When you are bullied and humiliated by someone – a peer, a parent, a sibling, motherhood – and brought low and defeated by it, you can go either of two ways: you can vow never to do that to others and campaign for change – or you think, I had to suffer this, and so should you.
It is particularly hard in this modern life: everyone else seems to be having such a bloody terrific time. If you are mired in the under-threes, elbow-deep in the brown, you can powerfully want to cut off all communication with anyone child-free, anyone who is able to have an uninterrupted thought, or sleep undisturbed or have an actually nice holiday where they get drunk and laze around. It just feels so unfair, like you are stuck inside revising while everyone else has a hilariously brilliant picnic on a lawn that you can hear and see, but not participate in.
You can feel like you cannot talk to these child-free people (or those with older kids) because the bitterness you feel about it all will show, it will be so obvious and you just won’t be able to be polite or nice or generous about someone else’s nice holiday, or their new jeans or their long, lazy Sunday lunch last weekend. You don’t want your bitterness to be obvious because you don’t want people who don’t know what they are talking about to say to each other that you are ‘struggling’ or ‘hating being a mum’.
But you can still see it happening, unless you avoid completely Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media outlet. And the only way you can really deal with seeing about and hearing about all these lovely things the child-free are doing is to think, ‘Yes, but one day you’ll be having a shit time like me and my kids will be six and eight and then we’ll be the ones having awesome holidays!’
And when people you know, or just acquaintances, start having children and you see them or hear about them suffering, the feeling is very, very close to relief. Getting a glimpse into that life – the new baby, the misshapen body, the confusion, the exhaustion, the long road ahead – and then turning away from it to your life, that tiny bit further along the way, is like waking up from an awful dream.
With motherhood there is an innate fear that you are having a bad time because you are doing it wrong, because there is something missing within you, that you lack a maternal gene or something.
So seeing other parents struggling, too, is such a blessed, sweet reassurance that it is very hard not to take massive comfort from it. You are not a failure as a person. You found it hard because it was hard. You were not mad and depressed, you were just under stress. There was no magic trick you couldn’t perform. It just is what it is.
And that is a perfectly okay, normal way to feel and a normal, if not especially saintly, way to think.
Having the thought is not bad; it’s acting on it that is.
The important thing is to keep it to yourself, or to confess it only to other mothers in your own situation.
I fell into a rage a few months ago because a person I know had dared to email me telling me how ‘connected’ she felt to her foetus. I rang my sister, gibbering with rage. ‘If I had said that to her when I was pregnant, she would actually have teased me to death. But I have to take her fucking hippy bullshit on the chin and smile and say “Great!”’ I was high-pitched with anger. It wasn’t rational. ‘You must never speak to her again,’ said my sister, gravely. I relaxed.
I remember that same sister ringing me in a gibbering rage because a woman she knows who had a five-month-old baby was bragging about how well it slept; my sister’s kids are all well out of nappies and sleep in until about 9am, and yet it suddenly drove my sister up the wall.
‘I mean who does she think she is bloody talking like that?! What an idiot.’ And my sister is lovely and loves other women and other mothers.
It’s not rational, how we feel about other mothers. It’s not normal. We all look normal on the surface, but underneath it, we’re all just motherfuckers.