By Shirley Halse.
This year I have a deadline. It’s not an application deadline, it’s not the skin-of-your-teeth, got to finish the show before the first performance tomorrow deadline. This is a baby deadline - or aliveline if you will. The moment in your life where, they say, there will be a line drawn in the sand, marking carefree childless bliss vs. rewardless domestic toil.
A ‘line in the sand’ is a shit metaphor already. Anything made of or drawn in sand is notorious for being washed or blown away (apart from those fancy sandcastles inside a shed in Bournemouth). In spite of some other poor choices, none of the three pigs from the fairy tale were so dumb as to choose sand as their chief building material. The metaphor should be something unquestionably permanent: a line tattooed on the skin, or a line cracked down my phone screen, or a line for the ladies' bathroom. Something that’s always there - because once the baby comes out there’s no return to sender option?
And it scares me. It’s scary watching my body expand and stretch to accommodate the start of a very new person. It’s absolute madness to get your head round. I’ve grown a new person? Out of my two favourite people? And it’s not going to be either of us, exactly?
It’s physically not easy. Every time I think, wow, this is an unbelievably heavy baby, it continues to grow. After Christmas, on the cusp between months 7 and 8, the jolly mood deflated and the very real prospect of carrying however many melons or bags of whole grain pasta that the NHS tells you the baby weighs, for another two months, became absolutely implausible.
But really, I’m scared the changes in my body are a prelude to changes in my mind. This belly - and these cankles - mean the only clothes I can wear are designed by sociopaths. Designers who look at pregnant women and simply ask ‘how best to ornament this potato sack?’, then come up with bland patterned dresses that are essentially a rectangle. When the only way you can present yourself to the world is as a chitzy blob - presumably to confuse predators - it does restrict your sense of identity. Am I gonna be a Mum? Is that all I’m going to be now?
It’s a question and anxiety that Rose Matafeo confronts in the recently released Baby Done movie. After some lightly-plotted arsing around from Harry Potter’s Neville (who remains extremely early film Neville-y), Rose’s character Zoe never really comes to a satisfying conclusion - or any conclusion at all - about becoming a mother. Basically the baby arrives and, as things often end up in stories, everything ends up just fine! Turns out if you simply look at a baby and have a short montage, all the burning, interesting questions about identity and motherhood are easily cru- ‘what, sorry, I can’t hear you over the credits?’. My due date is very soon so this is heartening. I look forward to laying eyes on a baby (I assume this works with any baby) and all my problems being solved. Just need to finish up that bloody montage.
Sure, to ease some of these concerns I could have chosen not to have a baby in the middle of a pandemic when everyone feels like their identity has been dragged under a megabus from Slough to Edinburgh. I mean, if megabus were even running. In my defense, it did look like things would be ‘over by Christmas’ and back in June did you see the price of puppies?
When people get puppies, do they worry about their change in identity? Do they think, oh god, I’m going to be a ‘dog person’ now - I’ll never be invited to parties or have fun again. People will think about booking me and then reconsider: ‘oh, she’s a ‘dog person’ now, I’m not sure we can manage that’. Will people mention me at the parties I’m no longer invited to (‘No no! Don’t worry, I couldn’t attend anyway, I have to look after the dog. No, I’m not upset at all, it’s actually easier for me!’) and remember me fondly pre-dog but now complain that all I do is ‘wang on about her fucking dog all the time’.
I have a feeling that this doesn’t happen (maybe some dog people do wang on about their dog but sometimes it’s important to consider if their rottweiler will make it into a good school). My partner is not worried about his performance at work being questioned ‘because he’s a dad person’. I’m trying to hold on to the knowledge that these fears are structural. The only reason that you have to dress as a polka-dot potato sack is because that is the choice on offer - it’s the potato sack or a full-length ‘maternity’ jumpsuit which is incompatible with the amount and frequency of maternity pees.
The aliveline is rushing towards me and, as usual, I haven’t done enough preparation and I’m trying to cram at the last minute. I don’t know who I will be after we cross this tattoo in the sand, but I’m pretty hopeful that I’ll be a similar - if tired-er - version of me. Instead of seeing this as a fight, of left vs. right, of 52 vs. 48, of me vs. motherhood (which even feels like a bit of a dirty word), it must be possible to find nuance - for both parts to co-exist. If I’m able to bop along to sk8r boi whilst at the same time finding the relationship between Avril and the titular jackass deeply suspect, or if I can be a feminist but also absolutely not want to take advantage of my freedom and work 40 hours a week in an office, then it’s clearly possible to be a confusing, chaotic, multifaceted, contradictory human being. Surely, SURELY it’s possible to still be me, mic in hand, and peacefully sleeping/incredibly well-behaved, baby strapped to my back.
Illustrated by @julings
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