When I was in my early 20s, an older friend of mine got pregnant with her ex-boyfriend who had no intention of being involved in raising a kid. When my friend decided to keep the pregnancy, I was terrified and puzzled. How would she go about life? Why would a young woman want to raise a kid by herself, I remember thinking? She had recently graduated from university and had just begun studying to become a teacher. What would happen to her life? I knew that living in Brighton, UK, she was in a much more liberal and supportive environment than in southern Italy, where both of us had been raised, yet still all I could envision were obstacles and difficulties. Of course, my friend proved me wrong quite quickly by getting a teaching job and a mortgage rather quickly and raising a daughter who herself is now about to leave home for university.
I often find myself thinking back about my judgment at the time. It seems like I was completely sold on the overall idea that a single woman should not have a child, an idea that is constantly reinforced through stereotypical movies, unsupportive public policies and overall stigma.
It’s easy to be sitting on the outside creating a sort of check list of all the ideal elements in a child’s life: two supportive and loving parents, access to free healthcare, childcare and education, a roof over their head. It’s easy to judge from the outside: that person, that woman, is not up to being a mother, she will ruin her life and possibly also her child’s. This is exactly what was going through my mind some twenty years ago.
If only Breasts and Eggs, the novel by Japan’s Mieko Kawakami, had been around when I was that age! It’s my latest favourite read, and some of you members have already heard me talk about it in our monthly meetings. Natsuko, the novel’s main character, is a struggling novelist from Osaka living in Tokyo by herself. At some point she starts to desire a child in a visceral and concrete way: “It’s not that I want a child. I don’t want them, I don’t want to have them. I want to meet them. My child. I want to meet my child and live with them.”…