Once upon a time there was a Beautiful Princess and her delightful Prince, who was Charming. One day, the Beautiful Princess and her Charming Prince had a bit of a slip-up of the contraceptive variety, for which they were equally responsible, and – lo! – about three weeks later there came that inevitable, spine-chilling dots-on-a-wee-stick moment.

OK, so the princess was me, and the prince turned out not to be so charming after all, but if I’m going to tell a story I feel I should do it right…

I knew I was pregnant before I even took the pregnancy test. My period wasn’t late, no more than a day or so which wasn’t unusual. But I could feel it in my breasts, a tenderness and a tingling pain, a sense of growth and change. Something different in my body. I knew.

The night before I took the test, I tossed and turned in bed and failed to sleep, wishing I could come to terms with the idea of pregnancy. It was the May bank holiday weekend. A few days before my birthday. I took the test in the morning very early, and confirmed my suspicion. I was horrified. I rang the father. He said “Well, good news!” but he didn’t mean it.

Later, he suggested – no, he urged – abortion. I didn’t want one. I didn’t want a baby, but I didn’t want an abortion either. He resented that it wasn’t his decision, and he pushed me to do it. It tore me up a little. Well, a lot.

But.

It sounds daft but I felt the hand of fate upon me. We’d spun the wheel, taken our chance, diced with destiny, made our bed… and we were stuck with what we’d got. Not our place to change the course of destiny. As though it was somehow meant to be. How many bites at the cherry did I want? And also… again, it sounds daft… I felt already an emotional connection (perhaps it was love, perhaps “only hormones”) to this thing implanted and growing inside me. Just a clump of cells, but a necessary clump. An essential clump. Something irrefutable and un-do-away-with-able. Magical. Mine.

He’d said he would “stand by me”. Now he said he wouldn’t… couldn’t. Ha! I decided I didn’t care. I knew that nobody could bully me one way or the other. Not even my silver-tongued prince, playing the little-boy-lost. If he upped and left, so be it. I’d manage, somehow.

I chose my clump of cells. I chose the little person that it became.

My daughter, chosen.

Clare has blogged today about a Daily Mail article – “Sorry, but my children bore me to death!” – and rather than clog up her post with my overlong comments I’m blogging it here. This one has been ticking over in mind since I read it, and has bothered me emormously.

Perhaps it is my guilt-ridden-working-mother sensitivity speaking out here, defensively. But then the very fact that I am guilt-ridden as a working mother is a problem for me (on so many levels that I just can’t bring myself to go into it here – maybe another post!) so I am trying not to let my lingering feelings of bad-mother guilt get in the way of responding to this.

Well, the writer of this article, Helen Kirwan-Taylor, discusses how she finds children’s activities boring, and how she is not constantly in thrall to her children and their wants / needs, and how this makes her – in most people’s eyes – a really bad mother. Most of the people commenting on the article agree with her. She is a bad mother – selfish and lazy and superficial. Both she and her kids are missing out.

Although I can’t say I sympathise entirely with her position (after all, she does write for the Daily Mail and therefore must have something wrong with her!) I do respect her point of view. And I find the comments that she is getting interesting. For example, most of the commenters are quick to say that she is selfish, that her kids will turn out badly in some way, that she herself must have something pathological wrong with her, that she shouldn’t even have had the kids in the first place if she wasn’t going to look after them.

Yet she, and several of the mothers she quotes, and a number of the commenters, all describe their experiences honestly and all say that the work of mothering is dull. Are we saying that it isn’t dull and discounting their experiences? Or are we saying that, whether or not they find it dull, they should do it anyway because they chose to have children? Either way, what these commenters are saying is that there is something wrong with Kirwan-Smith and all the other mothers who expressed similar feelings. It is their fault for unnaturally not liking all the baggage of modern motherhood, or else it is their fault for not just putting up with said baggage and putting on a brave face, or else it is their fault for having kids in the first place if they weren’t just going to suck up the bad stuff along with the good.

I read through all 89 of the comments so far on this article, and even for the Daily Mail they strike me as somewhat hysterical (testerical?) in that when you read the article it is clear that Kirwan-Smith does actually spend some time with her kids and does love them and want them. She just doesn’t enjoy children’s parties, or child-centric social events such as school plays, or reading bedtime stories and, where she can, she avoids doing that stuff – preferring to have a work life and a social life as well as a maternal life. Moreover, Kirwan-Smith herself believes that her children are well-adjusted, creative young people developing as independant individuals – but her judgement doesn’t count, of course, because she is a bad mother, and other people’s idea of how her children will turn out is clearly thought to be more credible.

We all love to judge mothers – whether we say that she is a bad, selfish mother who should never have had kids in the first place, or that she is an independent woman bravely speaking out for all the mothers who are made to feel guilty about not being good enough… But what I thought was most interesting about the article and the responses to it is the almost complete absence of any reference to these children’s father. Where is he? Down the pub, if we are to take the only clue in the article seriously. He is certainly not stepping in to read the bedtime stories that his wife dislikes so much.

This is of course standard Dad behaviour. (I said standard, not universal.) Yet where are the people calling him out for being selfish, and not spending time with his kids, and leaving it all to the nanny? Who is asking him why he bothered to have children in the first place? How is his, and many other fathers’, failure to spend time with his children any less blameworthy than his wife’s? What are we hearing about his qualities as a father?

Nowhere, No-one, No-how, Not a dicky bird. Somehow, I am not surprised. Just saddened.

Woo-hoo! I must really be making my mark. Some anonymous guy thinks I’m a dumb-pig bad-mother clueless sort who – get this – he doesn’t even want to have sex with! Can you believe it?

The part I liked was where he said that if a man says he doesn’t want a child he fathers, and the mother refuses to have an abortion, then he’s entitled to refuse payment of child support. I’m not even going to engage with that kid of crass stupidity, but it did remind me of a great Twisty post from the archives. Enjoy!

UPDATE:

I’ve deleted the troll(s). It was getting booooring.

Further to this Mad Sheila Musings post, and to an invitiation by Alyx to write my own personal Becoming a Father section, behold:

YOUR PARTNER IS PREGNANT

- Resist the urge to say “Boo-yah! My Sperm Is King!” or otherwise pretend that only your fertility and manliness had anything to do with this.

- If the pregnancy is accidental and unwanted:-

(1) DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES pretend like this is her fault. Contraception was not her sole responsibility and if you didn’t want her to get pregnant you should have taken precautions yourself; and

(2) Whether or not she continues the pregnancy is HER decision. Your rights over her body are precisely ZERO and you get precisely NO say over whether she has the baby or not.

- Find out what “supportive” means and start practicing right now. When your partner asks you to support her or to be a bit more supportive, DO NOT look at her with a confused expression and ask her what the hell she is talking about.

- Remember that her whole centre of attention will be the stuff that is happening to and inside her body. DO NOT look squeamish and start banging on about football when she wants to tell you something amazing she read today about her placenta.

- Remember, your penis is nowhere near big enough to hit the baby’s head.

- If you expect your partner to give up alcohol / cigarettes / drugs, or if you expect her to start eating better and taking vitamins, great. But DO NOT preach to her about this if you yourself come home and eat pizza whilst drinking beer and smoking a joint.

- DO NOT say “You’re getting really fat now” AT ANY POINT in her pregnancy.

- Go to ante-natal classes with her. DO NOT try to weasel out of them by claiming that you don’t need to know any of that stuff. You do.

- If you are privileged enough to be invited to share the birth experience then remember that you are there as a helper and supporter. In particular:-

(1) You will not be there as a spectator. This means that you will need to know in advance what you are expected to do. Therefore, if your partner wants to involve you in making a birth plan, DO NOT say either “I’ve done this before, I don’t need to do any preparation” (especially if the time you did it before was not with your current partner) or “You just tell me what to do, it’s nothing to do with me” or “Eh?”

(2) DO NOT whine about how you had to get out of bed at 4am for this. She was up with contractions for 3 hours before she even woke you, is she complaining? Nobody gives a damn how tired you are. It isn’t about you.

YOU’RE A DAD!

- Your partner has just been though a long, exhausting experience, possibly involving medical procedures or even major abdominal surgery. You may think you’re tired and emotional, but she is more in need of rest than you could possibly be, so quit moaning and start being supportive. (If you forgot to find out what “supportive” meant during pregnancy, do it now. And start practising. Now.)

- Change nappies. It isn’t hard.

- DO NOT whinge at your breastfeeding partner about how you want to feed the baby. You can’t. You don’t have breasts. You can, however, do everything else – so do everything else. Your partner is more in need of rest than you, however tired you think you are.

- Change nappies. This bears repeating. IT ISN’T HARD.

- Let your partner know that you still find her sexy, but UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES is it OK to pressure her for sex. A thing the size of a watermelon with legs just pushed its way out of her vagina and, guess what?, it’s gonna be kind of sore down there. And bloody.

- Which reminds me: when your partner asks you to go to Asda and buy yet more sanitary pads, just do it.

- Discuss openly and honestly how the two of you are going to arrange childcare if and when your partner is ready to return to paid employment. Do not balance her prospective wages against the cost of childcare because, guess what?, it’s your baby too and you are 50% responsible for childcare. So balance her prospective wages against half the cost of childcare. The other half comes out of your pay packet. Which means that if your partner does not return to work, or works only part-time, in order to care for your child, you should pay to HER the cost of childcare that YOU are saving.

- Do NOT assume that your partner is the only one who needs to take a hit on her career. You too could return to work part time. You too could arrange to leave work promptly to pick up your child from the childminder. This is not your partner’s sole responsibility.

and

- If you do decide to up and leave PAY CHILD SUPPORT. Do not wait until the CSA is threatening to put you in prison. Pay it without argument. This is not about your ex sponging off you and grabbing your hard-earned dosh. This is money that YOU owe to YOUR child, for which YOU are responsible.

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