Once an internal and private decision, motherhood and consequently creating a family (or not), has become a very public topic. Other people, maybe even strangers, suddenly have an opinion on whether you should or shouldn’t have children, putting pressure on an important and life-changing decision that is already fraught with the unknown and, without a crystal ball, is one that often comes down to fate. We may make a decision but we have little control over it or know if it is the right one.
Author and Journalist Kamin Mohammadi was one of the first writers I met when I arrived in Florence, fresh-faced and eager to set up Florence Writers. She gave a reading of The Cypress Tree back in the spring of 2014, which helped kick things off. The Cypress Tree talks about Iran and her family’s experience during the 1970’s revolution, followed by her family’s eventual relocation to London. It made me want to visit Iran immediately, such the vibrant colours, tastes and passion she used to describe a country very close to her heart.
We published Kamin’s essay ‘The Biological Clock’ for Winter 2017 issue of The Sigh Press. I was blown away by the honesty with which she wrote about whether or not to have a baby and the consequences of that decision–especially as I am now pregnant myself–and how her definition of the role of parent has changed.
Her latest book, ‘Bella Figura: How to Live, Love and Eat the Italian Way, is out now.
The Biological Clock by Kamin Mohammadi (excerpt)
I often wonder what would have happened to my father should we not have kept him. Had my mother thrown him out all those years ago when he betrayed her instead of forgiving him and keeping him so that now that he’s old, he has us to take care of him. What if he was alone now? How would he cope with these appointments, the tests, the failing faculties, everything getting slower, harder to hear, to see, to understand? I know the question I am really asking is: how will I cope with these appointments when my time comes. What if I reach the age of 90, who will hold my hand and lead me through the hospital?
I am 45 and it looks unlikely that I will have children. This decision – or non-decision – is fast shaping up to be a fact as the months pass and the years disappear behind me. It is a subject I rarely think about, and it is only here in the corridors of this hospital, when I bring my father for these appointments, that I visit that place in the distant future where my old age is located and wonder how it will look, what that landscape will be, who will be there with me. My mother had offered, just the other night, to pay for me to have IVF, one last chance at having a baby, at shoring up the future against loneliness and helplessness. If I got pregnant naturally that would be fine – but I didn’t want to seek it out at the end of needles delivering hormone shots. I said no, dashing her hopes of being a granny. At 45, she had said, don’t you feel any maternal longing, any calling from your biological clock?
My biological clock. I’d never heard mine. Or been aware of it ticking. Apparently we all have one, but where was mine? I partied through my twenties laughing out loud any time anyone asked me if I had kids. “Me?” I would say with astonishment. I felt barely older than a child myself, was taken aback that anyone should mistake me for an adult. Had my clock been ticking, I would never have heard it over the thumping bass anyway.
In my thirties I did start to hear the clock. Not mine, I hasten to add, but my friends’. Close girlfriends’ conversations closed in on the topic, they got pregnant, started families – they actually planned these things. I was amazed, and doubly so when the babies started arriving. They were magical, interesting, and they smelt so good. I loved all our babies, and I collected quite a few godchildren. But I still didn’t particularly yearn for one of my own.
I was busy. Working and building a career; it was writing, commissions and book deals which preoccupied me, not babies and setting up home. The only clock I heard was the one ticking out the remaining hours of one writing deadline after another. My best friend Clare described her own wish for a baby not as a ticking clock, but as a sort of tsunami of longing which had washed over her one day with such intensely that it had left her breathless. Another friend (two kids, the first of our group to have children) made me promise her that should I be approaching 40 and still alone then she could help me choose a sperm donor and operate the turkey baster… I played along but I was so appalled with this suggestion that I quietly cut her out of my life, so that, by the approach of 40 some five years later, she and her turkey baster had disappeared from my circle.
As my 30s wore on, it did start to seem odd that there was no sign of this ticking, no tsunami, not even the faintest desire. No tick and definitely no tock. I had nothing against babies, and was a pretty good godmother to all my little ones, spending lots of time with them and having them round on Sunday afternoons. But, like any sane person, when they left after these visits, I breathed a sigh of relief as I tidied up the devastation and thanked God that I could give my delightful godchildren back after a few hours.
And then, there was the longing to write. This eventually crystallised into one solid idea, The Book. This was my tsunami of desire. The commission came when I was 37, and in the years I should have been thinking urgently about finding a man and having a baby, I preoccupied myself with giving birth to a book. Not just any book, but The Book, the one I had always wanted to write, the one about my past and my family, my country Iran and the heartbreak. Patient friends, the audience for so many of my complicated family stories, had begged me to write this book for years, tired of trying to follow the Iranian names and web of family relationships. Just as I should have been reaching out into the world to find a mate and build a family, I closed myself away and instead reached deep inside myself to tell my family story and heal the wound of the revolution and having to leave Iran. And it worked, my book was published as Mille farfalle nel sole in 2012 and I emerged whole and happy – and 42. That clock should have been ticking wildly by now but I still heard nothing.
Along the way I had ended up living in Italy and fallen in love too. I met Antonio when I was 39, was just coming up for air after delivering the first draft and was looking for nothing so much as a bit of fun in my new town of Florence, where I had fled to write and where I had decided to stay, seduced by its beauty, the gentler pace of life and the tastiness of the tomatoes. And Antonio was super fun. Which was lucky because he was also weighed down by two broken marriages and trailed behind him an assortment of children by different mothers. Three children and two mothers to be precise. One of his first statements to me was that he was done with marriage and kids. The kind of declarations men make as they are about to take you to bed, knowing full well you are not really listening, that your mind is on other things, but they put it out there to clear their conscience, to be able to say in the months and years after – “but I TOLD you! It was your choice.”
I took no great notice of Antonio’s statement. Not so much because I wanted marriage and kids but more because I didn’t care; I didn’t take him seriously as a life mate – all those children and ex-wives – and it seemed irrelevant. “Don’t worry,” I had said airily to my mother. “I won’t be falling in love with him, he’s just for fun.”
Famous last words, inevitably. Antonio turned out to have the kindest heart anyone had ever placed in my hands and before long, I too fell in love with him and, slowly over the months and years, I started to take him seriously. So I took on his baggage and found myself a stepmother.
You can also read the TSP Ampersand interview 7 with Kamin from Autumn 2017.