I know I want at least one baby. But the more I learn about motherhood, the more terrifying it seems | Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff

It’s a conspiracy, I’m sure of it. Since the pandemic in 2020, the year I moved out of the category of young adulthood, my Instagram “for you” page has been filled with images and videos of the cutest babies you could ever hope to see. Round-cheeked and smiley, they drool and babble and fall haphazardly on their faces when they fart, or smile when they fart, or just fart very loudly. It’s adorable.

As someone who, at 30, hasn’t been around many actual babies, and has only a couple of close friends who have embarked on parenthood thus far, this online exposure has been transformative. I had always known I wanted at least one child, but approached the idea with the naivety of youth and the assuredness of socialised gender norms – of course I would have a child because all little girls have the ambition to care for babies, and why would I have wasted all that time swaddling a plastic doll or discussing baby names when I was barely out of babyhood myself (Chloe was my favourite) if it wouldn’t one day translate into reality?

Initially, the for you page became a portal for my broodiness. Wouldn’t it be nice, I pondered, to be a young-ish mum? For my parents to be grandparents? Except, at some point, my feed changed from cute pictures to more realistic portrayals of motherhood.

First came the ultra-candid birth stories, the honest relaying of trauma. Responsibly, I decided to search out different messaging and stumbled upon a parenting company that posted “positive birth stories”. Unfortunately, as I read them, I realised that while they were being cast in an optimistic light, for me, almost every single one of them was still terrifying. Then I started latching on to a proliferation of grim statistics. Black women in the UK are four times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth, I read in 2021. The following year, it was reported that the number of women not returning to work after having a baby was rising for the first time in decades. And this January it was reported that the number of women who are dying in pregnancy has risen sharply.

It’s wonderful that all this information is available for women as it gives us the option to make an informed choice about motherhood. But for those of us who already feel that strong compulsion toward child rearing, from these god-awful statistics to Channel 4’s maternity ward documentary series One Born Every Minute and the brutally honest “mummy bloggers”, the excess of information is overwhelming.

Even the odd bit of seemingly good news, such as new legislation said to make paternity leave more “flexible for fathers and partners to access”, which came into effect last week, is tempered by the fact that a much larger overhaul of childcare policies needs to happen in the UK for families to be properly supported and empowered. Campaigners have called the new paternity changes “pointless”, while the charity Pregnant and Screwed is asking for a much enhanced six weeks of paternity leave, paid at 90% of salary.

Perhaps, for me, this slap around the face always needed to happen. Perhaps it is a necessary and responsible part of the process of committing to parenthood. I do think it’s a good thing to be at least a little prepared and from my extensive research, I know that so many people feel anything but. “What I wish I had known” posts about motherhood are extremely common.

But, just as an older friend told me about her experience of pregnancy – she was warned to read only one book on maternity by a midwife who sensed she might go off the deep end – I think for me at least, the best way to approach this life stage is with some blind faith. Everyone’s story is different, and at this point, learning any more would feel more like psychological torture than the healthy seeking of information.

One thing I am sure of from all of my research is that parents, as messy, traumatised and tired as they are, can truly reflect the best of humanity. All of my uncertainties coalesce around this one shining star of certainty: when I embark on that journey, I’m willing to set myself the challenge of giving over the best and most loving version of myself. And, if I have the time and energy, which I’m aware I very likely won’t, fighting the system while I’m at it. All women and birthing parents deserve better than a society that sets us up to desire motherhood and then informs us that we will endlessly suffer if we choose that path – but will be looked down upon if we don’t.

Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff is a freelance journalist

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