I love Christmas. I love decorating the house with mismatched trinkets and reminiscing about the story attached to each one. I love the challenge of wrapping gifts in front of two wrapping paper-obsessed cats. I love the lady in the office with tinsel in her hair and mini reindeers dangling from her ears. I love the cheesy movies and the TV specials and the sound of Mariah blasting out the radio. I love the mulled wine and the twinkling lights and the smell of the Christmas tree. I love the excitement of Christmas Eve and the buzz of Christmas Day, the bottomless buck’s fizz, the chaos in the kitchen, the gluttony at the table, the burnt parsnips, the brussel sprouts, the terrible jokes, the games, the mess, the noise and the sight of my grandad fast asleep on the sofa, open-mouthed and still wearing his Christmas hat.
I love everything about Christmas. But it has become an odd milestone for me. A disorientating, grounding reminder of the things we have and the things we don’t. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, yes… maybe…. sometimes, but the festivities can also draw pockets of sadness and pain into sharp focus. The people we miss, the hardships we face, the challenges and setbacks and heart-breaking goodbyes – each of them wrapped with a festive bow and placed under the Christmas tree, impossible to ignore.
This Christmas will be the fourth Christmas since the Christmas we thought would be our last Christmas without a baby. The fourth jolly holiday season I’ve hoped for the same gift and the fourth year in a row I’ve woken up on the 25th of December and imagined the Christmas morning mania of parenthood with an increasingly weighty longing. In a way, so much has happened since that first Christmas and in another, so very little. We’re now just a few days of cracker-pulling and semi-conscious cheese grazing away from arriving in a new month, a new year and a new decade; and I can’t quite believe we’re entering it without a baby, or at least a bump.
And that’s the strange thing about time – it can feel like it’s standing still whilst simultaneously passing you by. I never imagined I’d have this much of it between deciding to have a baby and actually making one. It’s an unexpectedly lengthy pause that I’ve tried to find the perks in – the freedom to take a spontaneous weekend break, or lie in until midday, or put on a white blouse in full confidence that I’ll be the only one dribbling over it, for instance – but the novelty has long since worn off. The freedom that time affords us comes at a price; and that price is: overthinking. Overthinking leads to worry which leads to anxiety which leads to doubt; and in the last 3 years, I’ve gone from having an unshakable confidence in my abilities as a future parent – to having a complete lack of faith.
3 years ago, my list of worries around starting a family looked a bit like this: I worry that pushing something the size of a watermelon out my hoohaa might be a bit painful.
Here’s my list now:
I worry that IVF will never work for us and then I worry that if it does, I’ll be so emotionally scarred by infertility that I end up a horribly over-protective mother who won’t let their child so much as jump in a puddle without a thorough safety inspection, a crash helmet and a snorkel. I worry that I might spend the rest of my fertile years and every single penny I earn trying to create a tiny human and then not have anything left over at the end of it to pay for all the accessories that a tiny human requires. I worry that I’m not physically, mentally or emotionally capable of handling what being a parent really means and I worry that enjoying any aspect of my currently child-free life means I’m not even devoting enough energy into trying to make it happen. I worry that I’m selfish for wanting to bring another life into a planet so full of uncertainty; foolish for believing I have any kind of power to shield them from the scary realities of the world we live in and greedy for having so many blessings in life and yet still wanting more. I worry that, one day, I might stop wishing for a baby and instead start wishing that I no longer want one. And if I’m ever lucky enough to become someone’s Mum, I worry that I’d be so paralysed with love that I simply wouldn’t be able to think of anything else. Ever.
Humans aren’t designed to have this much time to think about things as instinctive as procreation – we’re too intelligent… seriously, we think too much, too deeply, and then we overthink until we spook ourselves. I suspect it’s some kind of subconscious protective measure kicking in, discouraging us from chasing the desires for which there’s no guarantee and limiting the potential for pain.
I was speaking about this with someone the other day who summed it up perfectly with this analogy: “It’s a bit like when I go shopping for a new pair of jeans. I try on about 6 before I lose patience. By the 7th I’m wondering if I really need a new pair and by the 8th there’s a mountain of denim on the floor and I’ve left the shop, swearing off jeans altogether.” Yep. Except, in my case, the sad pile of jeans is me and it’s my optimism and rationale leaving the building.
But if, for just a moment, I put the sad pile of jeans to one side and allow myself to overthink all my overthinking, here’s what I want to think…
The eye-watering expenses will be worth every penny; the pain of what’s missing will be a reminder of what’s there; the joy of a relationship, a home, a job, or a hobby will prove how full life can be, no matter how many there are in a family; the endless uncertainty and waiting will make gracious, patient parents who raise gracious, patient children; the compulsion to protect will provide precisely the kind of safe environment a child needs to truly be themselves; the concerns around climate change and politics and the next generations of this planet will encourage the exact kind of forward-thinking, eco-conscious, culturally-aware minds capable of confronting the mess; and the infinite love wrapped around our future children will nurture the kindest, most remarkable and inspiring little souls our world would be lucky to have.
And maybe next Christmas will be totally different. For all the right reasons.
That was directed at you, Santa, sort it out.