Allow me a small diversion from the whole egg / baby thing — although it is kind of related…
I’ve spoken before about how I really resent arbitrary divisions being made between people — and particularly between women — defining individuals as single or part of a couple, pitting mothers against non-mothers and so on. And, with respect to the latter, one of the things I have real beef with is the idea that “until you’re a mum you have no idea what X means” where X is equal to “love”, “exhaustion”, “worry”, “fear” etc etc. Ultimately I think it’s hugely insulting to anyone to undermine their emotion by telling them that because they’re not a parent, there’s no value in what they feel.
I similarly take issue with the idea that just because you’re not starving in Africa, or dead in a ditch, you should be happy. Sure, I’m all for a bit of perspective and counting your blessings, but as one very dear friend told me years ago when I apologised for being distraught about a break up when her dad had just died, hierarchies of misery aren’t really that helpful. One person’s tragedy does not make your own personal one any easier to bear.
That said, I know it happens. So even as I was writing a quick post on social media about how tired I was, I had an inkling of what might happen next. And, sure enough, a friend of mine, who is a mother of two, responded asking what my excuse was for being so tired, commenting she’d only had five hours sleep the previous night.
I was going to leave it, but me being me, I couldn’t. So I gave her my “excuse” which boiled down to loads of work + admin + dealing with a few workmen + the importance of maintaining my social life so I don’t go mad from lack of human contact due to living and working alone + doing the exercise I regularly do. But although that’s part of it, that wasn’t my real “excuse.” I felt I couldn’t say what I really wanted to say, so — you lucky people — I’m saying it here.
What I really wanted to say was…
“I don’t want to play top trumps on tiredness, but if you’re going to force me to, let’s do this. Yes, you have two children, but you also have a husband, and family close by who regularly help out. Yes, when you’re not on maternity leave you have a demanding job, but you’re employed in an office.
The reason why I’m tired is because I do everything.
I’m self-employed, so I do my work, but I also do the invoicing, the book-keeping and the accounting. I do the IT support, order paper for the printer and make sure there are envelopes, working pens, stamps and tea.
I have to do all that stuff because I pay my mortgage on my own, I am my own fallback plan. I’m solely responsible for my own house, for putting up shelves — or paying someone to put up shelves — for checking that the boiler’s been serviced, for getting quotes for the roof when it needs mending, for making sure the gutters are cleared, and the garden furniture is put away for winter, for deciding if I really do need to upgrade my fuse box or if the electrician is just pulling a fast one, for working out why the wireless router isn’t working and how to fix it.
I’m the one who makes sure that my car has an MOT, is taxed, serviced and has petrol in it.
I buy and cook my own food, and I do all the washing up and stacking the dishwasher and emptying the dishwasher and taking the bins out.
There is no default person who shares the little triumphs and disappointments of my life — the ones that aren’t worth ringing someone to tell, but nonetheless make up the fabric of my day; the sort of things you might tell your husband, over a glass of wine after dinner — the client who finally paid up, the postcard from a schoolfriend, the cracking of your favourite mug, the watch that stopped and, despite a battery change, resolutely refuses to start.
It’s just me, doing it all on my own.
And most of the time I don’t even stop to think about that. It just doesn’t cross my mind. It’s just what I do, unthinking, day in, day out. On the odd occasion, when I find myself wishing that for once, just once, someone else would say “it’s OK, I’ll do that”, I remember the upside — the autonomy, the freedom.
I’m not complaining. But can we just recognise that doing everything might, physically and emotionally, be just a little bit exhausting? That’s why I’m tired. That’s my ‘excuse'”
(Of course, if I do end up having a child on my own, I will have to do all of the above With A Child. But I really can’t dwell on that because if I did, I think I’d genuinely never get out of bed again.)
PS…… A quick adjunct to all this… when I was discussing this with a friend, I remembered that there was a piece that Lindy West wrote for the New York Times in the wake of Trump’s election that summed up the general exhaustion that I felt in the face of the idea that our hard won women’s rights aren’t a given, that they won’t automatically continue, that we have to continue to fight for them.
I am so not the sort of person who looks for every opportunity to show how women are hard done by, I wasn’t brought up to think that there were things I couldn’t do because of my gender, but I do think that because it’s so ingrained in our culture, we often don’t even see it, and it’s only when seismic events throw it into sharp relief that we remember that we have to fight for everything, that underneath it all, there’s a constant struggle. Lindy was explaining why the election result made her cry:
I cried because it’s not fair, and I’m so tired, and every woman I know is so tired. I cried because I don’t even know what it feels like to be taken seriously — not fully, not in that whole, unequivocal, confident way that’s native to handshakes between men. I cried because it does things to you to always come second.
And it kind of made me think that simply being a woman is a source of existential exhaustion, and another reason to stop arguing about whether being a mother/non-mother/single/wife/girlfriend is more, or less, of an ‘excuse’ — there should be more that unites us than divides us.