess told me. Another, attending her husband’s work events, tells his colleagues she’s a “domestic services manager for a small company”.
While most men understand and support this transition, some don’t (just as some women fail to recognise the responsibility many men feel to provide for their family).
“What did you think would happen when you had a baby?” a friend’s husband queried recently. That’s the thing. You don’t know. I remember a pregnant Catriona Rowntree gaily telling me that she’d take her baby on some Getaway trips. Months later, I read that she’d had to abandon an assignment to drive her flu-ridden son home.
Procreation may be the most primordial thing we do, but we now have a plethora of choices as to how we raise our kids. And choice, by its very nature, means we say no to something. Acknowledging that is one of the kindest things we can do for those we love.
Catch Angela Mollard on Weekend Today, Sundays at 7am on the Nine Network.
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