I would have loved to have seen my face just after I was asked the question, in those truthful seconds before I hid the shock and annoyance and had to grudgingly rearrange my features into detached professionalism.
The conversation that preceded this event occurred when a female patient of mine mentioned that she was expecting her third child and proceeded to ask me if I had any. When I answered that I had four she gave me a look of immense sympathy and said it must be awful to have to go out to work and leave them behind and asked if I felt guilty. There was no accusation in her voice but my blood boiled at the question, there were so many things I wanted to say but it was not the place to say them. Instead I smiled back at her and said the most neutral thing I could manage, which was that of course I didn’t feel guilty, unfounded guilt is a ridiculous waste of energy.
I spent the rest of the day thinking of all the things I would have loved to have said to her if the circumstances were right.
I would love to have asked her if she had ever asked a man that question, I’m pretty sure the answer would have been no.
I would love to have told her that the greatest favour I do my children is to give them a break from me, as much as I adore them, I am not cut out for being with them 24/7
I would have loved to have asked her if she had a daughter would she feel that she should leave her right to choose in the maternity ward, to be cowed by this notion of ‘mother’s guilt’ into staying at home even if that was not what she wanted to do.
I would have loved to have asked her what exactly I should feel guilty about, seeing as my children have an emotionally privileged upbringing, where they know how much they are loved, where they have warm food and a safe home, where they have two parents who put what’s best for them ahead of everything else in their lives.
Whether you stay at home or go out to work, what matters is what kind of mother you are, how you love your children, how you show them this, what kind of memories you make, the confidence and self belief that you build…these are the things I should be judged on, and if I fail or if I fail to try then hell yes I’ll feel guilty, but for going out to work…not a chance!