Written by Mickey Noonan

Voices

A womb without a point of view

When it comes to women and babies, don’t assume you know what they want. In fact, don’t assume anything. Mickey Noonan explains why.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

When proud parents thrust a newborn or one of those doughy Churchill numbers at me to dandle or coo at, results are awkward at best. Me and the baby eye each other suspiciously. There is no doubt which of us is boss and which of us might shit herself. I have stress-related IBS; it’s a genuine concern.

I used to be scared I’d drop it on its head, and apparently kicking a baby under the sofa and acting like nothing’s happened is not the done thing. People get cross. They might even call the police.

Interestingly, parents laugh when I express a fear I might drop their little darling and thrust their precious bundle into my arms regardless; an action I doubt would be shared by, say, a collector of priceless Ming vases.

These days, I’m game. I make what I deem appropriate noises, but more often than not wind up treating the baby like a cat, tickling it behind its ears and hiding my confusion when there’s no purring. I have genuinely dangled a piece of string in front of a baby. It seemed to like it.

Oh yes: “it”. In my regular meetings with random animals in the street, I’ll have found out the gender within seconds (by asking the accompanying human rather than lifting the dog’s skirts) so I can refer to said beast with the correct pronoun. Yet I’ll blithely refer to a baby as “it” until someone asks me not to by sharply elbowing me in the ribs and hissing “SHE”.

What I’m saying is: I’m not a natural with the baby humans.

“A woman’s uterus and its ever-ticking time limit is, it seems, an acceptable topic of conversation. Like the weather.”

That’s not to say I didn’t want kids. I did. I do. Put me with one aged four or above and we’ll have made a car out of a cardboard box or be playing tiny dinosaurs within minutes. But I’m a single 38-year-old woman so it’s not looking likely. And that makes me really fucking sad.

Friends, even close friends, might well be surprised. Because I don’t ever talk about it. Out with a mate the other week, he said: “Well at least you never wanted kids.” He didn’t mean any harm; he just assumed. A lot of our friendship group don’t have kids because they categorically don’t want kids. As a woman in her late 30s with a career, full life and that circle of childless-by-choice friends, I was put in that category without asking.

There’s an equally irritating habit in society to assume ALL women want kids.

If you’re in a relationship in your late 20s, early 30s, the “When?” question starts coming. Not even “Do you want?” but “When?” My friend with a toddler says it doesn’t stop when you’ve had one, just the question changes to: “When are you having the next one?” The implication being she’s selfish to raise an only child.

Presumably if you’ve got four kids under six, you get asked: “When are you having your tubes tied?”

A woman’s uterus and its ever-ticking time limit is, it seems, an acceptable topic of conversation. Like the weather. With people only too happy to let you know when the sun’s going down on your ovaries.

As something I thought had potential crashed to an early finish, there was an extra sting in the tail. “Don’t get pissed off by me saying this (*dicksplash klaxon*), but, I mean, you’re 38. And I’m 34. When I think of where I want to be in five years’ time…”

He tailed off, but his meaning was tacit. And though not particularly welcome or tactful, fair enough. Popping out my first nipper at 43: not biologically impossible, but not a dead cert I’d place at Ladbrokes.

I don’t know if I can naturally conceive anyway. I’ve never tried. There might be a gynaecological problem rather than me having been REALLY FUCKING BULLET DODGY in the past. But then, who’s to say that even though he’s four years more sprightly, his sperm would be up to the job?

The men I’ve known (mates, and biblically) have always just assumed that when they were ready, happy days: simply shoot the baby gun, then wham, bam, buy a pram. There’s never been the tiniest doubt their swimmers might not be strong enough. Cocksure in a way they have no right to be until the proof is in the pudding and that pudding’s a bun in the oven. As far as most chaps are concerned, they can make babies until they die.

Women, with our biological clocks ticking in public for all to see and enquire over, don’t have that luxury. And now I’m in a tricky time-zone.

“I used to be scared I’d drop it on its head, and apparently kicking a baby under the sofa and acting like nothing’s happened is not the done thing. People get cross. They might even call the police.”

I’m aware there are plenty more years for me to get knocked up in all manner of ways, but I want the fairy tale: to fall in love, have some crazy adventures and loads of not-trying-for-a-baby shagging, then start a family when we’re ready.

Yeah I’m the editor of a cool feminist magazine but *whisper it* I still want that fairy tale. Social conditioning’s a powerful bastard.

Thing is, when a woman’s over 35, a bloke either assumes she’ll want to start choosing paint for the nursery on date two (nope), doesn’t want kids at all (uh-uh) or, like my recent strange encounter, that by the time he’s ready, my eggs will be off and my tubes too withered and husk-like (fuck’s sake).

I’m resigned to the fact that me and a him and a little ‘un might not happen. I’m resigned to the occasional waves of overwhelming sadness. And when my mates announce they’re expecting the patter of tiny feet, I’m beyond chuffed with nary a sniff of envy.

But just as you shouldn’t assume someone wants kids, please don’t assume they don’t. A woman’s womb is her own affair.

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Written by Mickey Noonan

Aged five, Mickey Noonan shoved an apple pip up her nose to see what happened. Older, wiser but sadly without a nose-tree, Standard Issue's editor remains curious about the world. Likes running, jumping and static trapeze.