I’m grateful that I wasn’t aborted because I’m a girl. I’m grateful that when I was born, no one wept over my gender. There was no conversation about whether I should be abandoned, given up for adoption or even murdered because I don’t have a particular chromosome. At birth, I was equally celebrated, and there are those in this world who aren’t.
It never occurred to my parents not to enrol me in primary school because I’m a girl. If, as a four year old, I had played at a friends’ house and done the dishes, this would not have been explained by onlookers as evidence that, as a girl, I have affection for my parents and can be expected to do household chores, whereas boys are “born stubborn” and can’t be made to help. You never would have found me, as I have found my neighbours’ daughters, serving my brother food that I had cooked while he played and climbed trees. I played and climbed trees. I cooked too, occasionally. I also raced, and explored, studied and learned, won and lost, achieved and failed and most importantly was loved. In my childhood, I was equally free, and there are those in this world who aren’t.
I encountered gender differences more tangibly as we all went through puberty. Suddenly, there was inequality, especially physically. I could no longer thrash any counterpart, male or female, in a wrestling match, nor was I encouraged to because of the sexual connotations that wrestling a testosterone charged teenage male to the ground (apparently) has. I resented and resisted these changes, sometimes half killing myself to carry some ridiculous load in the quest to prove that “if a boy can do it, I can too.” However, despite changes in our bodies and social worlds, it wasn’t hard to find my place as an equal. I thrived academically and loved learning, and my teachers pushed me, treated me as a leader and expected great things of me, as well as caring about my personal life and development. I had great friendships with guys and girls, and my love for the outdoors and for adventure was encouraged, not dismissed as a “male pursuit.” My closest guy friend and I built a friendship that flew in the face of cultural assumptions, idle opinions and stereotypes and was so soaked in mutual respect, fun, acceptance and mutuality that it buffered and anchored me for the cultural assumptions, idle opinions and stereotypes that were yet to come. As a teenager, I was equally influential, and there are those in this world who aren’t.
As I grew into a young adult, my education continued, and at no point so far in my 23 years (and counting) of schooling has my femininity been a deciding factor for inclusion, funding, or opportunity. Socially, it was sometimes harder, as apparently challenging stereotypes and assumptions about being a woman can make you seem defensive, loud-mouthed or unattractive. Certain beliefs about women are so subtle that it feels ultra uncool (read: socially unacceptable) to not just “let it go.” I encountered the reality that strength, adventure, passion, and drive are sometimes admired in men and tamed in women. Yet, I met a man who didn’t want me tamed and loved my passion. We married, and we are both growing stronger through the team we’ve formed. We are both powerful in our marriage, and I know that there are those who aren’t.
I so value the love and support I’ve been given. I’ve been afforded equal opportunities to pursue my dreams, I’ve been a leader, I’ve been loved and valued, and I’ve mostly been related to as respect-worthy by the important people in my life. Celebrated, free, influential, powerful, and then this awful thought: “What if all I’ve done is delay inevitable invisibility?”
There have been hurtful comments and unfair assumptions along the way, but at no point in my life so far have I faced an obstacle that made me feel that I’d somehow have to let go of who I am. How, then, did motherhood come to scare me? Motherhood is one of my dreams – it always was, until it wasn’t (for a while). I adore children and always knew I wanted them in my life, but then, well, fear got in the way.
This is no reflection on my own mother, undoubtedly one of the best of the bunch. She and my dad raised four children in a foreign country and started that crazy journey thirty plus years ago in some tough conditions. She had good friends, she and my dad are partners in work and she was involved in our local community. She’s active, switched on, available, loving and strong. No, it wasn’t my childhood that was the problem. It was adulthood that freaked me out.
As I got older, I started seeing motherhood from another perspective. I began to see what it cost a person. I watched people have babies and seem to get trapped indoors. I heard women I respect say things like “It suddenly occurred to me that so-and-so is more than a mum” and I thought “How did that become a thing?” I saw long-term friendships fade or struggle. I watched women with children on one side of a chasm with no bridge to the socials, parties, spiritual gatherings, work, strategy and adventure happening on the other side.
I saw a lot to admire too, but something about these changing dynamics scared me to my core. I wanted children but I felt so unsure I could be a mother. “I’m scared of becoming invisible.” I thought, to myself. “I’m scared of getting trapped outside of my life.”
I don’t feel much of that fear any more. Having children is a massive undertaking, and of course it will change my life, as it will Aaron’s, but we’re not adverse to life-changing adventures. I was filling my mind with the stuff that scared me, but I began to think on the things that encouraged, emboldened, me. Motherhood doesn’t have to be isolating and invisible – I’ve seen it be different. I don’t have to quit being friends with all the people I know if I have a baby; I know I don’t because some of my best friends have kids themselves. I don’t have to spend all my time indoors, and I don’ t have to do it all alone. I think of my friends who carry their babe around in a net bag on their back. I think of my friends who come round for dinner while extended family have time with their son. I think of the friends who invite us to join them on adventures by the sea and hang out with their awesome kids, or of those who take their kids camping, or of those who strap ’em on for a hike. I think of my friends who are amazing role models for some hot rockin’ multi-generational living. I’ve seen totally different ways of framing motherhood all round this beautiful world. I’ve seen it and I’ve got a vision.
I’m not saying it won’t be hard. I’m just saying sometimes we pick up some stuff from the culture around us that we don’t even believe in and it freaks us out. Nelson Mandela wrote in Long Walk to Freedom that the first time he boarded a plane with a black skinned pilot he panicked, and questioned how it could possibly be safe for a black man to fly a plane, before realising that even he had been affected by the apartheid mindset. He chided himself and settled down to enjoy the flight. It’s time to lay down the stuff I picked up and settle down to enjoy the ride.
Image by Pixabay user Dan Evans