Elizabeth Day: The most insensitive thing a new parent has ever told me
Styling: Holly Elgeti. Makeup: Nicky Weir using Hourglass Beauty. Hair: Alex Szabo at Carol Hayes using T3 Haircare. Shirt, Lisou. Earrings, Missoma. Trousers, Marella. Rings, Daisy Jewelry, Pilgrim.
After my last miscarriage, a friend suggested I hang out with his wife and newborn baby.
“I read somewhere that it’s supposed to be good for you to be with babies if you’re trying to conceive,” he explained.
He told me how sweet his daughter was, and how good his older sister felt when she arrived and how much I would appreciate her. He suggested that I babysit as if it was an act of great generosity on his part. I gently pointed out that having lost my own baby, I would find it quite emotional to be confronted with someone else’s.
For those who claim that I am too sensitive, I ask you to think about how a person who has broken their leg could respond to an invitation to join a game of ice skating and then multiply the emotional stakes by 5,000. This will give you an idea of what I’m getting at.
My friend may have spoken without thinking, but he is by no means an exception. When you are a woman who has made no secret of her desire for children (like me), but has not yet had the chance to become a mother herself, you will be inundated with invitations from parents who automatically assume that it means you must want to spend time with their offspring.
‘Come! You haven’t seen Bertie / Cosmo / Jada for so long. You will be shocked at how much they have grown… ‘
When my contemporaries started having children, I used to scour London conscientiously with age-appropriate soft toys and picture books. When they started to leave town, I was juggling weekend train schedules and rural taxi companies to visit them. It wasn’t just that I was afraid of being a bad friend if I didn’t make the effort; it was because I felt judged.
“If Elizabeth really wants to be a mother,” the unspoken reasoning would say, “then she will clearly want to be with our children. It will be good training for her!
Maybe this internal dialogue was my invention, but I always felt like I was performing, as if my suitability for the role of “mother” was constantly being assessed. Can I speak to children at their level? Was I fun for the toddler to play with Lego? Did I know how to hold a baby and support its head? Could I bottle-feed them while their mother “had a bite to eat”?
Of course, I would always be ready to help if needed and some of those moments were really special. At the same time, I didn’t want it to be our entire relationship. I wanted my friendships to allow us to connect as adults as well. Instead, the assumption was that I would love all the kids just because I wanted my own.
I have children in my life who I adore. But let’s be honest: a lot of kids are pretty boring to be around, especially if they’ve been raised by parents who fear setting limits. Children, like adults, can have good days and bad. A lot of times they’re not aware of the impact of actions on other people because, well, they’re kids. Being surrounded by this energy when you’re not their parent isn’t always a fun way to spend a weekend.
But in our culture obsessed with children and parental fetishism, you are not allowed to say that without sounding like a monster; without ringing – and here is the kicker – non-maternal.
After this last conversation with my friend, I decided I could protect my own emotional energy. My real friends, those who are loving parents but also meet me as their equal, are honest enough to tell me that even though they are parents, they don’t particularly want to spend time with other people’s children no more. They tell me my motherhood time will come. And when it does, I promise I’ll never expect them to come and play Lego with the little one – unless they really want to.
This week I’m …