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Extracts from Making Babies copyright © Anne Enright 2004

Author photograph © Hugh Chaloner

Anne Enright has asserted her right to be identified as the author of this Work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

First published in Great Britain by Jonathan Cape in 2004

This short edition published by Vintage in 2017

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

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Apologies All Round

SPEECH IS A selfish act, and mothers should probably remain silent. When one of these essays, about pregnancy, appeared in the Guardian magazine there was a ferocious response on the letters page. Who does she think she is? and Why should we be obliged to read about her insides? and Shouldn’t she be writing about the sorrow of miscarriage instead?

So I’d like to say sorry to everyone in advance. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.

I’d like to apologise to all those people who find the whole idea of talking about things as opposed to just getting on with them mildly indecent, or provoking – I do know what they mean. Also to those who like to read about the dreadful things that happen to other people, when nothing particularly dreadful has happened to me, or my children, so far, touch wood, Deo gratias. Also to those readers who would prefer me not to think so much (because mothers just shouldn’t), and to those thinkers who will realise that in the last few years I have not had time to research, or check a reference – the only books I have finished, since I had children, being the ones I wrote myself (not quite true, but it’s a nice thing to say). And, of course, people who don’t have children are just as good and fine and real as those who do, I would hate to imply otherwise. Also, sorry about my insides: I was reared with the idea that, for a woman, anatomy is destiny, so I have always paid close attention to what the body is and what it actually does. Call it a hobby.

‘MARRIED WOMAN HAS CHILDREN IN THE SUBURBS’ – it’s not exactly a call to arms, and I do genuinely apologise for being so ordinary, in the worst sense. Here I am, all fortunate, living a 1950s ideal of baby powder and burps, except that, in the twenty-first century we know that talc is linked, bizarrely, to ovarian cancer, so there is no baby powder in this house, and we also know that the hand that rocks the cradle also pays for the cradle, or a fair amount of it, and that, for many people, babies are a luxury that they cannot yet afford. But even for the twenty-first century I am doing well: I have flexible working hours, no commuting, I have a partner who took six weeks off for the birth of his first baby and three months for the second (unpaid, unpaid, unpaid). He also does the breakfasts. And the baths. So you might well say, ‘Oh, it’s all right for her,’ as I do when I read women writing about the problems they have with their nannies or other domestic staff. More usually, though, when I read women writing about having children, it is not their circumstances that annoy me so much as their tone. I think, ‘What a wretch, would someone please call the social services.’ It is the way they are both smug and astonished. It is the way we think we have done something amazing, when we have done no more than most other people on the planet – except we, in our over-educated way, have to brag about it.

Most of these pieces were started after my first child, a daughter, was born. I played around with them in the two years before I became pregnant again, and they were finished soon after the birth of my son, so though the baby is a ‘she’, both children are in there, somewhere. The reason I kept writing about my babies, even when they were asleep in the room, was that I could not think about anything else. This might account for any wildness of tone. The pieces were typed fast. They were written to the sound of a baby’s sleeping breath. Some were assembled, later, from notes, but I have tried to keep the flavour of the original scraps.

Anyway, these are the material facts (for which I also apologise). I met my husband, Martin, a long time ago, we married I can’t remember when, and after eighteen years of this and that we knuckled down to having children. It was not an impulse decision.

After our first child was born I worked while she slept, for the first year, and also in the evenings when her father came home. When she was one, she went to a nursery for (count them) six and a half hours per day, three of which were spent having a nap. When she was two and a half, she got a baby brother, and I worked while he slept. And so on. I would really like a rest, now.

Finally, and quietly, I have to apologise to my family and hope that they will forgive me for loving them in this formal, public, plundering way. Starting with my own mother – whose voice comes through my own, from time to time – and working down the generations. Like all women who write about their children, I have a wonderful partner – except in my case it is true. I also have to apologise to my children for writing about their baby selves; either too much, or not enough, or whatever changing way this book takes them, over the years.

My only excuse is that I think it is important. I wanted to say what it was like.

The Glass Wall

I SPENT MOST of my thirties facing a glass wall. On the other side of this wall were women with babies – ‘mothers’, you might call them. On my side were women who simply were. It didn’t seem possible that I would ever move through the glass – I couldn’t even imagine what it was like in there. All I could see were scattered reflections of myself; while on the other side real women moved with great slowness, like distantly sighted whales.

I always assumed I would have children, but only dimly – I never thought about when. I was reared in the seventies, by a woman who had been reared in the thirties, and we were both agreed that getting pregnant was the worst thing that could happen to a girl. My mother thought it would ruin my marriage prospects and I thought it would ruin my career prospects (same thing, really, by the different lights of our times). And when do you stop being a girl? By ‘career’ I meant something more than salary. I could not get pregnant, I thought, until I had ‘gotten somewhere’, until I ‘knew who I was’, until I was, in some way, more thoroughly myself.

These things are important: they do happen, but they often happen late, and you can hardly tell people to stop dithering. I look at women in their thirties with their noses pressed up against the glass, and all I can tell them (wave!) is that life in here on the other side is just the same – only much better, and more difficult.

I see them wondering, Does he love me and do I love him? and Will I have to give up smoking? and What about my job? and I don’t want to be that fat woman in the supermarket, and What if it is autistic and Don’t they cry all the time? and I want to say, ‘It’s fine.’ More than that, when I first had a child, I was so delighted, I wanted to say, ‘Do whatever it takes.’ Children seemed to be such an absolute good, independent of the relationship that made them, that I wanted to say, ‘Buy one if you have to,’ or, ‘Hurry.’

I was wrong, of course. Besides, most women are more interested in sexual love than they are in the maternal variety, they want a man more than they want children, or at least they want it first. Still, it is good to keep in mind the fact that, in a world where sexual partners can come and go, children remain. They are our enduring love.


ONE FRIDAY IN October I started falling in love with everyone, and I stayed in love for two weeks, with everyone. This was awkward. It was a moony, teenage sort of love. I waited for the phone to ring. I was shy, almost anguished. I missed appointments, even with the people I loved, which was everyone, and so stayed at home and saw no one, my mind full of impossible thoughts.

I did manage to go to a school reunion (where I loved them all) and to the opening night of a play (where I made some wonderful new friends), but mostly I mooched, and wrote letters to celebrate the fact that I had just finished a book and that life was, perhaps unbearably, good.

Towards the end of this peculiar fortnight, I had a dream full of the usual suspects: people from my past who spoke to me in an unsettling, unresolved way. I have this dream, with variations, all the time, but this night it was interrupted by a woman I barely knew twenty years ago who floated in through a window, dressed in pink. She smiled an angelic smile, as if to say, ‘None of this matters any more,’ and then she patted her stomach, very gently. I started awake with the thought that I was pregnant; then I turned over to go back to sleep, saying to myself that the moment had come: it was time to stop the shilly-shally, the hit-and-miss, we had to get this conception thing going, properly, finally, and have the baby that was waiting for us, after all these years.

Soon after, I went to Berlin for a reading, half-dreading who I might be obliged to fall in love with there – but sometime in the middle of the weekend, I hit a wall. I couldn’t say why this was. I didn’t tell my hosts that I knew German and disliked the half-understood conversations they held in front of me, before turning to talk English with a smile. I walked the streets, planning a story about a woman who falls in love all the time, and another story that was full of mistranslation and sly insinuation, in which a woman meets a foreign couple and cannot quite tell what is going on.

My hostess said that she loved the passage in my book about a dream in which the ceiling is full of dangling penises. I have never written such a passage, nor anything like it, but she insisted: she was even quite insulted, as though I were accusing her of having my own pornographic thoughts. What could I say? I said I would check. But I noticed, in myself, a terrible physical weight, as if I could not carry my life around any more, I could not even lift it off the chair. I thought that perhaps I should stop writing books: something, at any rate, had to change. I walked from Schönhauser Allee to Unter den Linden, looking at the afternoon moon over Berlin, thinking that when it was full my period would come and then maybe everything would right itself again.

On the way back, I stopped over in London and got very drunk. The hangover seemed to last a week. I felt terrible. I dosed myself with miso soup and seaweed. I was insane for miso soup and seaweed. I still thought my life must change. I went on the Internet and typed in ‘ovulation’ on the search engine, then turned to my husband, Martin, saying, ‘I think this beer is off. Is there something wrong with this beer?’

We bought the pregnancy test from a girl with romantic thoughts behind the cash register in Boots. Martin says I was delighted when it proved positive, but I was not delighted, I was shocked and delighted maybe, but I was mostly deeply shocked.

If Kafka had been a woman, then Gregor Samsa would not have turned into an insect, he would not have had to. Gregor would be Gretel and she would wake up one morning pregnant. She would try to roll over and discover she was stuck on her back. She would wave her little hands uselessly in the air.

It seems to me that I spent the next six weeks on the sofa listening to repeats of radio dramas, but my computer files record the fact that I worked, and that I also surfed the Net. I was looking for information on what happens when you get drunk in the very early stages of pregnancy, but the women on the Internet all wanted to lock expectant mothers up for drinking Diet Coke. In the chat rooms and on the notice-boards all the pregnant women talked about their pets: the cat who just knew, the dog who got upset. There was also a lot of stuff about miscarriages.