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Freya Dowson is an international documentary photographer based in Dubai.

About Freya

It’s hard to write something like this because it’s so deeply personal. It’s not unusual for me to share personal things online, but usually they’re things I know I won’t be judged for – this I’m not so sure… But maybe I’m not alone in the way I feel about becoming a mother, and that’s usually what pushes me to share stuff like this, in the hopes that it’ll reach someone who needs to read it. I’m not insensitive to other people’s journeys to becoming a mother and the different challenges along the way, so I would just like to add that I really don’t mean to offend anyone who’s path or opinions differ from my own.

At the start of writing this I’m just over seven and a half months pregnant, I’m sat at a cafe in Hackney where I live while other freelancers work around me, and this little girl in my belly is having a dance party – her kicks are so strong now.

Looking back several years, being a mother was always on the periphery of my life plans. It was neither something I wanted or didn’t want, sort of like marriage – I always thought of it as something I would deal with when it came up. I was more into developing my career, growing a supportive group of amazing friends around me, finding the best parter I could for myself (Adam), finding a place to live that made me feel fulfilled and happy to wake up and go to bed every evening, and caring for my mental health (i.e. keeping myself happy).

I kept revisiting the idea of babies over the years and I just pushed the idea away. It wasn’t something I had to worry about just yet. But in the back of my mind there were a few things I knew already, a) I just didn’t have that urge to carry a child that many women talk about, b) I was never overly enthralled by other people’s children, and c) it was hard for me to imagine a “right time” in my life to make room for kids.

And then finally d) given all of the above, was it even right for me to have a child considering it wasn’t something I was longing for with all my heart? This last part weighed on me the most.

When Adam and I got together there were definitely things we needed to compromise on in our relationship, one of them was marriage and children – he wanted them and I didn’t. Well, it’s not that I didn’t so much as I didn’t ache for them with my whole heart and they seemed like pretty big decisions to make with a “yeah sure, ok” kind of attitude. Commitment is something I firmly believe in, but I never felt like I needed to be married to be committed.

We’ve been together for ten years now and in that time I worked to get on board with Adam’s way of thinking about kids and he worked to get on board with mine, so much so that we kind of both swung the other way – he thought maybe he would be ok with a life of no kids and I thought maybe I would be ok with a life with kids! That was a fun and confusing time in our relationship…

When working my way around to having a baby I thought through a lot – and if you’ve ever read any of my instagram captions you’ll know I think A LOT – ha ha! I kept coming back to the idea of something I read somewhere once by Elizabeth Gilbert, “having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it’s what you want before you commit.” And I think somewhere over the years I started equating babies to face tattoos, and I definitely didn’t want a face tattoo…

Realising that I’d made that link made me consider what other stories I had told myself around motherhood. I guess the earliest one would be my own birth, which was by all accounts really traumatic for my mum. She ended up divorced one year later, raising two kids alone and moving to a different country. Motherhood to me seemed really hard and lonely. When it’s just you alone with your kids and you’re trapped – yeah, it’s just really hard. And compounding that was story after story I’d heard or read about uninvolved husbands and women having to take on the majority of responsibility for the children. Just the thought of that alone made me feel trapped and resentful. 

I just have such a massive longing to do so much in my life beyond raising children.

And as I mentioned before, my moments of joy with other people’s children were so few and far between, it was hard for me to see how any potential joy from my own children would make up for what I was lacking in my career and other areas of my life that I loved so much. I just didn’t have enough experience or understanding to see beyond what I assumed a life with children would be like.

Another big consideration for me was thinking about all my friends who had kids and how much they wanted them from the minute they were old enough to understand they could design their own life. Motherhood seemed to be etched into their bones and I just didn’t get it. I knew I didn’t feel that way and again I thought having kids without having that feeling was irresponsible. Mothers grow to resent their children sometimes, that’s just a fact – and I didn’t want that for myself or my hypothetical child, just the thought of it makes me so sad.

And I would also think about the impact that us having a child would have on the planet. From the moment I understood what adoption was I thought that would be the best option for me if ever I decided to have kids. There are so many little ones out there in need of a loving home, why create more lives when you can help the ones that already exist. And you wouldn’t be adding to the burden the human population has already put on the planet. Although I felt about as passionate about adoption as I did about having my own kids – mostly not very passionate at all. Adam has always felt that if we did have kids, it was important to him to have at least one biological child – he wanted to see us in our kid and I felt like that wasn’t something I was willing to take away from him. Even now I worry about the world my child will grow up in, but that’s probably a whole other blog post.

I thought about the impact that growing a child would have on my body – going through that pain just didn’t make sense to me because I couldn’t wrap my head around the reward. Again, I just didn’t have that ache to carry children that my friends seemed to have, the ones that had kids anyway. And again it struck me how unfair it seemed to have a child unless you were 100% all in. Mostly my thoughts kept coming back to this idea – that unless you want to give everything you are and everything you have, body, heart and soul, to raising a baby, don’t do it… I was very black and white on this idea.

But as I got older and I felt like a time was coming for me to make up my mind, I realised that I still couldn’t see what was right for me. I still didn’t ache for a child but at the same time I felt like I would be missing out if I didn’t at least give it proper consideration.

I came to realise that there was so much history behind my indecision, I just felt like I was adding up the sum total of other people’s expectations and experiences with motherhood, and I had no idea what my own were – I’d never really thought about it. I’d been waiting to feel like I assumed other women felt about kids, and It wasn’t happening…

At the same time I wasn’t completely against the idea but I wasn’t heart and soul in love with it like I thought I should be, and maybe I needed to work on inventing my own idea of what I wanted my relationship with a child to look like… so that’s what I did.

I spoke to a few people around me and I learned some things that made it all seem less black and white. You can yearn to be a mother your whole life and still find it a struggle to bond with your baby, it can take months! I didn’t know that. You can find it’s all way less magical than you thought it would be… or maybe even more magical! You can become a mother accidentally and it can turn out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to you – you work harder, live more fully, you are more of a success in your career because of it… Or you can yearn to be a mother from day one, only to regret ever having kids. It’s sad, but it happens.

I learned that an approach to motherhood doesn’t always have to be so black and white as to look like: yearn for kids from day one, get married, wait appropriate amount of time, get pregnant, dedicate the rest of your life to producing and loving your children. Sure you can have a career if you want but kids come first, always. There’s nothing wrong with this model, but in my head if I was anything less than that level of committed it meant I didn’t want kids – in fact it meant I shouldn’t have kids. If I ever wanted more from life it would mean I didn’t love my child enough. *Please keep in mind this was a standard I was holding myself to, I never once looked at other ambitions, working mothers and thought “you don’t love your children”. So often in my life it’s been one rule for me and a different rule for everyone else, and I’ve been pretty hard on myself – I think this is something we’re all guilty of to an extent.*

So in an effort to make it less black and white for myself, I started looking for examples in my life of women who have had careers and children – and there are many. I started looking outside of the romanticised notion of what it means to be a mother and I realised that no matter how you approach it, it’s a transformative time that most people find both challenging and ultimately amazing. 

I discovered that having a child cracks you open and allows you to see life in a whole different way, and I’m excited to see what that feels like. I’m excited to bring that new way of seeing the world into my everyday, into how I live and especially into my work as a documentary photographer.

I found other mothers that felt like they could be role models for me and I use that to remind myself again and again that it can be done differently, I don’t have to have the answers all at once and I can figure it out along the way. I can invent my own version of idyllic motherhood and work towards that, and I get to make it up as I go along. The best things I’ve done in my life I’ve figured out as I moved forward with a very rough plan and a willingness to just wing it.

Right now I’ve got two weeks to go in this pregnancy, we’re having a little girl, and she still continues to kick like crazy. I’m still not 100% sure, but I now recognise that as the feeling of being a beginner at something.

My uncertainty doesn’t scare me because I’m not working to a template of expectations about motherhood anymore.

Over the past few months I’ve learned that I’m excited for this little girl to get here, and that I will still sometimes get scared but that feeling always always passes. I’ll learn on the job, she will be my first nappy change – but she’ll also be the first baby that steals my heart. I’ll teach her to live a brave life by living one myself, and hopefully through me she’ll learn that you don’t have to make yourself look and feel like the perfect version of anything before you embark on a new journey. You can leap before you look and make it up as you go.

It’s not easy for me to trust others and it’s even harder for me to trust myself – but I already love this baby in a way I never knew was possible, and that’s enough for me to know I’ve done the right thing. I trust that Adam and I are on the same page, and he supports me in what I want out of life and I support him, we can still make it all happen with a baby. And even if it takes me ages to feel like a real mother, that’s ok too – I’m comfortable with the idea that there are no certainties in life, and I’ve taught myself to let go of the burden of expectations on what it means to feel ready to be a mother.

I called this “Part One” because I’m hoping to write a follow up after the baby comes, to share how my thoughts and feelings have changed. But if you have any questions about what I’ve said, let me know here or on Instagram @freyadowson and I’ll do my best to answer.x


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