“When were you ready for babies?” one of our babysitters once asked me.
She was in her late teens, a natural with our kids. I wondered if she was beginning to notice that yearning within herself, that quiet mother-clucking, the sound that might grow to a hormonal crescendo by her forties. Was she wondering what it would be like to soothe her own babies to sleep instead of other people’s? I used to. I notice with interest these days, that it’s no longer fashionable to say you would love to have babies. Not until you are at least in your thirties. Why do we act like wanting babies is a timetabled urge? Switched on by suitable circumstances? I will always be grateful my circumstances brought my babies to me at a time when I was old enough to provide for them properly… but then I think, if they had come earlier in life, I’d have not been this unwell. I don’t know why things happen the way they do. Life is a peculiar thing. And it is good to remember, that for some, platitudes around motherhood like all in good time, or it will happen if it is meant to are painful, useless things to say.
“…about four years old I think”, I answered, truthfully. When I was four, I already had a ‘baby’ of my own. She was my special Sheila Carter (er, yes, that was her name, I named her in honour of a retired missionary we knew) and I clucked over her and loved her with fierce mother attentions. I loved the feel of her body in the curve of my arm and the way, if you bent her legs outwards, she could sit on my hip. She was the focus of all my games. Where we lived, out in the back garden, we had a playhouse made from a packing case. It had a fake shingle roof and tiny windows. Outside the windows, within the reach of my eager little hands, was a grape vine, supplying great green orbs of sour sweetness for our playhouse meals. There were daisies in the garden for gathering into chubby-handed bunches and mini furniture inside made from apple crates and hand-me-down cushions.
The boys, mercifully, spent most of their time up at the boy fort on the boundary of the yard. But the playhouse. It was the sweet domain of the girls, untainted by rapid machine gun fire or cowboy-and-indian war cries. We ‘cooked’ green grape stew, played house, and I tucked my Sheila Carter into the cot with purple paisley sheets. She ate sitting up in her little high chair with the duck decal on the back. I was in little Mummy heaven. One of these sunny evenings, my own Mum called us in for dinner. But Sheila Carter was just so tired and she was still sleeping. So I patted her tummy and ran inside.
I knew; the rule in our house was that you never leave your toys outside. You certainly should never leave your baby outside. But I realised too late that the rule meant I couldn’t go back to retrieve her. I wasn’t allowed. My punishment that night was to sleep without my baby in my arms. I cried my little four year old mother heart out. I had let Sheila Carter down and I missed the curve of her little plastic body against mine. Eventually too exhausted from tears, I fell into a nightscape of bad dreams. The next morning, as soon as the grey light filtered into my bedroom, I raced out to the playhouse to find Sheila Carter.
But she was gone.
Nobody has ever been able to tell me what happened to her. Maybe the local dogs carried her off, or some kids decided to cause some havoc. But she was gone and that was that. I think my Mum was horrified. She hadn’t meant my lesson to be quite so harsh as that! They tried to console me by taking me to Wellington on my birthday, to choose a new baby at a big department store. My new baby was a ‘Baby-This-n-That’ and could wave at me. We called her Katie (a much better name for a doll, they said). She had silky blonde hair and big blue eyes. She was cute. I loved her and I still have her, but my little Mummy heart has always grieved for Sheila Carter, my first sweet baby. She was the reason I could answer that babysitter with confidence. I have been ready for babies since I first knew the joy, and the pain, of mothering. It’s what I was born to do.
I have many friends who, like me, were “born” mothers. But they are mothers without babies. For some, their babies passed away. For others, their babies were gone before they arrived. For still others, life circumstances have rendered their mother hearts empty, simply for lack of a daddy, or the years and endless cycles of IVF have not brought them what they hoped for. Their arms; missing the curve of a baby who is all theirs. A baby they have dreamt of and not been able to hold on to. My heart breaks for them, for their mother heart’s grief. For the longing that must surely be difficult to manage in the absence of the busy-ness of babies. In the presence of other people’s joy. I know it is old fashioned and whimsical, but I so wish I could grant them baby wishes. Supply them with the warm bundles of love to cherish and nurture. I’m not saying that every woman needs a baby. No. But everyone of my girl friends who is without children, longs for them. It is an ache that is so hard for them to bear.
So today, this post is in honour of my beautiful friends. The one’s whose arms are empty and hearts are longing to give love to little babies of their own. You battle every day, to smile in the face of the losses you suffer, one moon after another. You are strong and worthy and wonderful. Any baby would be lucky to call you Mama. I wish I could make the heavens do my bidding. If I could, your mother love would have a place to go, and no one and nothing would ever carry that away from you. I honour you for your loving hearts and the ways you give to others, sometimes without return or kinship. I honour you for keeping on. I honour you because you stay strong.
And my mother heart wishes I could just make it all better.
This beautiful song took me right back to that playhouse and my girlhood dreams.