I’d had too much wine.
We'd started drinking at lunch, when our friends came over with their delightful blonde-mopped baby. But then they had to go home because the baby had to go home and do the things babies need to do, like bathe and sleep and feed.
We don’t have a baby, so we got on our bikes and cycled to the pub. We sat in our favourite corner and drank more wine and, in that way that wine sloshes through your veins and washes over your brain, suddenly you’re saying things and you don’t know why or how the conversation took that turn. But you’re here now and you’re not going anywhere.
And suddenly my face was burning and my eyes were stinging and his face frowned. “Why are you crying?” And obviously I was crying because we’d be drinking since lunch and now it was dark, but I was crying because I couldn’t catch the words that were falling out of my mouth, like a bag of nails spilling on a hard floor, scattering, clattering, chaotically.
And, for the first time, I admitted to myself – and to him – that I was scared of having a baby. Because I don’t think I’ve even begun and there are so many things I want to do and see and write and talk about, and I just don’t understand how all my wild plans for the future can be married with a small thing that needs baths and sleep and feeds. And I’m not just scared because my body will change (*if* my body is able to have a baby – “Jane’s had her eggs counted. Should I have my eggs counted? Another glass of pinot, please. Large”), but scared in a profound, unnervingly quiet way, like a shark below the water’s surface. A slow, steady fear that creeps and seeps into my every pore, all the time seemingly accompanied by a menacing soundtrack always playing in my mind.
I’m scared of what will happen to me.
We’re all fully aware that Having It All is simply a slogan dreamt up in a focus group to persuade a new generation of working women that they should also still be changing nappies
Because I watched my mother trying to be the 1980s superwoman with briefcase in one hand and baby in the other, and I watched what impossibly hard work that was, and now we’re all fully aware that Having It All is simply a slogan dreamt up in a focus group to persuade a new generation of working women that they should also still be changing nappies.
And because I know that 77 per cent of women have faced some form of pregnancy or maternity discrimination. I’ve reported on it regularly; I’ve spoken to the brave women who tried to take their cases to tribunal and lost everything – their pride, their money, their health. I’ve had women write to me time and time again, asking what they can do, because, yes, the laws are there, but how can they prove that their line manager has moved the important meeting forwards to 5pm, the same time they need to leave to pick up their children from nursery? How do they prove that they’ve been demoted, that they’re left out of email chains, missed out for promotions, that everyone looks at them ever so slightly differently, almost in soft focus now they are a “mum”.
I know – out of my wine fog – how much easier things are now: successful women don’t have to pretend they don’t have children; men can take paternity leave (although this is only being embraced in some workplaces; friends in certain, more traditional sectors have told me that there’d just be “no way” their partners could ask for it). I know that’s there’s amazing work being done by the likes of the tireless campaigner Joeli Brearley and her Pregnant Then Screwed campaign. And I know that these women do exist – those who have the career they want and children, and make it work. I know that because they are my friends, colleagues, mentors.
But, sitting there, with my bike and my boyfriend and an empty glass of wine, the injustice that he did not have to face stung, like tired eyes. And, while I was scrabbling around to pick up the words that fell out of my mouth and put them in some sort of order of sense and reason, I couldn’t stop the feeling that flexible working and bearded stay-at-home dads weren’t enough. It was more than that – was I selfish for being so ambitious? Was I childish for having wild future plans? Was I naive to not hear the tick-tocking as loud as Jane, as the friends with the apps, trying and planning and scheduling it all in? Did I need an app? Do I even want children or is it just so deeply ingrained in “being a woman” that I think I do?
And, mostly, I was angry. I was so angry that it was my turn to face this shit-show of a dilemma, even though it’s one women have spent centuries fighting for, it’s a privilege hard-earned and it’s a privilege that still not all women are afforded. But this “privilege” seems to have some nasty small print.
Yes – work flexibly, work on your own time, but quick, hurry up, you’re running out of time. And be aware that you might not be able to take an opportunity because it won’t fit around your overly expensive childcare, and you might start to notice that people see mum first, Marisa second, and you might start to wonder who you are. Like a before and after in Stars In Their Eyes, except you don’t know the person you’ll transform into on the other side: “Tonight, Matthew, who am I going to be?”
“Let’s go home,” he said. We cycled and the cold blast of air broke the dark, drowsy spell of white wine and a warm pub and tired eyes, pushing my fear back below the surface. For now.