Sam assaulted a fledging crow the other day. He nipped it in the tail and shook it, as I shouted at him. The poor thing was still stranded this morning, hopping in the grass while its parent croaked from a nearby perch.
The weekend passed in walks and ice creams and roast dinners, overseen by the mother-in-law’s interminable bad mood. I can't remember anything of note, only a sour and exhausted feeling, of only wanting to lie in bed. Once we hung out in a dugout at the park, lurking like fecking teenagers, minus cans of beer.
I started reading Motherhood by Sheila Heti. It is ostensibly a novel, but it reads as an essay at times, as the narrator attempts to reconcile her desire/not-desire for a child and her creative life. It is autofiction, or fictionalised autobiography, forswearing traditional novelistic elements such as plot and character development; an alternative, experimental narrative of self. Sometimes it feels airless—120 pages in, and nothing changes in the way one normally expects of novels; the main conflict is between the narrator and her conflicted desires. Other times, it’s that grappling with her desires that fascinates me, for it mirrors my own struggle with the expectations, mine and societal, for my body; a self navigating emotional and physical urges within a larger social context in which the refusal of motherhood is not a norm.
I had picked up the book in a Galway bookshop in March. At dinner the previous night, I had told a group of friends—all women—that my husband and I could not have children. The ones with children were horrified, unlike the one childless friend, a successful writer. They were also fascinated, as when passersby encounter a car accident. Why, who was infertile, what were our options: they wanted to know the gory details, having dodged this catastrophe.
Only a few years ago, we were all (with the exception of the successful writer) trying for babies, and three of the four succeeded, two in their 40s, while I dreaded my inevitable period. Once, I was two weeks late, and I had felt strange, already imagining the occupation of my womb, and my excitement was tinged by unease. I remembered my mother telling 8-year-old me how she had wished she had aborted me, because of all those imagined chances at a better life she never had. What was I giving up, with having a child? And how had my relationship with my mother conditioned my feelings about motherhood?
Announcements of pregnancies and births provoke a weird feeling. There's joy of course, but also a sense, as I age, of becoming a figure of pity, the childless woman, woeful even as she appeared content with her lot in life. Where did this idea come from? Was it embodied, given form, by the looks of horror on my friends' faces? Was it, upon seeing Joan, a recent widow in my apartment building before I left Galway, with no children to mind her, surrendered to the meagre parcels of care from her niece, imagining her present as my future?
There had been a slight chance that the problem could be corrected; obviously, with lockdown, it has been rendered moot. Having accepted this new status of childlessness, I view my older conception of myself as a possible mother like a strange ruin that I must promise myself not to revisit in the future.