When I met their father, my main priority was not motherhood or even getting my career into some kind of order. It was being OK on my own.
I was a lonely, bullied kid who turned out needy. The kind of person who went out every night, no matter how tired I was, or how little I liked the company I was keeping, in order not to be alone. I had entire relationships, both sexual and platonic, simply so I did not have to spend time on my own. Such is the long-term effect of victimization and relational aggression at a young age.
At 28, I thought it was about time I learned to be happy in my own company. That summer, I returned to Dublin, where I’d been in grad school, and took a room in a shabby house that during the school year was rented to students. Apart from a high-speed Internet connection and a local stray cat that had turned the backyard into his boudoir, I was alone. Romance, marriage and children (biological or otherwise) were not even a footnote on my agenda. I was gearing to be a long-term single lady, complete with the dance moves that I practiced in my roommate-free living room.
It was great. I cooked for myself, reconnected with old friends, took a lot of walks and did extra work at home in the evenings. I was fulfilled, challenged and generally happier. It was inevitable then that I’d quickly succeed in meeting not one but two cliches about love. The first: ”It’ll happen when you’re not looking.” The second: ”Most people meet their partners at work.”
Reader, we met on the kitchen on my first day in the office, worked side-by-side for two months, stayed in touch when my contract expired, dated and married about six months later.
The kids liked me by that point. About two months after I first met them, Isabel and James (twins then aged nine), had asked my husband if we were dating before cornering me during dinner to confirm that this indeed was the case.
I took their 8-year-old sister Rosa’s silence as complicity in this. She has an extreme form of autism, so the fact that she’d started making eye contact and telling me what she was drawing seemed as good a sign as any that she’d accepted my presence in her life.
I was suitably moved but also a bit concerned.
When you become involved with someone who already has kids, there’s a chance they may not want more. I can remember being slightly put-off in the early days of talking to my husband and learning that he had three children. My thinking went that someone with two kids is not likely to mind having a third, but someone with three is probably not going to be very keen to have a fourth. Even in Ireland, where large families used to be the norm, four kids is a heavy burden.
By the time we got married, we had debated this issue a lot. I’d already spent much of my 20s in mourning for the children a consultant gynecologist had brutally told me I’d never be able to have. I was aware that if I did ever want to have a child of my own, I’d probably better start saving up for the expensive fertility treatments I was likely to need. (We found out later I’d been misdiagnosed.)
There’s nothing like an experience like that to cauterize your feelings on a subject, leaving you trapped in a mindset of grief, post-traumatic stress and longing well past the point when ”acceptance” should have become a key-word in your vocabulary. Seeing my husband’s relationships with his children once again threw my feelings on the subject into sharp relief.
He is an excellent father. Caring, communicative, considerate of the children’s wanst and needs, and of their relationship with their mother. The kind of father I very much wanted for any children of my own. After a few months, my feelings were very clear indeed: I wanted to be a mother.
Really, I had wanted to be since childhood. Even at times when I felt that I’d probably end up horribly alone (see the effects of relational aggression above), I still wanted to have that bond with a child. For me, having stepchildren partially enabled that, and served to show how much I’d be missing out on if I didn’t at least try for a child of my own.
Granted, I was not around for any of the really hard stuff. Having twins, then another baby within 20 months might be considered a form of torture. It combines massive sleep deprivation, a dire depletion of savings and income, and so many bodily fluids that no one could blame either my husband or his ex for never wanting to see another nappy, teething ring or pediatrician ever again.
And yet, when I see the bond that exists between my husband and his children, all of the hard stuff seems worth it. I adore my stepchildren and love seeing them with their father. It feels like a new child, that all five of us could bond with, bringing us even closer together, would only bring our family more love.