Read an extract from Otherhood on the Spinoff


Read an extract from Lily Duval's essay from Otherhood: Essays on being childless, childfree and child-adjacent edited by Alie Benge, Lil O’Brien and Kathryn van Beek:

‘I was 22 when my friend Alice gave birth in the living room of our pokey Addington flat. She laboured in the blow-up pool for hours. Garish fish swam along the inflated plastic sides as she breathed and pushed, breathed and pushed. We (her partner, our other housemate, Clara, and I) wrung out hot towels to put on her lower back. We took photos and stoked the fire. I was wowed by how contained she was, her pain threshold honed from years of kidney stones. She made birth look powerful and strong.

Still, it was a lot. A beautiful, mind-bending, life-altering lot.

Homebirth and child-rearing were the unexpected backdrop to the first half of my 20s. While other people I knew were experimenting with whatever substance was on hand or starting serious careers, I was bouncing babies or building block towers. This wasn’t by design. I needed somewhere to live after my flat dissolved and a friend of a friend knew two women who needed a flatmate. One of them, Clara, had a one-year-old baby.

Alice and Clara were already friends, but I slipped easily into their world in the way you do when you’re young. We bonded over books, crafts and a collective belief that the nuclear family was nuclear. Our partners lived elsewhere — including the father of the child. We wanted to create a women’s space.

Living with a baby turned out to be fun. I also discovered I was quite good with them. I could hold them confidently, sling them from hip to hip as I popped the kettle on or checked the mail. I could calm them down or entertain them with nonsense noises. This was a mutually beneficial arrangement. When I was on the floor drawing with crayons or reading stories, I forgot myself. The depression and anxiety that had dogged me since childhood dimmed. Compared to the hot mess of university parties, life with a child felt wholesome and meaningful.

As much as I enjoyed this new life, having my own babies was not on my mind. Children seemed like something for later – something that was situationally dependent. Children, I thought, were to be considered if the right person came along. I was good at considering things – I’d racked up four years of student debt doing it.

I was still young enough to find new and unusual things exciting. And living with children in my early 20s fit the bill. In our society, you don’t usually live with babies unless they’re related to you in some way. The house was a unique opportunity to experience life with children without the weight of a lifelong commitment.’

Read the rest of the extract here.