Friday, March 03, 2017

Secret baby. Over the years I've struggled with the idea of having children. I've always been acculturated to want kids in a vague sense, and I've felt some grief and shame that my sexual failure has prevented this. Other people fear getting pregnant; that has just never been a relevant fear to me. Instead I fear being alone and forgotten. Children represent a sense of genetic posterity, a connection to past and future generations, without which life doesn't have much meaning. Hence Children of Men.

On the other hand, I don't like kids. In recent years I've made peace with this. Last year for Rereaders we read a book called Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: essays by writers who don't have kids. It struck me how many contributors felt the need to point out that they were fond of other people's kids, as if that mitigated their not having any of their own. Whereas I don't enjoy the company of children at all.

I've wondered if perhaps I might like a kid if it were mine. Everyone says it's different when it's yours. And perhaps I might like parenting if it were an experience I could share with my friends: a rite of passage that creates a community. But it's not a decision you can take back if you regret it later. It's not fair bringing someone into the world unless you're already jazzed to look after them.

In our child-obsessed society, whether or not you have kids cleaves your friendships because, basically, people with children stop being interested in other things, and the children determine their lives. I recently went out to dinner with three friends, all of whom have kids, and I had nothing to contribute to the conversation as they spent the entire evening talking about pregnancy and babies and children. My connection with these friends is now limited to reminiscing about the time before they were parents.

Another time I was invited out for yum cha with some friends and their kids, and the parents spent the whole time wrangling the kids. I just sat there quietly and ate my yum cha and went home thinking, "I might as well not have been there. Why did they even invite me?" (Except I love yum cha and, practically speaking, it's not the kind of meal you can order alone.)

I've had some conversations about this with my as-yet-childless friends, to whom I've found myself gravitating. I've felt tantalised by stories about societies that incorporate kids into adult lives, rather than forcing adults (mainly women) to reconfigure their lives around the needs of a child. Corinne Maier, the Swiss-French author of such polemical books as Bonjour Paresse (Hello Laziness) and No Kids (as well as books on Marx, Freud, Einstein and Lacan), was quoted in The Guardian: “I think it is good for a child to know that her/his mother does not belong to him, that she has her own life and desire, that her world is not limited to her child. It gives the child the freedom to build his own personality.”

So my thinking about kids these days is limited to a very specific fantasy: the secret baby. This fantasy is inspired by a writer of my acquaintance whom I saw in the street one day, hugely pregnant. I was so impressed that she had never so much as hinted at this on social media, when the trend now is to stage-manage and micro-document one's pregnancy from the ostentatious announcement to the side-on time-lapse photos and then the final reveal of a scrunched red thing. But my friend had been keeping up her work, talking about all sorts of other interesting things, being a fully actualised person.

Another friend of mine had a kid and kept on with her life. She'd bring the kid to the pub on Friday night. She'd accept invitations and not make a big deal about leaving when the kid had had enough. She socialised without the kid. She went back to work like normal. Her stories about parenthood centred her needs, not the baby's. It was probably a massive logistical juggle, a series of bargains and negotiations, but she made parenting seem un-disruptive.

So in my own secret baby fantasy, I get pregnant and do not tell anyone. I continue to go about my regular life, wearing my same wardrobe of baggy sacks and stretchy pants, and nobody even notices that I am pregnant because I am already fat. I have the kid (again, in complete secrecy, sharing no photos, let alone those fucking horrifying birth photo shoots), and then keep going with my life as usual. I never post about my baby on social media, and nor does my new status as a mother creep into my work as a writer.

Of course, this is a complete fantasy because having a child is fundamentally disruptive. Babies make loud noises and require constant tending, which means I wouldn't be able to go to film screenings. I would be physically and mentally tapped out, and incapable of keeping up a regular enough workload to support me and the baby. And in practice I would easily crack and talk about the fucking baby on social media, much as I promised myself I wouldn't post about my cat and yet I do. This fantasy would also require a supportive partner, which I wouldn't have.

But whenever I'm feeling angry or upset about our culture's overwhelming celebration of the child, it soothes me to imagine how unlike this I would be with my secret baby that did not define my life.

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