Two years ago, give or take a day, I was standing here launching my first book 30-Something book. 30-Something and Over It. I remember feeling at the time incredibly overwhelmed and grateful that so many people had come along to support me, or for the free glass of wine, whatever the case may be. And I’ve been worried all week that I wouldn’t be able to pull that off twice. That no one would be here. Especially after I realised that I was competing with a long weekend, not to mention the Neil Diamond concert.
And yet here you are. And some of you have travelled a long way to be here. Thank you. Thank you all for coming tonight. I feel very supported and loved right now and I really appreciate it. Thank you also to Readings for hosting tonight and to all the people who helped me write this book. You really don’t write a book alone. I couldn’t have done it without the people who supported me emotionally, intellectually and physically. And I most certainly couldn’t have done it without all the people who allowed me to tell their, often very private and sometimes controversial, stories in my book.
When I was doing media interviews 2 years ago for 30-Something and Over It journalists often asked what I planned to write next. And my standard line was that I’d have to write fiction because my life just isn’t that interesting to write another memoir. Clearly I was wrong about that. I am that interesting.
But seriously, even though I didn’t recognise it at the time, what was unfolding in my life was the issue that every woman has to deal with at some time or another. The question of motherhood. What’s it really like? In an era of choices and unprecedented opportunities for women, how can something that is proven to be harmful to your body, your career, your relationship and your mental health be ‘the best job in the world’ or ‘the best thing I’ll ever do? Why does motherhood have such little social status when it’s so important and so damn hard?
Here’s a little excerpt from my book about that…
“When I started working part-time, I noticed for the first time all the mothers walking the streets with prams, sitting in parks and sipping coffee in cafes during the day. I remember thinking that they had it made. They socialised all day while their husbands went to work and earned the money.
That was before I started talking to mothers and trawling through the research on motherhood. That was before I discovered that mothers are among the most isolated groups in our society and their self-esteem has been battered by the views of people like me who assumed they spend all day lunching. I hadn’t realised that those mothers I was judging were guzzling coffee because they haven’t slept for more than two hours in a row for five or six months, and that I was probably observing the only adult conversation they’d had all day, or possibly all week.
After their coffee catch-up, they all go back to their homes and have nobody to talk to until their partners come home. And if their partner is late home, they’ll probably be too exhausted to engage in meaningful conversation anyway. These women have transitioned from a world where they were able to clock off at work and have the freedom to do something else to a world where they are on duty every minute of every day, of every week, of every month. There are no lunch breaks, no home times, no weekends, no holidays, no sick days. And yet we believe that daddy needs his sleep more than mummy because he has to get up the next day and do something hard, something important.”
I was truly shocked to discover that the gender inequality in parenting still exists today and despite the feminist fight, it has barely changed at all in the last 50 years. Here are some statistics for you. Although, I’m sure the statistics I’m about to read don’t apply to any of the men here tonight.
“…after the birth of her first child, a woman’s domestic workload increases by 91 per cent to an average of 55 hours and 48 minutes per week. Her partner’s workload increases zero per cent. That’s right: zero. Men’s workload increases by nought, zilch, nix, zip, nada and diddly-squat. To put that into perspective, out of the 7,000 nappies a child will require before it’s toilet trained, there’s a good chance that the mother will be changing over 6,900 of them, if not all. I know of one father who hasn’t changed a single nappy and the baby is seven months old. And before you answer, ‘Yes, but the man’s probably at work all day,’ I’m no expert, but I believe children also excrete outside of business hours.”
And once I scratched beneath the glossy surface of motherhood, I also found plenty of women who confessed in hushed tones that motherhood was in fact not the best thing they’ve ever done. This is what one mother said…..
“I hate being a parent. I hate being Mommy. My kids are okay people, even cute sometimes, but I don’t feel any great love for them. I take good care of them, I’d do everything I could to help them and protect them, but if I had a chance to go back in time, I would not have these children. You’re probably expecting some horror story. There isn’t one, other than that every day of my life, I wish I didn’t have children . . . [I am] counting the days until the kids leave home and life seems worthwhile again. I guess this is what happens when people have kids without really thinking about whether they truly want to become parents.”
Well after that, I thought a lot about whether or not I wanted to become a parent, especially after my gynaecologist told me that if I wasn’t already infertile, I would be within 12 months. And despite all the evidence to suggest that motherhood was not just the stuff of Huggies commercials my want very quickly morphed into a need. I needed to me a mother more than I have ever needed anything in my life. And I quickly found out that getting pregnant in your 30s is a lot harder than my high-school sex education teacher had led me to believe.
“There are two schools of thought when it comes to conception sex. The first is the Gandhi school. The basic tenet of the Gandhi school is that less is more. Its hallmarks are restraint and control. Advocates of this approach advise ‘conserving the sperm’ – apparently Gandhi was celibate in his 30s to conserve his ‘vital fluids’ – for two or three days prior to ovulation and then have sex once every two days. This is the quality-over-quantity approach. The second school is the Tiger Woods approach. The Tiger Woods approach, by contrast, which was advised by my practitioner of Chinese medicine, advocates having sex all day, every day (although, and this is a novel departure from the pure Tiger Woods approach, it’s recommended that the same two people are involved on each occasion).
I soon discover that my Chinese medicine practitioner is a sadist for advising the Tiger Woods approach. It’s amazing how quickly the novelty wears off. By the fifth day, I am no longer appreciative of Chris’s foreplay efforts. I don’t have the heart to tell him that in this case the rule that ‘a gentleman should go down before he goes up’ doesn’t apply, and if it’s all the same to him could we just get on with it already. And it’s started to affect our social life. Emma tells me that she’s arranged a dinner with some friends, but she’s not inviting me because I have to stay at home and have sex.”
In the months that follow I discovered that standing on your head after sex is a health hazard, how hard it is to join the mile high club, I faced the very real prospect of never being able to have a baby and I discovered firsthand the indignity and despair of IVF. I got turned into a science project, shooting up on the couch every night. And Chris, poor Chris, he had to wank and come into a cup. But fortunately he had been practicing for that moment his entire life and he performed magnificently.
But most of you here tonight already know how this story ends. There was 10kg of evidence running around a little earlier.
So I will end now by just saying thank you. Thank you once again to all of you for coming tonight.