All around me, friends are pregnant or raising children but I dont feel the slightest twinge of broodiness. Is this normal?
Scrolling through my Instagram feed, I come across a montage of celebrity fathers with their children. A roll call of shirtless A-listers cradle naked-mole-rat-pink babies in their arms like Athena posters, or parade their own mini-mes in tiny tuxedos and bow ties. I cant cope, says one commenter with a flurry of baby-bottle emojis. My ovaries are about to explode, warns another. I pause. Frown. Put the phone away, smooth down my trousers and concede the following: there is something very wrong with me.
My confession is this: I am a married, solvent-ish woman approaching 34 and I am not and never have been broody. Its a sentiment that eludes me, and has done for years. I always banked on suddenly waking up one day and needing a child as if broodiness were an amorphous thing that would abruptly materialise at some point. But still, it is not here.
The thing is, though, I actually want to be broody. In fact, I almost feverishly want to want a baby. Wouldnt that be lovely? To fulfil your evolutionary purpose. To yearn as women like me are supposed to yearn. Most of my social circle have babies, or intend to have them soon. My identical twin sister gave birth very recently. I already love that child more than anything, but I still cannot summon it up within me to want that for myself. Instead, theres just a numbness where that yearning would be.
I know there are many women who choose not to have children, or who cant have them. I know these women; Ive cried with these women. I may well be one of these women, one day. But they fit into one of two camps: Cant and Wont. What about the Dont Want It Enoughs, like me?
Is it possible to kickstart that yearning?
Evolutionary anthropologist Dr Gillian Ragsdale is intrigued by my plan to make myself broody. She has rather strong views about what constitutes broodiness. No animal needs to want to have offspring, she says. What they need to do is want to have sex.
The maternal drive, she believes, is something of a myth. If you were locked in a cave and you never saw a child, you wouldnt want a child, she says. Its more a case that were primed to nurture if we spend a lot of time around babies. Broodiness is very much a social thing.
Dr Sarah McKay, a neuroscientist and the author of Demystifying The Female Brain, agrees. Ive been talking to her about my polycystic ovary syndrome a hormonal disorder that can lead to irregular (or in my case, nonexistent) periods and even infertility and whether this might be countering any natural broodiness. Well, no, she says. Think about it the other way round. Just because your body is ovulating or ready to have a baby, it doesnt mean your brain is. Biologically, we reach our most fertile child-bearing years when we start to menstruate, which could be as young as 12 or 13. But I dont think many girls that age feel any sort of maternal urge. Its other social factors that make us feel we are ready to have a baby.
If broodiness is at least partly a social construct, can I do something to cultivate my own? A quick search online throws up some ideas. Ticking clocks, I discover, have been found to make women broody (nothing like the passing of time to remind me, as others so often do, that my fertile years are trickling away). I also come across one study that suggests women just yearn for the experience of being pregnant. So what if I make myself feel pregnant? Might that prod my broody gene into action?
So I get a bump, a large Styrofoam belly that fastens with a scratchy corset at the back. It wrestles my breasts up to my chin and protrudes preposterously in front. My husband eyes it with the shy wariness of a child. Every time I pass him, he slowly pokes the foam, plunging deep into the belly before muttering a quiet, Huh.
I wear it to the supermarket and feel like a fraud. I sprint around the shop because I am terrified someone is going to ask my due date.
I wear the bump for two days. My husband takes a photograph of me cradling my faux stomach in a maxi dress, surely the most maternal of outfits. But the results are unsettling. As I look at the image, hot sweat prickles my scalp. Dont make me do this, I find myself thinking.
And so I start to rebel. I squish the bump against things, rest bowls of cereal on it, use it as a laptop table. It seems I need something more realistic if Im going to imagine myself with a child. And that comes in the shape of my one-year-old nephew, Rufus.
Holding my brothers baby
Rufus is adorable. With curls of squirrel-red hair, pillowy elbows and two minuscule tombstone teeth. But I have no idea what to do with him. I will be in charge of the baby for the day (while my brother hangs back in the kitchen; lets not go too crazy). I am unable to leave Rufuss side and forced to shuffle about after him to check for sharp edges and swallowable objects. By the end of the morning, I am unwashed, my teeth feel like Velcro, my bladder is almost at popping point and there is half-chewed hot-cross bun in my eye.
I decide a change of scene is needed so wrangle him into the buggy and head outside. After wandering aimlessly for 40 minutes, I notice Im drawing smiles of solidarity from other mothers. It feels nice like bringing another human being into the world buys you membership to an exclusive club for really tired people who cant wash their hair. The novelty, however, soon wears off when Rufus wakes and begins to wail. An hour later I return, exhausted, and hurl him at my brother. Lovely. Train to catch! I call over my shoulder, pulling the door shut behind me.
Once recovered, I realise to my chagrin that the ambivalence is still there. The bump made me feel odd; Rufus made me feel amused, confused and exhausted. Im no broodier than before.
But maybe thats OK. Ive come round to the idea that there might be deeper psychological reasons behind this. If Im honest with myself, Im not sure Im made to be a mother. I spent a chunk of my 20s being wholly irresponsible and, at times, self-destructive. I was not very nice. I let people down. If I judge myself on past behaviour, I wouldnt want me as a mother why should someone else?
Probably the hardest thing to admit is that I sometimes think, Whats the point? When my father died in 2004, I remember thinking, My children will never get to have him as a grandfather. Now, when I see small children being chased round the park by out-of-shape old geezers, it actually hurts. Could that subconsciously be part of the reason why Im digging my heels in?
I do still want to be broody. I know many women never felt that desire, but had kids anyway because they were convinced they simply had to get on with it. These women took a deep breath and made the selfless decision to just suck it and see, and they seem pretty happy with the results.
Of course, I still have friends who describe broodiness as an uncompromising focus, and for one who recently lost a baby, a desperation. But there are also those, like me, who will never experience this. One friends baby was unplanned, but she still loves it as much as she would if motherhood were something for which she had yearned. A solicitor friend tells me of the time a colleague brought her baby into the office and she hid in the loo because she was so petrified of holding it. She has two children now.
Maybe, Ive realised, its OK to make some decisions with our heads, rather than waiting for a vague physiological urge. Perhaps its OK to consider something carefully. To pencil it in because youd like your life to be a certain way sort of like Field Of Dreams, only for maternal instincts. To paraphrase: Build it, and they will come eventually. Thats what Im hoping for, anyway.
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