Steph Maker is a straight woman, with a long-term male partner, in possession of good child-bearing hips and a job; this comes with a truth — universally acknowledged — a baby comes next. Right?
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Do I want a baby? I don’t know. I definitely want a dog.
I can’t clearly remember a time I’ve held an infant in my arms. I can’t be trusted not to immediately infuse some sort of specific but obtuse emotional distress into its growing brain and pudgy body. I have little cluck. I should meet a baby properly. Say g’day. Hold it. Try the experience out for size. See if it looks good on me. Downstairs, my partner is preparing his 41-year-old Toyota Landcruiser for a trip from Brisbane to Grafton to catch-up with our friends and their newborn. I’m raiding the fridge. There’s not much in there other than blue cheese. I put the kettle on instead of thinking about breakfast. I could just get app-delivered grease. I punch an order into my phone: cheeseburgers, plural, STAT. I waddle down the steps splattered in pigeon poo to investigate his progress. He’s nearly done. The cruiser is stuffed with camping kit — our unrolled sleeping bags threaten to sneak out the windows. I’ll have to carry my daypack on my knees for the journey.
There’s no room for a baby in there. We’d have to strap it to the roof-rack.
Mum calls. I tell her our plans for the weekend, and she puts the phone on speaker so I can talk to Dad at the same time. They both tell us to drive safely. Dad asks about the condition of my partner’s car. I exaggerate its condition in the positive. We both know I’m lying. They’ve always fretted about me too much. I’m an only child. After saying “I love you” and “bye” to my Mum and Dad, I hang up. Through his jangle-blip dance music, I holler at my partner while he’s working on something in the bowels of the car. We set off for Grafton and fortunately our journey is uneventful. There’s no need to pull over for the wee-breaks I’m told kids insist on at the most inconvenient moments.
I don’t have to wipe travel-sick from anyone’s chin. Instead, we just float down the road in our ridiculous car, living our selfish lives, free of Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol.
We sit down at a coffee shop and survey the quiet town we’ve found. If we were to raise a family, we’d have to do it in a place like this — cost of living and all. Could I move? I do love my little city life. Across the road here, there’s a toy store that’s plastered in neon yellow sixty percent off stickers — signs to say they’re going out of business. My partner asks if the ‘royal we’ got anything for the baby, gift-wise. I tell him I’d made something, but forgot to pack it. Left behind is a home-made plush stuffed toy. I don’t think I’d have time for crafternoons with a baby in my life.
We decide to panic-buy something to fill the gap. The store is practically barren. My other half wonders aloud about when children can speak in full sentences before muttering: “Wait… how old’s the nipper?” I tell him I’m not sure. We must be terrible, inattentive friends. So we buy a play mat covered in cartoon zoo animals, some stackable blocks, and a modelling kit for a 1:8 racy coupé. I ask my partner about the miniature sports car. “It’s for the baby,” he says.
For a few more hours, I get to stare out the window while we drive past fertile green fields. I spend too much time taking pictures of myself in my mirrored hot pink aviator sunglasses in the rearview mirror’s reflection. Maybe I’m selfish and vain? I’d say not, I hope. My partner points out the plantation pine forests. His tin mug emblazoned with ‘Yay! Trees!’ is packed in the back of the car. A few of the state government assets have been relentlessly cleared, leaving barren brown fields. Sometimes I miss the forests and only spot empty tracts of land. Is this my view of motherhood? Perhaps I should have bought rose-coloured glasses.
After at least half a dozen more draft pics filtered through Clarendon, Gingham or Juno, we arrive at our destination. Our friend’s home feels like an idyllic bungalow, obscured by greenery nurtured in recycled glass jam jars. Their tubby rescue dog woofs at us excitedly from behind their wire fence.
Before the ‘real’ baby arrived, the dog was their bundle of joy. In fact, the pooch was the penultimate life goal: job, car, dog. ‘Baby’ was the largely unspoken pinnacle.
The happy parents come outside. They pad through their lawn barefoot and we exchange a round of hugs. Baby is asleep, so they give us a quick tour of the house. They speak about their baby with an earnestness I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in either of them. “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been,” she says. “It’s the best thing you’ll ever do,” he says. I’m not certain I’m convinced.
Instead of a drink, she gives me her baby — a sign of madness, surely. I can barely carry a cup of tea across a room without slopping it onto the floor. I hold him to my chest. I don’t feel confident his head will stay attached to his neck if I move him about even the slightest. He seems happy for the moment, and perhaps I am too. I’d expected something more revolutionary though.
I thought some feeling would rise up from the pit of my stomach and fill me with maternal fervour. Instead, the baby starts crying. That’s more what I’d predicted.
I hand him back to his mother. He didn’t die. That’s a relief. I’ve done it now; I’ve held an infant. I don’t know if it’s for me: so that’s a hard-maybe on the baby. I definitely still want a dog.