"Is it actually true that in British law a pregnant woman is allowed to piss in a policeman’s hat? Because today this is my only remaining incentive to get up-the-duff."
Louise Ashcroft talks about the motivations for her show Bird Hut Sperm Bank, returning to CPT 27-28 Sep after a sell-out performance at Calm Down Dear Festival of Feminism.
Content notice: themes of fertility, childlessness, sex and reproduction
Some days my childlessness is involuntary, other days I want no responsibilities at all except writing whimsical prose in an expensive East London coffee shop after an idyllic bike ride through my local nature reserve, which today smells of sun-ripening wild blackberries. Yes, parents, I have the luxury of free time, by myself - the price I pay for genetic obsolescence. I did not choose this though, it chose me - like an accidental pregnancy, my childlessness just sort of happened, and maybe it was a ‘mistake’ but right now I love and care for it very much. I can have my kid and eat it, (as they don’t say), by helping my mates out with their kids occasionally in the school holidays.
Last time I went to a cafe, the kids I was babysitting haggled ice creams out of me (for breakfast) and we had to take a Feast and Twister into public loos because they suddenly both urgently needed a wee, and had waited for the most perilous moment to test the laws of physics and my multitasking abilities. That day, we had the best time together, making plans for a 5D fantasy marble run, and visiting the ‘wacky warehouse’ soft-play pit-of-pestilence that was responsible for a 24 hour vomiting bug I woke up with the following day. It seems that the youth and their bacteria have heard I’m performing a serious comedy show about reproductive ambivalence, and they’ve now got it in for me. I phone a single mum friend to whinge about being ill, and she confirms that small kids are notoriously bio-hazardous. How on earth does a parent cope, if they’re ill and they’ve got two sick kids to look after?
These particular babysittees always insist on asking me for stuff they’re not allowed, then shaming me when I buckle, rolling their eyes and saying ‘mum would never let us have a slushie’, before eventually declining the luminous offering that they’d coerced out of me in the first place. I fear my girlfriend is right when she says that if we had kids I’d never set any boundaries and she’d be left with all the bad-cop stuff.
This Summer, I’m making my first forays into how I could be a ‘crowd mum’ instead of having kids of ‘my own’; a low key alternative to running off to join the hippy co-parenting communes I’d been browsing online all spring. Maybe I’m kidding myself that this occasional babysitting constitutes being a ‘parent’, as ultimately I have the choice about when to clock on or off, like an Uber driver. But like the Uber driver’s contractual freedom, most of the reality of having kids is not really a choice, and our societal fixation on choice is tied up with a breed of capitalism which fixes power in the pockets of an elite minority of rich men. Many parents think that because they’ve ‘chosen’ to have kids they should have to deal with the difficulties of child-raising themselves (and would feel bad asking me for help), but they did not choose for childcare to be extortionate (or for childcare workers to be undervalued and underpaid!), just as they didn’t choose for their employers to be inflexible or for no maternity pay on their precarious creative industry contracts. The ideology of choice lets society off the hook by making individuals wholly responsible; wrongly justifying society’s failure to share the responsibility to care for each other.
On holiday in the town of Martigues (France) this Summer, I saw a local newspaper advertising mayor-funded, means-tested summer childcare costing one euro thirty two cents a day (up to ten euros a day for the fat cats). When I returned to this blessed isle, an arts worker I talked to in Newcastle said she spends more than £65 a day to get her baby looked after so she can work; and my London friends would probably pay double that. In reality, not much of having or not having kids is a choice, just as the need for period products was never a choice (despite it having historically been taxed for so long), and so we should not treat caring for human bodies as industrial pursuits - neither linguistically nor economically. The language of choice should be replaced with the language of rights. My emails have pinged daily with dozens of reproductive industry comms, since I got quotes from all the IVF and IUI clinics at a bunch of fertility trade fairs. How has the human species managed to privatise its own reproduction? Future dinosaurs will laugh about this when they claw over petrified cryo-clinics in our sixth mass extinction climate change fossils.
The barriers to having kids, which I stumble through in my daily life, and in my one woman comedy theatre show Bird Hut Sperm Bank, make having kids a nearly impossible choice for me, and maybe I don’t want it to be a binary choice anyway - because this summer I am choosing not to choose, I’m going to have my baby and eat it, by helping out mates with their kids. We don’t have to do it alone, and the real choice is the freedom to invent new models of co-parenting together. But today, I’m going to sit on my own and read a book called ‘Survival of the Friendliest’, about the anti-individualist, non-violent, feminist economics of Bonobo monkeys, and how we got Darwin all wrong. But, it’s hard to concentrate on reading, because the woman next to me is FaceTiming her one year old nephew in a really loud, annoyingly high pitched, faux-cute, adult talking-to-a-baby voice. I would prefer a world where babies talked to adults in fake adult voices, but not everything is a choice.
27-28 Sep 2022 at 9pm