by Jennifer Robinson
Jennifer is 29 and splits her time between the UK and Uganda where she lives with her partner and their two children.
When you start telling people you’re pregnant the questions just keep coming. I thought it was bad with my first (unplanned) pregnancy:
“Oh. What are you going to do?” I am going to have a baby.
“Oh. Are you with the father?” Right now I’m here inwardly rolling my eyes at you. He’s at home.
“Oh. Do you need some leaflets about terminating unwanted pregnancies?” No thank you. Just a referral to a midwife please, Doctor.
“Well, don’t worry, it will all turn out all right” Ah man, I was so worried. Phew. You’ve alleviated all my fears about my own inadequacies.
Distinctions between first pregnancy and second pregnancy are vast – I felt much more relaxed. My doctor also initially thought the second pregnancy was ovarian cancer, so in a choice between that and a baby, obviously I’ll take the baby.
Nothing prepares you for the sickness, but like the waves of nausea whenever you open the fridge, the questions just keep coming.
This time, by the nature of having already had a baby and managed quite well actually, there were less “your life is ruined” undertones and more “hope you love being tired” undertones.
My first kid barely slept for three years. I am the Queen, no, the KHALEESI of tired. I laugh in the face of tired. Slightly hysterically and at 2am, but I do laugh. Right before leaning into the cot to ask my baby what her damn problem is and right before I accidentally-on-purpose elbow her sleeping father in the face. AT WHICH HE DOES NOT WAKE.
The biggest mistake made by non-parents is to suppose that tiredness and dirty nappies are the worst of it. Those are easy, they have solutions; sleep works itself out. The hard part is having your child ask why the other kids were calling him a brown boy, why they were throwing things at him, or why they didn’t want to play. I have noticed an undertone of casual racism to many of my sons’ encounters with children in the UK and let me tell you – they get it from the parents. The hard part is having to watch as the world begins teaching them that nobody but your parents is going to do shit for you. With a boy, that means he has to work hard, but with a girl; life will find ways to stack itself against her just as it always has.
Let me go back to the inference that pregnancy ruins your life (if you’re not married, and especially for single mothers). This goes back to when women were to be preserved for marriage, from the same place as such enlightened schools of thought as ‘if a woman has an abortion she no longer deserves love and compassion’, or as is still an important part of some cultures, particularly in Northern Africa and the Middle East, ‘if she’s ever going to get married then any visible traces of genitalia must be removed lest she be rendered unclean.’
FGM is the extreme end of a sliding scale of inequality, a scale which has us applying layers of makeup, dieting for literal decades, using language differently; ‘treating’ ourselves to things men just buy themselves because they want them; or to food we want but don’t feel we should have; shrinking out of the way when a man is taking up our personal space. All of these things are interlinked within an idea about the value of women and our own self-worth. I saw a thought-provoking graphic the other day which said: If I asked you to name something you love, how long would it take for you to name yourself?
How are women supposed to learn to love themselves when society applies conditions to the love it offers them?
It is not far from living memory in the UK that women were little more than property and still ongoing in many other places. But these attitudes have no place in modern life. People no longer meet at village dances and take years to get to know each other before marrying in church, they swipe right. If you don’t get a match, no problem, there’s someone else.
What HAS happened, in the face of all the terrible things that the internet has brought us (I’m looking at you, Tinder), is an upsurge in acceptance for even the most unorthodox lifestyle. But why has this trend of acceptance not yet made its way to single mothers?
It’s not AS taboo – children no longer grow up to discover their sister is fact their mother and their mother is their grandmother as a way to avoid the stigma, judgment and persecution young mum’s faced if they had children out of wedlock.
But if one of the first questions I’m asked is ‘are you with the father?’ then is that a sign that society is ready for a woman who says “Actually, no I’m not”? In fact, with my second baby, the FIRST QUESTION I was asked by people I know relatively well was “Do they have the same father?” so – under the assumption that – as I might not have been able to hang onto the first guy (should have dieted harder post-baby?), at least I may have a chance of the second guy sticking around! Life jackpot!
Sorry to disappoint, but it’s the same father. Yes, we’re together. So damn traditional.
And while it may not disappoint overtly, it’s a much juicier piece of information to pass on when the father is not around, because people love to see women fail. This is why Ulrika Jonsson was named the shockingly derogatory 4×4 (four kids by four fathers) by the British media when men have been having kids left, right and centre for millennia and nobody says a bloody word other than ‘you go, Rod Stewart’, or ‘great work, Donald Trump’.
By whatever circumstances brought her there, she is not considered to have simply ended relationships that were not working but has instead failed to hang onto a man. I have friends who have chosen to go it ‘alone’, a misleading phrase because when you have friends who are parents too, you’re never alone. ‘Going it alone’ just means there’s no man around. I have nothing but respect for them, and I will do anything that they need me to do to help, because this is hard. It’s hard when you have a traditional support network – the mythical village it takes to raise a child. I have resolved to be part of my friends’ villages, even if it’s on the outskirts.
I maintain that parenting, for all women – with or without a partner – is like lying on your CV that you have certain skills so that you get hired, then realising that not only do you not have those skills, you don’t have any skills at all and then you end up crying in the bathroom because you can’t remember how to make a table on Excel and your boss is waiting for the report. Just as they can’t imagine you feeling out of your depth, your child won’t know you’re crying in the bathroom, all they’ll see is you opening the door and smiling at them.