For the five or six months of your pregnancy that is visible to the outside world, the outside world will attempt to warn you about what’s coming next. People who have a limited grasp on logic or have grown up oddly sheltered from common expressions such as ‘you can’t be a little bit pregnant,’ or skipped health classes in high school where a bored/embarrassed/somnambulant PE teacher explained the one-way street that is second trimester pregnancy, will take it upon themselves to offer the kind of advice that’s as useful as winding down the window of a car shouting ‘Bridge out ahead!’ and waving gaily like smug Samaritans as the train carriage you are strapped into hurtles toward a chasm with comically bent tracks disappearing into oblivion. In short, it’s not helpful. There’s no way out.
The warnings about the pain and practicalities of childbirth are useful. I took them seriously enough to introduce myself as ‘Epidural’ upon being admitted to the labour ward last month in the throes of pain that was, as the warners described, indescribable. But what you largely get warned about is nothing you can medicate away or buy swaddling linens made from sustainably sourced bamboo for. What you get warned about is so fundamental and irresolvable that it feels more like condolences than advice. Pregnant! The hands flutter to the mouth or heart. The following is issued, in no particular order, or all at once:
‘It’s like a piece of your heart is outside yourself forever, and you have no control over what happens to it. You’ll never sleep properly again. You’ll have to consider someone else in everything you do for the rest of your life. You start making concessions from the moment they arrive. You’ll do things for them you’d never do for yourself, and then they’ll rip your heart out with a few thoughtless words.’
Baby advice? I could read that out as a wedding speech. And although you can stop that particular train in time, nobody tries to warn you about falling in love. When you say ‘I’ve met someone,’ with shining eyes, no one says ‘Oh God, clearly you don’t value your sleep, free-time and autonomy, eh? But I’m sure you’ll be a great lover, no really, it’s just that, well, it’s so much harder than you think, and no one ever tells you, they just sell you this myth of loverhood like it’s the be-all-and-end-all, when honestly, your life will just never be the same again. You’ll never be the same again. Once you look into their eyes and see that recognition back at you – oh, it just turns your world upside down. You’re powerless. Good luck. It’s a special club, not for the faint-hearted’.
No one says that. No one even offers you as much as a day of new lover leave for all the sleep you’ll miss in the first delirious month, or practical advice on keeping your fluids up to prevent cystitis. New parents don’t sleep. OK, but for how long? Because when you fall in love, it usually ends with someone sharing your bed and disrupting your sleep for the next conceivable ever. The only break you get from this is when they aren’t sharing your bed and despite your longing for your own bed again, you’ll do anything to avoid your lover sleeping on the couch or in another bed somewhere because the pain of that will keep you awake anyway. But people rush past these immediate and obvious realities. Instead they merely squeal and want to know your potential heartbreaker’s star sign, occupation or postcode, as if any of these things were important and could provide some prophylaxis to the black chasm ahead. As if anything could.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a romantic. A lover. An idealist. A dreamer. I have so much hope I had to give up scuba diving. My glass is full to the meniscus. But falling in love? My condolences. The very best, truest, longest loves end when one lover dies. Yep. Every time. So the holy grail of happy endings is a terrible accident in which both lovers are simultaneously incinerated with no knowledge of the other’s pain, or a suicide pact. If those are your best outcomes, I don’t think you need me to walk you through the worst. Open a newspaper. Or a novel. See any French film. Sit next to a divorce lawyer on a Sydney to Melbourne flight. Re-read the letters you wrote to the first person you ever loved. Scary, isn’t it? Much more frightening than a little being designed to love you and be loved by you for the rest of your life with no preconditions or preconceptions. Much tougher than that. So my advice? Keep your legs crossed, your eyes closed and your heart shuttered. And never fall in love.*
*Note: By never, I mean truly, never fall in love. Because even if you think you can handle being in love, it often leads to parenthood. And the thing about parenthood is that there’s always a piece of your heart outside yourself…