I used to be haunted by a recurring situation in my dreams: I suddenly remember that I have recently acquired a pet. Shame pours over me as I realise that the existence of said pet has slipped my mind for several days. Horror fills me as I start looking for the pet that may no longer be alive. Thankfully, the neglected pet resurfaces and I go off to provide it with the necessary food and care.
These dreams probably express the difficulties that I had with the idea of motherhood.
Stay-at-home mom vs tough business woman
My mother was a stay-at-home mom until I was 16. She was a perfect stay-at-home mom: cooking delicious food for the family and unexpected guests, baking pies for weekends and cakes for birthdays, and unbelievable amounts of exquisit cookies for Christmas, sowing adorable dresses for us, braiding our hair to match the adorability of the dresses.
When the marriage ended and all her previous efforts where neither appreciated nor helpful in finding a decently paid job, she made sure to get the message across that following in her footsteps was not a desirable path.
I agreed and went off to study a male-dominated subject, became very comfortable in male-dominated environments and took pride in squashing any attempts to put me in any caring or serving positions: “No, I will not bring you a beer from the fridge!” (Even if I’m going there anyway).
Being independent and unattached were core values of my tough woman persona. I liked being a workaholic and doing additional technical degrees on top of my full-time job. I prided myself in not striving to find a life partner or feeling the need to start a family.
Fast forward several years, I have been working and earning my own keep successfully but don’t see a clear path to professional glory. I’m in a long-distance relationship with an extremely caring man, and I’m confronted with the question of moving country to be with him. And the plan of considering children “in 5 years time” is starting to approach the biological 40-years mark.
Internal turmoil was unleashed. On the outside, I remained the cool business woman, I kept quiet and unengaged whenever the question of children came up. I confronted my poor partner with all the angst that I associated with becoming attached, becoming dependent, putting my needs second to a man, tying myself to someone by means of child rearing.
At the same time that I was resisting to take the necessary steps to make a family possible, I found myself starting to scan the workplace for motherly benefits: “Best to stay in the current job. I’m well established, they support flexible hours and work-from-home. I’ll be receiving x months of paid maternity leave.” It was insane!
I wasn’t talking to anyone about this. I was too embarrassed that I was abandoning my tough, independent image. I didn’t want to be put in the “oh, she’ll get pregnant soon anyway” box at work.
Despite my continuing internal struggle, we stopped birth control. I moved country to be with my partner, and we moved into a flat that would provide room for more than 2 people.
Trying for a child was an emotional roller-coaster. I had religiously recorded and graphed my morning temperature and had identified my fertile days. A couple days after, I would feel “slightly different”. I’d try to not become hopeful, but without avail. With the hope would come the panic: “I’m not ready for this!” The panic would accompany me until my period would set in and would then be replaced by a heavy feeling of loss… until the next fertile days.
Actively challenging my pre-conceived notions
I managed to stop disintegrating when I started to dig into my resistance and my fears. I started to acknowledge my beliefs around motherhood and taking care of other to myself and I addressed them with my partner. We had several emotionally charged talks about how we understand our roles as father and mother. I’m still scared when I think about becoming a mother - I think every rational person would be. But I feel less of the previously self-inflicted pressure to be a perfect housewife, mom, business woman all at the same time. I’m actively practicing to be less perfect. I talk to my husband about what I think he’s expecting from me - e.g. dinner on the table every night - so that he can laugh at me. Thankfully, he has grown up with a mother who has been working all her life and brought up 4 kids with only 2 recipes in her cooking repertoire and zero guilt attached to that fact.
I have also managed to open up to people about our attempts to start a family. And I’m so glad that I have: after more than a year of unsuccessfully trying, it was finally established that my body would never become pregnant without medical assistant. Those news put an end to the monthly roller-coaster, but opened up a new can of worms. And I don’t see myself or my husband making it through that process without the emotional and humouristic assistance of several trusted friends.