Judith Fleming adopted a baby by herself. In her new column she tells us the why, how and what of choosing to be a single mum. This week she’s talking babies and the media hard sell.
When I was 13, I shaved my eyebrows. I’d read in Just Seventeen that I shouldn’t be leaving the house without a well-shaped brow so I borrowed my sister’s razor and voila – two perfectly square shaped eyebrows.
Undeterred, from that day on, I’ve continued to do pretty much everything the media tells me. Recently I’ve been thinking about the degree to which this has shaped my life choices and specifically, how conditioned I’ve been in wanting to be a mum.
There are no role models for bold non-motherhood. Helen Mirren, maybe? But she’s a knockout powerhouse actor so she’s excused. Otherwise, a woman without children is always portrayed as sad and somehow missing out on her biological vocation.
Despite that, in my peer group I am surrounded by women who don’t give a stuff about such pressure. They have other fish to fry. These are women who have chosen fantastic careers over children and who are absolutely fine with the decision.
But the portrayal of the sad childless woman made me, a childless woman, feel sad. I don’t even like to miss a party so missing out on children was, well, devastating.
And at the age of 40 I was in a cruel catch-22. I couldn’t have a baby because I hadn’t found a man. But what good, kind man would date a 40-year-old woman who wanted kids? Who wants to be the guy telling her two years down the line that it’s not working? Who wants to waste her last couple of childbearing years?
I’ve always been a make-it-happen sort. Talent, skill, charm have all taken a back seat to the sheer force of my will. But I couldn’t force a man at gunpoint to impregnate me. I have no idea where to get a gun. And stealing babies is frowned upon nowadays. So how could I resolve this unbearableness?
I realised I needed to separate my problems. Maybe if I had a baby first, I could sort the relationship problem out later. Could I adopt? Once I’d had the idea, I couldn’t not have it. It wouldn’t let me go.
“For me, being a mother has helped me make sense of a world I didn’t really get before. Suddenly I fit. Of course, that might be self-fulfilling. Tell me I need something and of course when I get it I’ll feel complete.”
The process of adoption is one for another day: suffice to say it’s time consuming, drawn out, intrusive and an emotional rollercoaster. I had to move house. I had to rethink how I would earn money. I had to… you know what? I had to completely start over.
But two and a half years after first having the idea, I adopted my little boy.
I went to extraordinary lengths to be a mum. But was it worth it? My sister tried to tell me a few years ago that children weren’t everything. But she has three, so I just couldn’t hear what she was saying. All I could hear was white noise.
I felt so lost, so cast adrift by my childlessness. I had really bought into the idea of a woman as a ‘have it all’ wife, mother and career woman. This media image of an ‘acceptable’ woman did me such a disservice. And not only because of the gap I still have in my eyebrows now from the razor some 30 years ago.
I don’t need to tell you the details of life as a single mum for you to know it’s hard work. My need for a child has reduced my social life to zero. My bank balance too. An early pick-up for a telly job means I have to move in with my mum for two nights. I haven’t been to the hairdresser since February. And my chance of meeting a man? Well if he burrows up into my garden (I’m being serious, this is not meant to sound euphemistic) then maybe.
Oh, but oh. For me, being a mother has helped me make sense of a world I didn’t really get before. Suddenly I fit. Of course, that might be self-fulfilling. Tell me I need something and of course when I get it I’ll feel complete.
It’s hard to unpick what was a biological imperative for me and what was conditioning from an early age. Except that I have come to terms with not giving birth to a child. I couldn’t come to terms with not raising one.
I’ve read a few articles recently about the shock of motherhood, of women who love their kids but yearn for the freedom of their pre-children days. For these women it really isn’t all it was cracked up to be. But there’s no going back.
Being a mum has made me incredibly happy. But I won’t lie. I look at my friends who have been able to ignore the power of the media hard sell and choose a child-free life and I feel a little envy too. I wish I could have been like that. Because their lives are filled with other amazing things. They really do have it all.
No hang on. I have it all. No. Wait a minute. Who is it who has it all? Hands up if you have it all. Really high so I can see them.
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Judith is one of those actor/writer/comedians you get nowadays.