I had the idea for this post four days ago but could only start writing it when my 8-month-old baby unexpectedly fell asleep on the way to Rhyme Time. Rather than go home and risk waking her on the bump of a step back into our house, I dove into a cafe instead and was able to steal some time just for me. Time to write!
(I should add that it’s actually taken me a further week to finish. One nap was not enough!)
I’ve always squeezed my writing around my life but it had previously been easy to find an hour or two a few times a week to step back and focus, if and when I wanted. Now, with a beautiful baby playing around my feet, this is becoming virtually impossible. Nap times are rarely long enough for everything I need to do, and I find myself prioritising cleaning, cooking and showering over writing. Instead, I wait until after she’s in bed at night to write – but, of course, that means focusing less on my husband and our evening so it becomes a difficult balance. Her napping at a time when there is no housework to distract me is quite a treat!
Of course, I knew having a baby would be like this and I don’t mind. Our daughter is the most beautiful, most wonderful, most hilarious girl I know and I love her so much that it often literally takes my breath away, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had to make sacrifices. That having a baby hasn’t been really hard.
I also say this fully aware of my privilege – my baby is happy and healthy and relatively easy; I’m happy and healthy and not yet back at work. My story is one without significant or unexpected challenges, but I’d still maintain that this is the most difficult thing I have ever done, by far!
As well as the monumental adjustments – the new sleep schedule, the new meal prep, the new person to entertain constantly – there are smaller changes that have affected me more than I’d anticipated. I’m different now. I have changed the way I dress, moving from mainly heels and dresses to mainly jeans and trainers. My make-up routine takes less than 5 minutes but I still rarely bother. I used to feel dirty if I didn’t shower every morning; I now have to count back the days to find out just how gross I am. I used to read more, I used to write more, I used to tweet more! My career used to define me; now it’s just a job. I used to prioritise sex over sleep; now I am so tired that I tend to fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow, almost against my will. And I could think of so many more sacrifices!
Having a baby is also really expensive – not only because, damn, they need a lot of stuff and, wow, childcare costs a lot, but also because having a baby can significantly reduce future earning potential. Mothers are less likely to be promoted, less able to work the long hours needed to ‘show commitment,’ less likely to take on additional responsibilities. This has such a significant effect on the gender pay gap that it has a name – the Motherhood Penalty. It’s tough. The patriarchy is a bitch!
These aren’t (really) complaints as my baby is definitely worth it. Every time she smiles or learns a new skill or pulls me in for a hug or bites my cheek in a clumsy attempt at a kiss, my heart swells and I would sacrifice everything again – and more – but having a baby has still changed, well, everything!
This is why I thought for a really, really long time about whether I wanted children before we started trying. Whether I was ready. It’s why I needed to be in a secure relationship before I even considered it as I knew I personally could not manage alone.
And it’s why I have always been so vigilant about contraception, and why the right to an abortion is so important to me.
I feel really strongly that all babies should be wanted. It’s so hard as it is without adding in resentment or regret. Of course, there are a lot of accidental babies who turn out to be exactly what was wanted when they arrive, but I believe that no one should feel obligated to continue a pregnancy – and should have the right to end it.
Even within pro-choice groups, this can be a controversial opinion. Abortions for foetal illness or if the pregnancy is a risk to the mother’s health are one thing. Likewise abortions following rape or incest. But an abortion because we don’t feel ready? Because our relationship with the father isn’t ideal for raising children? Because we’re not financially secure or because it’s not the right time in our career? Or simply because we don’t want to be a mother? These abortions are rarely used in the campaigns. They are thought to be too selfish; a lifestyle choice rather than a ‘necessary’ abortion.
But I think they are just as important! Particularly as planning on becoming a mother is exactly the time when we need to be most selfish and look at our lives most objectively to see if we’re really ready. We do have to be selfish – we’re about to give up our lives as we know them to take on a different one. A life that has dependents. Having a baby means being responsible for another person’s life and happiness…for a really long time!
I don’t mean that having an abortion should necessarily be an easy or throwaway choice; abortion is not a form of contraception. That’s what easily accessible, appropriate contraception is for and why we need well funded sex education so we know how to use it as knowledgable and correct use of contraception will significantly reduce the chance of accidental or unwanted pregnancy. Abortion isn’t even the first back up option. That’s the morning after pill or Plan B, which is why that should be easily accessible too! But if all of these steps fail, if an unwanted pregnancy still occurs, abortion is the next step. It’s logical.
I have never needed an abortion myself but I know that that is more a product of how little sex I had before meeting my husband than because I was particularly careful. Accidents happen and no contraception is 100% effective. Just as I had been driving nearly every day for 12 years before I got a speeding ticket or had a car accident, I simply hadn’t had enough sex for my luck to change. Because contraceptive failure is essentially bad luck. It can happen to anyone. And considering how difficult it can be to become pregnant when trying, a bad outcome from a risky encounter could also be seen as bad luck, and it feels wrong to suffer the effects of this bad luck for the rest of our lives.
My new life as a mother is genuinely wonderful and makes me so happy, but it has been hard. Harder than I expected, and I thought I was prepared. I have changed more than I expected, more than I feared. But it is so much easier to deal with because it was my choice.
Reproductive freedom means that we should be able to do exactly what we want. Without judgement or shame, or without even question.
Having an abortion because you’re not ready for a baby is OK. It’s more than OK – it seems pretty sensible to me! But while our right to an abortion is being attacked and limited, that kind of common sense risks being ignored.
This is why organisations like NNAF are so important. We need to continue to support the groups that are funding abortions and supporting campaigning efforts. We need to be able to access abortions when we want, without judgement, without shame, and without having to travel hundreds of miles or incur excessive financial costs. NNAF help people do exactly that, which is why we’re proud to support them for Smutathon 2019.
You can donate to NNAF here…