(posted by qB)
I have been inspired by Lyle’s thoughts on progeny to take a look at the topic from the issued side. But before getting on with that, here’s one of the advantages: you can have lots of model vans about the place without people thinking you’re a bit strange. Of course they don’t know that the children aren’t allowed to play with them.
I was never, ever, absolutely never going to have children. I knew that from an early age. For reasons that had to do with my own childhood. One of the last things my mother said, before I stopped seeing her, was as a woman with a baby passed us in the street. “I do so long to hold a baby in my arms again” she said. “If I ever have children I shan’t let them anywhere near you” I blurted out. I remember wondering, as I bent down to unlock my bicycle, if that look on her face was really one of hurt. It would have been the only time.
So, I got married once, on the condition that we would never have children. Luckily he got a job in the States and I had an affair with someone else so that was that.
Both my children are accidents. The first’s father had just been diagnosed with cancer. Is there such a thing as a pity f*ck? He was a deeply unpleasant, manipulative, mendacious person, and I left. But I could not bring myself to have an abortion. Quite apart from the fact that I was living in a country where it was illegal anyway. In the end, late in the pregnancy, I came back to the UK to have the baby.
While I was pregnant I obviously had times of terrible, indigestion-inducing fear – that the baby would look just like its father, that I wouldn’t be able to love it. That a child in the womb that had experienced such fear, and the extreme anxiety and anger that the behaviour of his father caused me to feel, would somehow be affected by the sloshing round of the chemicals of these emotions.
When he was born, when I saw him for the first time, the ecstasy that I felt was piercing, electric, transfiguring, a jolt of joy. I have never felt anything similar, before or since. Better than the best sex, better than the highest heights of happiness, than the lurch of love. Of course it could be explained by a sudden rush of hormones, or similar deterministic mechanism. Whatever. My second feeling (first thought, probably) was deep sorrow on his behalf that being, as I had just discovered, a boy, he would never be able to have the transforming experience I had just undergone.
Some women don’t feel this at all. Some women do, but later. I didn’t feel it with b2 until quite a bit later. (b2 had his birthday recently – count backwards and you’ll get to new year’s eve. No pity there, just lots of alcohol and a really big bed.)
No doubt people choose to have children, and choose not to have children, for as many different reasons as there are people. Many are unable to make the choice. I know children of single parents who have chosen to be single, children whose parents are both gay men, others whose parents are both lesbians, and one where the parents (male and female) are both gay. And of course all the biological/non-biological permutations that go with it. Not to mention all loops and layers of divorce, remarriage, step-siblings, -parents and other familial reorganisations.
Children, ultimately, are very resilient. I don’t have a big thing about biology. As far as I’m concerned the child’s parents are the primary care givers, those who are around on a day-to-day, doing the day-to-day things. In other words doing the parenting. But whoever cares for them, the child has to know that they are wanted. No matter how they arrived and into what circumstances, the important thing is that they are loved. Unconditionally. Yes, the L word. Lurve. No strings. L-O-V-E.
Now to the full version of the Larkin:
This Be The Verse
They f*ck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were f*cked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
Philip Larkin (1974)
Now Mr Larkin is perfectly entitled to his view, and since I’m the sort of person who’s cup is always half empty, you might have thought that I would share it. But I don’t. I remember sitting with my beautiful baby in my arms, with tears rolling down my face, and saying to my father “look – he’s so perfect, and the world is such a wicked place” and he said, without even pausing for thought “but maybe he will be one who makes the world a better place”.