“Fadhma marvelled how things of the heart could be decided in a moment.” — from Mother of All Pigs by Malu Halasa
Last month, I had an unexpected New Thought. I’m so accustomed to my usual thoughts that having a new one surprised me, especially one so monumental. And the thought was: adoption.
I had always been neutral about having children, thinking if a partner really wanted them then I would, but I’d also be fine without them.
During my seven-year marriage, the subject came up periodically, though never actively discussed with any real enthusiasm from either side. Looking back, I am very grateful we never had children as it would have tied me to him, and where he lives, for the rest of my life (he has, happily, gone on to have a child with his second wife).
Funnily enough, one of the reasons I married him was because of his family. He was the eldest of five. I adored his parents and siblings. I was dazzled by their exuberance. There was something about the boisterous collection of different personalities that felt familiar and, moreover, vital.
I grew up in a loving family. My very early years, before my family moved to Kuwait, were spent in a large bungalow in Dhaka, with many relatives living around us. Specific episodes are vague, but the feelings I still remember are full of warmth and joy. Of being surrounded by love. Of a medley of relatives and house staff, including a gardener who was my bestest friend, and animals kept in our garden – a cow, chickens and goldfish in a round pond.
If we spend our lives trying to recreate that which is most familiar (both healthy and unhealthy) then I suspect some part of me has attempted to recreate my earliest memories of lots of different people gathering together, allowing each other to be.
It’s perhaps why I’ve liked working on films, where the cast and crew work in a sort of synchronised harmony with and around each other. And why I’m keen to set up something on my own that allows for different people to gather round and form a community.
Let me be clear: I don’t have a gaping hole in my life because I’m not a mother. I don’t believe having children will “complete” me. Or that having them makes for an automatically more fulfilling life – my current life is already pretty spectacular. Nor do I think children are insurance against loneliness in old age. Or that raising them is remotely easy. I’m aware that if I have them, life as I know it will change dramatically and forever.
I have spent my life roaming, living out of a suitcase, getting bored then moving swiftly on. It’s one thing to pack up a job, a home, a country, even a marriage. Children, of course, can’t be returned if I change my mind.
As friends with cats remind me: it’s not ever an option to sleep in for one measly morning; whether you feel like it or not, even if deliriously sick, you’d better get up, you’d better feed the dumplings and clean them too. Many decisions about your life are made for you, forced upon you. For a fiercely independent person like me, it would be a massive change.
But when the New Thought came, it came answering a question I hadn’t even realised I was asking: am I going to spend the rest of my life only caring for myself? Is this all there is to it?
Yet I can quite comfortably spend the rest of my life thinking only of myself. I’ve done it for four and a half decades already and it’s served me well. With a great deal of effort, I’ve cultivated a state of aimlessness, designing my life to not be answerable to anyone. One where I can choose to travel around the world for a year, and then decide after a month that I’d much rather not.
Nevertheless, something has definitely shifted for me in the past six months. After a lifetime of uncertainty (deliberate or otherwise), I’m redesigning my life for a little more consistency. I’m setting up my own enterprise too. Oddly enough, finishing writing my book has also bolstered my conviction that anything is achievable once I decide to go ahead and embrace its challenges.
The idea of adopting children (yes, plural – I’ll get to that in a minute) suddenly seems more feasible and appealing than it has ever been. Maybe now that I’m not swirling in a vortex of obscene work hours, constant stress and unknowing, I have the time/space to imagine another kind of life.
So: children. Frankly, I’d love the idea of having three or four, but two is a good start. If they’re siblings or twins, even better. Possibly because of those early childhood memories, but also because I don’t think life is a zero sum game – I have lots of love to give.
The idea of adoption is still very new for me. While it surprisingly hasn’t wavered (I routinely consider then discard small and big decisions before breakfast), I also know I need to live with this for some time before dashing over to sign papers.
Even contemplating the idea has given me clarity of mission and jolted me into putting my life in order like never before. The only practical roadblock I see is my current financial instability. (I’m not saying I need pots of money; I just need to ensure I have a somewhat stable income.)
Somewhere, I have an idea of raising them part My Family and Other Animals; part like the travel bloggers I love to read who bring up their children in multiple cultures, experiencing life first-hand in mixed communities instead of in a classroom; and part like the producers I know who take their children (and tutors and nannies) with them on film sets for months at a time.
I have been speaking about this with friends and family. It’s been incredibly interesting to hear the range of thoughts and opinions. For friends and colleagues who’ve seen me nurture my team and mentor young people, becoming a mother seems like a natural choice and one they’re convinced I’ll be amazing at. For my sister, on the other hand, for whom I shall always be young (and admittedly far less stable/responsible than her), the notion I think sounds outlandish and perhaps naïve.
Overall, I’ve found every single comment very helpful:
- “Raising children is relentless. There is no time off. And it’s not as rewarding as one might imagine.”
- “Children are f@£$%*! expensive.”
- “There go the next 20 years of your life.”
- “There is no such thing as being ‘ready’.”
- “There’s no such thing either as the ‘right time’.”
- “Don’t wait too long. If you want to adopt, do it sooner rather than later. Kids require a great deal of energy, and you’ll want to be able to run around and play with them as much as possible.” (I have to say, that sounds like great fun to me – am I mental?)
The idea of adopting two children together surprises most, though for many (especially those with children themselves), it makes sense:
- “I wished I’d had more kids. It’s good for them to have at least one sibling.”
- “Just accept that the first few years will go by in a haze. So while having two children in one go will be overwhelming at the start, it will all pass under the same cloud of haze. Then they’ll be a little bit older and can play with each other, making it easier in the long run.”
- “Having twins was the best – they learnt early to share and play together, and rely on one another. It ended up being less work than I’d thought.”
- “As a single parent it can be easy to get a little obsessive and make your child the centre of your universe. If there are two kids then that helps prevent that in some way; they have to share your attention, which is healthier for them and you.”
The idea of being a single mother raised its own round of points:
- “It’s not fair for kids to grow up without a father.”
- “You will need an insane amount of support to do it by yourself.”
- “What if you want a day off, or need to go on a work trip? You can’t take the kids with you all the time. This is when you’re going to wish there was another parent around to share the responsibility.”
- “Even though I’m married, I feel like I’m a single parent. I do all the heavy lifting and get quite resentful about it. At least by doing it alone, you know from the start you’ll be doing everything yourself anyway.”
- “Who will look after them if you die early?”
There was also bigger-picture insight:
- “My child is the only true anchor I have. Without him I’d be aimlessly wandering, searching for something genuinely meaningful.”
- “Create your own unit.”
- “You have learnt so much in your life. Share it, pass it on.”
I’m giving myself a year to (try to) sort out my finances and double-triple-quadruple check I really want to do this. But I am enjoying rolling the idea around inside and seeing where it lands.
I have found everyone’s thoughts so very valuable. I welcome more!
“They say to serve is to love. I think to serve is to heal, too.” — Viola Davis
Although I am no longer active on social media, I’d be more than thrilled if you choose to share this post on your end, thanks!
My favourite blog is Cup of Jo, by Jo Goddard, a former magazine journalist. I find just about every post smart and useful. She has a team of intelligent women writers, and each day of the week addresses different topics – style, food, travel, relationships, etc. I used to never read her posts on motherhood, but when I browsed through them recently, I found some delightful ones, such as 10 Surprising Things About Parenting in Italy (there are also posts about parenting in The Philippines, Guatemala and Croatia, among others) and A Fun Idea for Movie Nights.
I was raised by parents who didn’t hover over me. I had to fit around their lives, not the other way around, though I know parenting styles have changed a great deal in recent years. Esther Perel, who I think is the brightest mind when it comes to relationships, gave an interview to Man Repeller about marriage after kids, which is ostensibly also about parenting.
As a child, I had the luxury of being bored, which I think is critical for fostering creativity. I learnt to occupy myself with writing, drawing, telling stories, playing fancy dress, building “houses” with cushion covers, and so on. When my mother wanted to throw away an old suitcase, I adopted it and lived in it, entertaining myself for weeks. I still believe using one’s imagination is endlessly more satisfying than looking at a screen (and I say that as someone working in the film industry). My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell is one of my all-time favourite books. It’s a delightful and hilarious memoir of a childhood spent in unsophisticated but nature-rich Corfu.