I've written once before about my decision to be child-free, when I wrote a bit about the generic awkward conversation which invariably happens. This time I want to tell you about one particular situation in which child-free women frequently find themselves: The Holding Of The Baby.
Now I'm lucky in that my friends and family are, on the whole, very supportive of my decision. It's become a running joke at work that if there Is a baby about, I get forewarned so that I can find somewhere safe to hide in time. I'm lucky in that my workmates and friends know what I'm like, and they don't tend to take it as a personal slight when I don't turn into a gooey mush at the sight of their cherubs. They even usually manage to smile politely when I refer to their child accidentally as "it".
However, I'm not always so lucky, and the Holding Of The Baby ritual can be one that is so cringe-worthy that even writing about it now sets my teeth on edge.
I have no interest in holding a baby. I'm clumsy, and likely to break it, which apparently isn't the done thing. I also just don't see the point of it: I can see perfectly well that its a baby from where I'm standing, thank you very much. I'd go so far as to say that holding a baby or child terrifies me. I remember on one occasion being at the ex-husband's sister's house with her two kids snuggled in cuddling me. Whilst I was informed that this was a touching scene externally, I was in total, full-on terror mode internally, with cold sweats, palpitations, and adrenaline generally screeching RUN AWAAAAY!! In my ear.
At first, they act like its a game. "Ooh, let's see if we can get H to hold the baby, that'll be funny". I can cope with the joviality initially, skipping around and performing various feats of ducking, diving, and slapstick comedy to get away. And then there's a point when it's not that funny to me actually. I really, really do not want to hold it-I mean him or her- thank you.
"Oh go on"
"No, really, it's fine. I'll just break it- erm him or her I mean"
"No go on, it'll be fine"
And so, I am trapped. There is nothing At all that I can do to get out of this situation, so I'm going to have to hold the baby. And I know exactly what's coming, and I know that it's going to end up in disappointment for us all.
So, the bundle of joy is handed over, usually with the involvement of a precarious moment in which I narrowly avoid accidentally breaking its neck, and the following happens;
That's it. Nothing at all. All I think about is "when will this be over?" Or 'please cry so I can hand you back' or 'if you release any form of bodily fluid onto me I will be very, very unhappy'. And then I look up to observe a sea of expectant faces, all waiting in unison to see the miraculous conversion of the child-free to broody desperation to have a thing of such perfection in my life.
'After all', the parents might have been thinking, 'my child is THE most beautifully cute, wonderful, overwhelmingly brilliant bundle of perfect genius that has ever lived. My baby is special, and better than everyone elses' normal, run-of-the-mill babies. She probably just doesn't want children because the only children she's been introduced to so far pale in comparison to my child. "As soon as she sees my child, that's when the maternal instinct will hit' Of course, I have no idea if this actually is how parents do think, but it may be one explanation for why The Holding Of The Baby is often forced upon the child-free.
So what is one supposed to do in this situation? Well, I could lie, but I'm a truly a terrible actress. So instead I imperceptibly shake my head sadly and try to say something bland and apologetic. I'm sorry that your child isn't special enough to convert me, I really am, but it isn't. The doting parents are left disappointed, the spectators slump away like they've just witnessed a thorough trouncing of their favourite team, and I'm left crushed and embarrassed that I'm the reason for all this disappointment.
It's really not a nice feeling. And it could be very easily avoided by just acknowledging that not everyone wants to hold babies, not even yours.
If you're a parent, you might think that I'm being confrontational and unfair here. But all I'm asking for is that my life choice is respected. I wouldn't bring my cat into work and force those who dislike cats to hold him, as I respect the fact that some people don't like cats or want them in their lives (I also know my cat is a particularly violent individual and I don't want any lawsuits for loss of eyes or limbs, thank you very much.). It would just be lovely to have a refusal to Hold The Baby accepted unquestioningly.