I was flicking through old photographs of myself and came across one in which I looked young, happy and carefree. I had no frown lines, no bags under my eyes but, more importantly, there was a tangible feeling of freedom that emanated from that photo, a feeling that said: I’m free, and anything is possible.
I then looked at myself in the mirror to compare the photo to my present reflection and shuddered. But I then realised when that photo had been taken.
My son Alex is 3 — gorgeous, gregarious and intelligent. I’m proud of him, love spending time with him and could not imagine life without him. But having him has made me realise something that I feel I must say in a hushed whisper, because it is socially totally unacceptable for a mother to say it. I don’t really like children.
Alex makes me giggle, delights me with his funny remarks and I would fight like a lioness to protect him. But producing a child has not turned me into a maternal earth mother. Quite the opposite.
In fact, I didn’t know until I had my son — and found myself forcibly immersed in this world of play dates and parenting talk — how much I actively dislike children. Other people’s, that is.
Also, one baby has completely put me off the idea of having another.
The lament I am about to describe is one, I know, that will be familiar to mothers everywhere. Before Alex, I had a demanding and fulfilling career working in women’s magazines and as a freelance writer.
My days were spent working hard, my weekends spent playing even harder: seeing friends, dining out. My evenings out could run into the wee hours if I wished them to; I had no one to answer to — or get up for — and my money was all mine to spend as I saw fit.
Then Alex arrived and overnight my role changed. I was no longer myself; I was a mother. I was thrilled because he was planned and very much wanted by both my husband Cornel and me. The real shock came not from the sleepless nights which caused me to stagger around zombie-like for months, but from a fact which at first crept up on me slowly and then hit me with full force. Motherhood could be boring.
When days at work in a magazine office had been overwhelmingly busy or stressful, I’d dreamt of the future in which I would get pregnant and stay at home, cross-legged on a carpet watching my baby gurgle.
I’d longed to swap deadlines for the simple life of warming up bottles and preparing feeds. Getting pregnant seemed like a “get out of jail free” card in a board game.
But now that it had happened — aged 31 and living happily in Venice where Cornel works as a pianist — I suddenly realised I’d not, in fact, got out of jail free at all; I’d joined a club I didn’t really want to be part of.
I was a mother and, although I was grateful for the new friends I’d made at antenatal classes, I would have to stifle a yawn when we discussed sleeping patterns or night feeds.
Having my own baby didn’t make other babies any more appealing either. I didn’t fall over myself to cuddle other people’s children. I didn’t dislike them, they just didn’t interest me. Sometimes I didn’t even notice they were there.
At first I thought perhaps I was just sleep-deprived or that my hormones were out of kilter, and waited for the feeling to pass. But as Alex grew, the feeling remained.
Yes, my son amazed me, but it didn’t mean I wanted to stand around in parks all day talking to other mothers about their children.
I vowed I would not have another child — not because I feared birth or the first three horrific months where the tiredness could drive me to tears standing in a supermarket queue, but because it was only through experiencing it that I was made aware of how uninterested I am in motherhood. While I revelled in Alex’s first steps and his little milestones, as little extended accomplishments of my own, I felt no need to discuss it with other mothers.
In fact, if I saw “mum friends” coming towards me with their buggies, I’d turn mine 180 degrees quick smart and head in the other direction, desperate not to spend another mindless hour talking about the inanities of having a child.
I didn’t feel the need to bill and coo over their offspring — having a child was exhausting enough without having to further exhaust myself pretending to be interested in a subject I found, frankly, dull.
I adored Alex’s chubby little legs, his first big smile, his reaction to my own childhood stash of Mr Men books. But a huge part of me wanted to fast-forward years into the future to when I could meet the taller, adult version of my son in a smart restaurant and discuss the latest adult books we’d read instead.
My husband, however, has experienced none of this. He is quite happy to stand around in playgrounds chatting with other parents and swapping anecdotes. It’s almost as if he commandeered all of the nurturing instinct when our son was born.
More and more women in Britain are having babies much later: Office for National Statistics figures show that in 1990 the most popular age for women to have babies in England and Wales was between 25 and 29.
Ten years later, it had risen to between 30 and 34. Also, the number of women having babies in their forties has more than doubled in the past 20 years — 9,200 in 1990 compared with 25,973 in 2010.
So, with more and more women having babies later in life, many have experienced years of earning a good salary and having a position of authority in the workplace. I wonder if when these women become mothers, if they are truly satisfied all of the time.
Women who have strived for years to climb their particular career ladder suddenly find themselves at home with a 2ft small person who can’t yet engage in conversation — while, in the majority of cases, their husbands or partners can enjoy the life they had before.
Hard-earned salaries that used to be spent on clothes, dining out or travel have to be put aside for baby clothes, nursery furniture or — most costly of all — childcare.
For a long while I felt myself a pariah, the only mother on the planet who — completely against nature, it seemed — did not like children or the trappings of motherhood. I wondered whether I was maternal at all or if I was, in fact, missing some major component of what it takes to be a good mother. I asked a parenting expert, Dr Jenny Leonard, who runs UK Parent Coaching, if “bored of motherhood” syndrome could be described as a modern phenomenon. She agreed that it could be when comparing the choices available to mums in, say, the Fifties.
She said: “If you compare mothers today to mothers from the Fifties, those women were expected to give up their jobs when they became mothers. They didn’t have the choices women do today and, mostly, hadn’t tasted the sense of financial freedom at work.”
These women were homemakers and mothers, and also had not experienced the other freedoms that come with having a career and your own money: socialising with other intelligent colleagues, spending money how they wished. Maybe that made them better mothers, because they had not known any different.
Dr Leonard adds, however, that not all career women will find motherhood boring or dull; it depends on the woman’s expectations.
“Every parent is different — some women love all the trappings that come with motherhood, and some hate it. It’s important to acknowledge it, though, so that if you are unhappy, you can make changes, because if your child is picking up on the fact you find him or her boring, then that can be emotionally and psychologically damaging.”
That concerned me. Was I showing signs of boredom to Alex as I gazed longingly at the clock as it neared the blessed 8pm every evening? I certainly tried not to, and, on some tantrum-free evenings, the time would fly by because I was enjoying his company so much. But other days, if I am brutally honest, I’d be counting the hours down from 8am that morning.
I wondered — was I mother material? But then I began to confide in one or two good friends and take a deep breath before asking if they, too, found it all a bit ... well, boring.
At first their tired, sleepless eyes would widen in shock at my topic of conversation, but then they’d begin to nod, guilt streaking their faces.
“I sometimes find it so boring that I take mine to the library and we just wander for hours and hours, and I count the minutes down,” one friend admitted.
Another said: “I miss my old life, the office, my colleagues. I’ve got no interest in kids at all — except my own, of course, but even that bores me sometimes.”
But then there were the other friends I pitched this idea to; the ones who’d look at me with utter contempt or horror. Their lives seemed to revolve around little Jacob’s swimming lessons or Harriet’s art classes.
It was as if because these women had produced a child, they’d had to erase their own past, their hopes, even their futures. They were mothers now, not people. Their only topics of conversation were their children’s achievements — perhaps because they’d had to let so many of their own goals go unachieved.
So tonight as I open the Lego box or do potato-print painting with Alex, I’ll relish every second of watching him play and learn, but I won’t feel the need to discuss it with friends or post pictures of it on social networks to bore others.
Nor will I spend any of my precious, post 8pm me-time scouring Facebook to read up on my friends’ baby updates and posts — it would send me into a bored coma.
Instead, I shall be watching a film about adults or reading a book with no characters in it under 30, because, whisper this quietly, although I am a loving mother, motherhood is a bore.