imaginary outfit: domestic jungles

I read somewhere that a space station is always slowly falling back to Earth, and that every few months or so a rocket has to be sent to push it back out again. In rather the same way, a woman is forever dragged at by an imperceptible force of biological conformism: her life is relentlessly iterative; it requires energy to keep her in orbit. Year after year she'll do it, but if one year the rocket doesn't come then down she'll go.
Rachel Cusk, 'Aftermath'. In Granta 115, via


One of my oldest and dearest friends is expecting a baby - the first of the friends of my heart to become a mother. It is happy news, but as she told me, I felt like the people in old newsreels, the ones you see waving handkerchiefs madly from the dock while the courageous explorer heads out into the unknown.

Motherhood is the commonest miracle. It is the thing, as a woman, you are supposed to want. There is a tremendous pressure to want it, to cross over into the majority, to fulfill, in the most basic sense, biological destiny. Through it, some women find themselves, and others get terribly lost.

The one thing I hated about getting married was the tacit assumption people made that by taking that step, my life was going to follow a default pattern. That suddenly the world knew what it would get from me, and that my experiences would fall neat as a line of dominos into settled expectations.

Motherhood has always been the next domino. It's never felt like a given in my life, just something I could do, much the same way I could imagine moving to Palau, tattooing my face or changing my name to Imogen. Theoretically possible, but not probable. As little kids, my sister and I never wanted to be the mother when we played house. Instead, we fought over who would get to be the adventurous youngest daughter. The mother was an imagined ghost.

No one gets everything in life, not even adventurous youngest daughters. Every choice comes with a sacrifice. To tip the next domino is to risk being toppled by it. I don't want to chance it. I worry too much about what I'll lose. My friend is braver. She is willing to fight to create the space to be the mother she wants to be, in the face of a culture of motherhood that is guilt-ridden, dogmatic, judgmental and competitive, in a society that provides very little tangible support for mothers beyond mawkish hagiography, against the slow and muddy pull to just do things the way everyone else does. It's not going to be easy.

She's headed for an unknown shore, thick with jungles both beautiful and dangerous. I'll be rooting for her from the other side.


In other places: a post on blueberries and shooting stars.