I am forty-four years old and my daughter will be born in two months. I spent childless what, with the help of the case, could take the form of half of my life. How can I choose whether to stay with mothers or with non-mothers? I will always feel comfortable in both guises, I actually feel comfortable with women’s stories, which are always articulate and not so dichotomous, and I will always feel uncomfortable with any judgmental posture, wherever it comes from. I was the daughter of a twenty-year-old mother and I will be a mother twice her years: even this distinction between more or less elderly primiparas, if it becomes a battlefield, makes me portray.
There are just over sixty days left to what I have learned to call DPP (an acronym that looks like a decree, but it is the presumed date of birth) and I begin my farewell from that other me, in whose skin I have lived for so long. I have read all the interventions of the debate initiated on these pages with the same attention with which, over the years, I have listened to or intuited the positions of my friends regarding motherhood, sometimes feeling very distant and at others closer. All respectable but none ever mine. It is right that this is the case, every woman should take the floor: there is no “motherhood”, there is motherhood, plural, as many as we are, indeed more. Those who have more children know this very well, even better than me, especially if they are made at different ages.
So who was I up to seven months ago?
I had no children, but I certainly did not take a stand. I didn’t rule out having them, but if I didn’t have them I would have been happy all the same: I was simply somewhere else. Will this awareness make me a degenerate mother? This will be decided by the creature I already love more than myself when I tell her, with great honesty, that she did not come into the world to complete me: her task, if anything, is to be excessively free and, if possible, madly happy. When I was very young, I felt close to nulliparous women for a while, but certain arrows against the others, the mothers, had pushed me away. I have avoided the risk of making a flag of non-motherhood, a risk no better than that of making it of motherhood. The stories of women are complex, the history of motherhood has always oscillated between oppression and liberation: in that cornerstone that is Born of a woman, Adrienne Rich writes that motherhood is the most feminist condition there is, and at the same time the most patriarchal institution. If I think of the attempts at medicalization of pregnancy that I have had to evade in recent months, the way in which obstetrics – the realm of women – has been ridiculed by gynecology – for a long time the realm of men -, the recent battles to put of the experience of childbirth, the will and the body of women, I know exactly what I am talking about. I know what I’m talking about if I say that behind every “rest!” screamed in physiological pregnancies there is a not too hidden need to exercise control over the body of women, and that most of the drugs or cosmetics advised against in these nine months are not really harmful: simply, no one considers it useful to do serious tests to make them available to pregnant women. On the one hand, the pregnant woman is treated as a sacred shrine, on the other, who cares about her needs or desires? Two sides of the same coin: the pregnant body is treated as a container.
Let’s go back to that other dichotomy: do you want children or don’t you want any? Shades are not allowed. I, on the other hand, took them all.
When I was twelve I started babysitting my cousins, with that money I then paid myself on Saturday evenings from my teenage years up to university and in the meantime I had learned to change diapers, entertain a baby and a four-year-old together, prepare pastries at the simple and fragrant tomatoes and many other things that maybe will come in handy (or maybe not, even children are all different from each other). Then my cousins had grown up, I had moved, I had started writing. Meanwhile, my friends had children by chance, by mistake, by will, with obstinacy, carelessly, they had become pregnant by wrong men or by perfect companions, they had analyzed their infertility and chosen assisted fertilization or adoption. Sometimes we had drifted apart, because our worlds had naturally divided, but mostly I liked children, I liked mothers, I liked the life of women with so much determination, I liked it a little less when someone insisted: and you ? More than feeling offended, it seemed like a nosy question and I felt like laughing because more or less they were asking me what was going on inside my sheets even before in my head. I was thinking of Bridget Jones when she said that a pregnant woman, after all, is forced to confess to everyone that she has just had sex. (I feel this dazed British modesty very much mine).
Then, one day, the planets aligned and my daughter came along. Her dad and I knew right away she was a girl, from the first day late. We also knew what it was called. And that’s enough, we didn’t know anything anymore, she’ll tell us the rest: we have no idea who she is, we don’t know her and we keep a feeling of amazed expectation on almost everything that concerns her. The best sentence about motherhood was given to me by a girl of my age, when, a little frightened by the future, I asked her many questions about the tastes and habits of her daughter, who was just a few months old: I don’t know this, she replied to a certain period, I’m still getting to know her. Therefore, daughter: you will teach me who you are, I will give you the whole universe and you will explain that as well.