If I was alive a hundred years ago, I’d probably have already died in childbirth after my sixth pregnancy (I’m twenty-four) and my rogue husband would have already found a new wife to mother my children while he wastes his factory wages in the pub, very Dickensian. Fortunately, this is not the case.
I feel so grateful to be of the millennial generation and from the UK. I have access to the NHS who give me free contraception, sexual health check ups and advice, and should I ever need it an abortion. I can do this without travelling to a neighbouring country, (Ireland, I’m looking at you) judgement or crazy activists screaming “murderer” at me (oh hi, USA). I am truly thankful for our healthcare system as I realise how many of my sisters around the world aren’t so lucky. Because of these privileges, girls of my generation and of my nationality have never had so much control as to decide if and when they want to become mothers. Indeed, it is no longer a given that everyone will settle down and procreate. However, a stigma still remains for those who don’t. I began to understand this from speaking to childfree women, like my step-mum. They sometimes feel a sense of alienation while their friends chat incessantly about their offspring, no matter how happy they are to have not had children.
To use the ecological terminology of ‘Humans Just Ruining The Planet’, many in my social circle do not want to have children because they do not want to contribute to exponential population growth of the earth and the destruction and pollution each new human brings. Not to mention, us millennials are the first generation to be worse off than our parents. Rent is sky-high and mortgages are out of reach without a high income and or well-off parents to help you out with the deposit. Add to the mix more unstable careers in the ‘gig economy’ (like actor and art magazine editor, I am such a stereotype!) and it’s unsurprising we’re not feeling broody.
In the late eighties my parents were married at twenty-two and twenty-three, which horrifies me and them now, and started trying for a baby three years later. If we’re talking competitive parenting my mum and dad were exactly average, an image of a nuclear family. They had two children with a very close age gap born into marriage. My mum and I had a conversation last summer about motherhood, my fascination came from spending the year being a nanny and teaching English and theatre to kids. In my mind, this made me an excellent authority on childcare.
Me: Mum, being a mother seems terrible, Why did you do it to yourself? Being a nanny was hard, but when the kid is yours there is no escape, forever. You can't sleep, you have to spend your money on nappies and feeding a whole family. You can only go on holiday during the school holidays except you can’t because it’s too expensive then.
Mum: It's different when it’s your own child.
Me: IS IT? It seems worse, you can't give them back. How did you have two babies at the same time? Two different size nappies at the same time. Eighteen months between one daughter and the other sounds boring, expensive, and annoying.
Mum: [shrugs] I wanted you and your sister to be friends.
(It's true as adults we are really close. She says it was all worth it, I’m glad, still sounds like a lot of unrewarding, hard work though.)
Mum: I can’t believe I’m having this conversation with my own daughter, I hope you’re being careful, I don’t want to be a Granny yet!. But I guess you are twenty-four now. You’ll be a fantastic mother one day.
Me: …. [Cringes and mumbles something about that not happening anytime soon]
I’m not sure if I agree, but I’m glad she thinks I’m so competent and responsible.
In this day and age I’d still be considered a young-ish mother if I were to get pregnant tonight, however, I’m definitely at an age where I could grow my own human without the Daily Mail calling me irresponsible (they don’t know that I’m very much single and I’m starting out as a freelancer so don’t have a steady income or a place to live, but that’s by the by). This hypothetical little human mini-me could be a wriggly, powdery, yummy smelling baby or a snotty, angry, screaming monster. Both I’d imagine, depending on the time of day.
When I was four, I realised I wanted to have a baby one day. Typing that out is creepy, I guess it was all those gendered baby doll toys I doted on. The only problem was I thought you could only have a baby if you were called Mummy. My name is Bethan so how did that work? I asked my mum if it was only girls called mummy who could have babies. She laughed and said no. I asked her her name, she replied Lindsey. My fears were put to rest. I too, could have my own children one day. Phew.
I was soon reconsidering this premature decision. I was a church goer on the reg throughout my childhood and it goes with the territory that there were lots of young, newly married couples who went to church together. The ladies would start off being youthful, energetic, beautiful and playful, fussing over all the little kids in the congregation. Then they ‘fell’ pregnant, Isn’t the expression she ‘fell pregnant’ really strange. Like a woman just tripped and fell on a foetus? How magical and amazing, slowly inflating and incubating the new life. Soon they would disappear for a few weeks and come back, babe in arms, which everyone would then fuss over. The change was remarkable, they looked like shit, hair everywhere, eye bags and they didn’t pay any attention to me anymore. This seemed unforgivable at the time, the vampire baby was sucking the life out them them. Being a mummy didn’t seem as much fun as I’d first envisioned. Now that I’m less harsh, they were clearly exhausted, overwhelmed, and preoccupied with discreetly breastfeeding and loving this new baby unconditionally. It’s hard to look and feel fresh when your world has been turned upside down.
Fast-forward twenty years and I’m not sure what I want. I think I would like to have a family one day, but I can also see a breezy, childfree future with lie-ins, travelling whenever I need to or want to, and without getting vomited on. I’ve got about fifteen years of fertility left, so it’s not a pressing question or something that worries me. But, I have given it some thought.
Little yummy baby
In your mummy’s arms
Eyes wide your fist grips
When you aren’t covered
In your own poo and sick
You smell quite nice, like powder and new
Squashed little bean
Still womb shaped
WRITTEN BY BETHAN SCREEN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY LINDSEY GETTY