Children never seemed to care about adults so I didn't care much about them

Before I had a baby, children were movement rather than people. But then my depth of field changed.

Before I had a baby, children were movement rather than people. But then my depth of field changed. Photo: Stocksy

My depth of field changed. Before I had a baby, children were objects that moved erratically down the footpath of my local, very crowded, shopping strip. They clambered along beside their parents or dashed on push-scooters; dawdled and tottered as toddlers; malingered and dithered in groups of schoolkids; heaved giant backpacks onto the tram; bumbled out of shop doorways and got under everyone's feet; they never seemed to care about adults so I didn't care much about them. They were movement rather than people.

More conspicuous were the babies in prams, engulfed in their vehicles, like yolks inside expensive four-wheel drive eggs. These charged at my ankles like juggernauts and rammed their way through the footpath traffic of elderly women, Orthodox Jews, bewildered homeless and preoccupied hipsters. All were swept aside by the Monster Trucks that are modern strollers. Whatever infants were there englobulated, they barely registered in my vision as they swept past while I leapt for my life, flattening against a wall. 

I've been a child myself, of course. Then, children were all I saw: adults were dim, elongated silhouettes who loomed up from time to time and receded as we returned, barely interrupted, to our play. I can't say, though, that I noticed children very sympathetically after that. By the time I was an adolescent they rather alarmed me. And for the next twenty years I didn't really see children as much as avoid them. Even when my friends began childbearing, I didn't quite notice.

Hullo, I said dutifully to various tiny things in terry-towelling suits.

Hullo, I said dutifully to various tiny things in terry-towelling suits. Photo: Stocksy

It wasn't that I thought badly of the thing; it was just that it seemed so strange and unforeseen. Hullo, I said dutifully to various tiny things in terry-towelling suits. They seemed more like dolls, and anyway, they changed shape between my too-rare visits, so it never seemed worth looking much more closely. Small faces. Little legs. Distracted eyes goggling incredulously, or scornfully staring. Older children were chiefly personified by the crumbs they dropped everywhere and their unlovely interruptions of our conversations.

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But then I fell pregnant. And there were pregnant women everywhere. The place was swarming with pregnant ladies. The streets were full of them, bumbling along! At first, my bump didn't exist, and no one could see I was in a state; but still my protective instincts kicked in — the ones that made me automatically place a guarding, cherishing palm against my belly, which made me turn deftly away from on-comers in a crowd — and then it seemed incredible that people were not standing aside in proper awe of my budding bulge. Couldn't they see I was gravid?

As I walked more and more heavily and defensively down that crowded footpath, I developed an uncanny sense of when another pregnant, bulgy woman was near: we would exchange furtive, half-smiling glances of understanding, of complementary compliments, of you too, huh? — not avoiding each other's gazes as we usually do in the street, storming past, but willingly exchanging them, looking first at the belly, then at the eyes — suddenly twisting to avoid an oncoming pram — and walking bulgily on.

Mothermorphosis, Australian storytellers write about becoming a mother.

Mothermorphosis, Australian storytellers write about becoming a mother.

Where had all these pregnant women been until now? And some of them had children too, and now I noticed children. I realised the blurry little objects near my ankles were small people, and they were looking at me (and my bulge), and I observed them, because suddenly I needed to know. So that's what my son will be like, when he's two. Small hands like that, and miniature t-shirts, I suppose; I'll have to get him a haircut, maybe like that little boy's; goodness, look at those adorable little elbows! Elbows! I'm going to have a baby and he will have elbows. 

I gazed, entranced, stupefied by progesterone and the unexpected change in my depth of field: suddenly, like a magic mirror, the foreground was full of reflections of my future.

This is an edited extract from Kate Holden's story Mothermorphosis ($27.99, Melbourne University Publishing). Available here