Motherhood is a very strange thing. It's only fairly recently that it's becoming a mother has become a choice. Before decent contraception most women became mothers whether they wanted to or not. In the latter part of the 20th century women in the developed world finally had the option to opt out of motherhood.
What an awesome thing that is - that ability to make a choice to determine when and how many children you can have from none to umpteen if you wish. I went to Catholic school in the 1970's and many of the kids I went to school with were the youngest of seven or eight kids. . Most of the kids I knew who were the eldest had one or two siblings. Times were changing and fast (regardless of what the Pope had to say about it).
Of course it's not that simple. (Although to be honest if you don't want kids it is pretty simple to avoid it - but I think that decision is still a tough one for a lot of women.) Plenty of women never meet a partner to have a child with or they meet them too late to safely have a child. In Australia adoption is almost non-existent in the 21st century so those people are out of options. Reproductive medicine does amazing things but not for everyone and not without cost and emotional consequence. For every story of delight, for every cute IVF baby foot I've kissed I know a woman who tried and failed. So it's not the great panacea many think it is.
I always knew I wanted to be a mum. Always. I haven't been certain of all that much in my life as I am a notorious second-guesser but that I have known down to my core. I love babies and toddlers. I'm never happier than when I'm hanging out with a baby.
When a friend has a baby I can't wait to get my hot little hands on it. I love everything about them. I know lots of people find tiny babies scary but I just find them miraculous. From their little yelping cries to their tiny feet I adore them.
I was certainly nothing but enamoured by my own little miracle when she arrived. I know part of that was because I'd been told that I wasn't going to be able to have kids. My husband and I actually had an alternative life planned out where we sold our house, bought an apartment, rented it out and moved overseas. (I didn't want to stay here and be the sad friend no one wanted to tell they were pregnant because she'd cry. I didn't want to spend my life at baby showers and christenings putting on a brave face. I didn't want to be pitied.) And then by some miracle I got pregnant and along came Charlotte.
I don't take motherhood for granted. (Have I taken my own mother for granted from time to time, for sure). I adore my fifteen year old but if I had a time machine I'd take it to spend a day with the baby version of her, and then the four year old Charlotte and then maybe six year old...well you get the idea. It does go by too quickly. Blink and you miss it.
There are women out there today longing to be mothers and for them today feels entirely hopeless and my heart breaks for them. There are women who were sure this time a year ago they'd be mothers this year and their grief is real. I don't think as a society we're especially sensitive to those women. Their sadness and struggle often makes people who have children feel awkward. Some people who "just have to look at their husband and they're pregnant" just don't even understand what that longing is like.
There isn't much one can do to solve the problem except choose our words and actions kindly. Censor your phrases like "You don't know how hard it is" around these women. Smile at your kids when they walk into the room - look like your grateful they exist, complain about Tarquin and Tania a little less loudly and a little less often. Don't ask people "when are you having your next child?" or even "When are you two having kids?" It isn't much but if it was a struggle your child was facing. as a mother, wouldn't you want people to treat them with kindness and understanding?