I know I said I’d stop reading the Daily Mail and I will. I could do it any time, honest. But right now I’ve started reading Caitlin Moran’s How to be a woman, so for the time being my Mail-reading is cancelled out by blasts of wholesome funky feminist fun (similar to how, if you eat an apple, you gain a “token” to spend on doughnuts later. And no, I don’t need a science degree to know that this does work).
This morning I was scanning through the Mail while munching my way through a bucket of Granny Smiths. I was onto my ninth apple when the following article caught my eye: I’m childless at 42, and haunted by the baby I aborted at 18. I decided to read it, not just because it looks like precisely the sort of anti-choice anti-“career woman” shit that gets me going, but also because because it’s written by Kate Spicer and I happen to have a broader interest in Ms Spicer’s reproductive system and life choices.
This interest was first piqued a few weeks ago, when I nicked my mum’s copy of Easy Living magazine. In it, Kate’s written a piece entitled “Have I missed the baby boat?” (btw, if you ask me, “the baby boat” sounds like some nightmarish sequel to “The Love Boat”, so I’d sure as hell miss it if I were you, Kate). Billed on the front cover as “42 and childless: what it really feels like”, Kate’s written a mildly interesting piece (although the specificity of the “42” bit does remind me of Katie Melua’s The closest thing to crazy, with that utterly meaningless line about “feeling 22, acting 17”. Maybe weirdly exact age-association is a trait specific to people whose name start with “Kat”). But as for the rest of it, it’s basically a musing on what might have been, which is quite engaging and sad, albeit in an “if my auntie had balls she’d be my uncle” kinda way (not that I think s/he necessarily would. I’m a liberal and I don’t think people should be defined by their genitals).
The bit in the Easy Living piece that really interests me is the part where Kate mentions the abortion she had as a teenager:
I have been pregnant. I was 17 and had just left school and, as with most middle-class teenage pregnancies, it ended in abortion. My neverborn has haunted me all my life, in a curious way, rather than a morbid one. “What if” is a stupid game, but I often wonder about the parallel universe where my neverborn child would be 24 now. When I think about this I’m impassive; I’m not filled with deep regret.
Now, is it just me, or does that sound NOTHING LIKE the misery and indeed regret suggested by the Daily Mail headline linking the abortion and Kate’s “childlessness” directly. Clearly the Daily Mail editors saw Kate’s original piece, picked up on the verb “haunted” and offered Kate however much money was needed in order to totally milk it. Take this, for example, from the Daily Mail piece:
Yet if someone had told me then: ‘This is your only chance to be a mother — it’s now or never’, I suspect that between us, my mother and I would have made a fair fist of raising the child. Now, at the age of 42, it is the ‘if only I had known’ that haunts me. The idea that I passed up my only chance to have a child. If I dwell on this thought, it is disturbing, so I try to avoid it.
What a difference four weeks and the world’s most misogynist editorial policy make, eh?
To be fair to Kate, her second article is not some massive anti-abortion tract. She conveys in painful detail the sheer difficulty of seeking an abortion as a teenager in the late eighties (at first she is told she has to wait until the second trimester; it is only when her middle-class, “respectable” parents intervene that things get speeded up). Kate does come across as a bit of a snob, making frequent comparisons between her situation and that of girls on “sink estates”. Even so, class, and by extension future life opportunities, are of course significant factors in decisions made about whether to continue with a pregnancy. By all accounts it looks as though Kate has made the most of the freedoms not having children have afforded her, and fair play to her.
I have had three pregnancies, all of them wanted. One of them did not lead to a live birth. My partner and I took to referring to this pregnancy as the one that involved “the rubbish baby” (Jesus, even George Osborne made it to term. What kind of useless fucker would this child have been anyhow?). The black humour helped us to cope at the time, but we don’t really think about it any more, not least because my second pregnancy overlapped with the due date for the first one. If I hadn’t had a miscarriage my son would not exist, which to me doesn’t bear thinking about. I don’t want to say “these things happen for a reason” – do they? I have no idea – but there is no point dwelling on the lives of the neverborn. Kate Spicer knew this when she wrote for Easy Living, and I imagine she still knows it now, even with Daily Mail money in her pocket.
If anything, the thing that really freaks me out about the Daily Mail article is the position of Kate Spicer’s father. Listen to what Daddy Spicer decides to tell his daughter over dinner one day:
‘You have not conceived since your teens, despite not using contraception for some time, which would suggest you are not very fertile,’ he said.
‘Your only choice is to enter what I perceive as the dubious world of fertility medicine.’
‘More than 40 years in medicine have left me with a disgust for the absurdity of terminating perfectly viable life in the obstetrics department while down the corridor, in reproductive medicine, life is being forced into the bodies of women who are past their child-bearing prime.’
And I thought my dad was tactless.* Kate Spicer’s dad, could you please piss off, you mean, judgmental idiot? Yes, there may be issues with how women are expected to organize their lives around a male-focused model of career progression AND have babies along the way. But that’s hardly your daughter’s fault! Why not join the Fawcett Society and allow Kate to finish her tea?
Well, anyhow, I’m onto the eleventh apple and there’s more Daily Mail to read. Only a few more days till the next copy of Easy Living’s out. What next? “42 and regretting writing the Daily Mail article where I said I regretted doing the thing I said I didn’t regret doing in the article I wrote before that one”? I tell you, Kate, I really CANNOT wait.
* Like me, my dad is a northerner and he, more than most, loves to use that northern “I speak as I find” stereotype to insult people to their faces (“Remember, lass, tact’s for them posh folks, not for the likes of us”). He’s lovely, my dad, but sometimes I think he forgets he’s now a retired barrister living in Cheshire.