I am publicly posting my private email that I sent to author Louise Allan (with her permission), on my personal emotional response to her newly published debut historical fiction novel, ‘The Sisters’ Song’. It has been a long journey towards my decision and acceptance about motherhood, my life, my future, and myself. And at long last, after reading ‘The Sisters’ Song’, I have finally found some peace.
It is Tuesday evening and I am finally sitting down with a glass of wine to write you my promised essay on how special your book is to me. I may ramble and go all over the place, but the bottom line is that ‘The Sisters’ Song’ touched my heart so deeply that it has changed a part of me. It has touched me in so many ways.
I have struggled with the choice to have children. I will tell you why, and it is not because I am seeking sympathy, it is just as a doctor and primarily as a mother I know you will understand. I have always wanted children. I am very maternal, I have always envisioned holding my babies close in my arms, and I have lists of their every-changing planned names. I connect extremely well emotionally with children, and specialised as a child and adolescent psychologist.
I also have Bipolar Type Two.
Although undiagnosed until I was 19, I have always had, and always will have, a serious mood disorder, predominantly depressive swings. I am stable and under long-term professional care, but there is no doubt I will experience relapses into deep depression in the future. I know it will happen, my psychiatrist agrees it will happen. I have made lots of mistakes and have lost people and dreams that were very important to me as a result of my illness. I don’t want to keep making mistakes which then I sincerely regret, can’t change, haunt me, and I still struggle to deal with.
I really want children so much that I have decided not to have them because I know at times I would not be able to be the mother they truly deserve.
But I still really want them. I want the children that all my friends seem to have, that my younger sister may soon have. When I hold their sleeping infants, I snuggle them close to my breast and breathe in their scent, pretending they are mine. I buy tiny baby clothes and hide them. Especially onesies and little booties and socks. And always for a girl. Audrey. I bought Disney mini bandaids and placed them in a cross over where the heart would be on a pink onesie, trying to heal the pain of knowing what I would never have. What I would never be.
When Ida felt hollow with grief over not having children, I felt hollow with her. I finally permitted myself to grieve, to acknowledge I will never be the mother of a child. And I still yearn for one, as Ida yearned so deeply for Ted. But in Ted, I saw what the legacy of my mental health condition would have on my child. And I don’t want to break a child.
As Ida inhaled the scent of the infants she held against her empty breast, I did, as she bathed them, I did, as she dressed them, I did. And then, although she always wanted to do the very opposite, Ida gave them back. And in my heart, I let mine go, too. And I finally felt at peace. Before Ida, I had not felt that peace. You gave me such a wonderful gift, Louise.
And Nora. What a trapped fragile bird who just wanted to sing and fly. I am so grateful I have the choice to not have children, and she didn’t have that choice, as nearly all women didn’t have in those days. And even now, we are still expected to be mothers, especially by the previous generation of women. My Mum is repeatedly asked why she has no grandchildren. It frustrates her. She says to me she has absolutely no problem with my decision, agrees with it and the rationale underlying it, and believes she is under no requirement to justify her childrens’ personal life choices to nosy busybodies.
I will stop now. I no doubt have forgotten the majority of what I wanted to say. But thank you so much for bringing peace to my decision to not be a mother. You have achieved more in 100,000 words than a great deal of therapy would have.
You have a true gift, Louise. Thank you for blessing us all with ‘The Sisters’ Song’.
Note: My belief that my own mental health condition would negatively affect the life of my own child is my opinion regarding myself only. I know of many women with mental health conditions who are wonderful mothers, and I respect and admire them.