Geoffrey and the Eskimo Child – a Gynaecological History

Fay Weldon

Geoffrey thought perhaps Tania should see a psychotherapist. She was having nightmares, the substance of which eluded her but the attendant feeling – tone (as she learned to call it) – was clear enough. Terror.

That was in 1968, and their joint income was low. Geoffrey was studying sociology at the London School of Economics, when he wasn’t at the barricades or fomenting revolution, and Tania, who already had her degree, was working for a market research firm in a rather humble capacity. ‘Can we afford it?’ mourned Tania. ‘Isn’t psychotherapy an unimaginable luxury? Isn’t it immoral, anyway, to accept a form of treatment which can never, by virtue of it being on a one-to-one basis, be available to the many, but only to the privileged?’ She was very earnest, in those days.

Geoffrey reasoned that if she needed it, she should have it: that her happiness was important to him; that she was a valuable member of the community and would be able to pass on the benefit of self-awareness to many, many others in the course of her life.

Geoffrey was an excellent, kindly, caring husband, everyone agreed: a little older and slightly more wise than his fellow students; a rather stable Marxist, as opposed to a wild Trotskyite or Maoist, and his tutors assumed even that would fade with age. Even as far back as 1968, when the whole Western world was gasping, heaving and setting off in a different direction, in pursuit of youth, Geoffrey was conscious of the unfairness of woman’s lot in society. In his revolutionary meetings, men were expected to make the coffee too, and women allowed to make policy decisions. And when the Women’s Movement started, Geoffrey helped with the general organisation and setting up of meetings and the printing of pamphlets, and tried to deter his fellow men from standing up first when discussion time came and the platform had finished, and prefixing their remarks with: ‘I’m all for Women’s Liberation. I always help my wife with the washing-up.’

‘I do the washing-up,’ said Geoffrey. ‘We share household chores. We split our lives down the middle. We even dabble in role-reversal. Tania’s seeing me through college!’

‘Foolish women have always seen arrogant men through college,’ murmured Erica, but no one listened. Erica was Tania’s friend. Once she had been Geoffrey’s mistress, but that was long ago. Now she didn’t seem to like Geoffrey much, so Tania didn’t listen to those parts of Erica’s conversation which appertained to her husband.

And here, in 1968, was Tania, who thought she had the world under control, having nightmares. Geoffrey drove her to the psychotherapist, and took her out for a drink afterwards, and was rather nonplussed when Tania didn’t want to tell him what had passed between the psychotherapist and herself. However, being reasonable and kind, he did not press the matter, but allowed his wife her privacy.

‘We can be one flesh,’ he acknowledged, ‘but we have to remain two minds. Otherwise, where’s the mutual benefit and stimulation? The cross-fertilisation?’

‘I’m on the pill,’ Tania had remarked to the therapist, who was a pleasant woman.

‘What pill?’

‘The contraceptive pill,’ Tania had replied, and explained all about it.

The therapist had seemed rather baffled by this new development in the world, of which so far she had apparently been unaware, but was able nevertheless to relate Tania’s nightly terrors to the nightly taking of the pill and the denial of her own femininity, and fear of ensuing punishment. Tania did not, and could not, accept such an absurd explanation, and presently stopped her visits. She went on taking the pill, and the nightmares faded, and were forgotten, absorbed into the past along with everything else.

Geoffrey got a First, and a job as a sociologist at the Camden Town Hall, and was presently in charge of a department, which he ran with enthusiasm and energy, cutting away – perhaps a little ruthlessly – the dead wood of old staff and old ideas. He was relentlessly young; he wore jeans to work before anyone else dared, and had already abandoned collar and tie when others were still cautiously wondering if they could possibly abandon their vests.

Tania became a freelance journalist of note, was a leading member of Women in Media, and an expert in Women’s Affairs. She was much envied, because she was married to Geoffrey, who was one of the few genuinely unchauvinist men around, was not impotent but nevertheless apparently monogamous, and wasn’t even boring. His mind worked marvellously, his tongue freely, and he passed lightly over this subject and that, seeming to know everything and everyone, lighting up rooms as he came into them. He could make people laugh, with his mock-macho stances: he could listen quietly and at length if he had to, and his interest in others was genuine, and profound. He kept his fits of melancholy for home, and warned Tania when they were coming, so she could go away for a couple of days if they were bad, or just to the pictures if it was a transitory mood and not likely to outlast the evening. In these states, he was angry and rejecting of her: reproaches and rebukes sparking out of black silence. She learned to discount them: not to include them in her vision of him, beloved Geoffrey, her good husband.

Once a year they considered the matter of children. Once a year they decided to postpone the decision. Of course they wanted children, but there was so much to be done in the world. And was the world, in any case, a fit place to bring children into? This latter was Geoffrey’s worry. Tania’s, freely expressed, was whether the domestic sharing, which worked so well without children, would continue to work when a child arrived. Or, if there was any conflict of interest, say an ill child needing a parent to stay at home, which one of them would in fact do so? Geoffrey had his department to run; Tania could be more fluid in her arrangements, but that would not be the point. Would it?

So the decision was delayed. Life was good as it was. Tania stayed on one form or another of the pill for twelve years, through health-scares and out the other side of them, with regular physical check-ups and the dosage changing for maximum safety. Geoffrey worried for her, and both agreed that when they’d had their eventual family – two, they thought, a boy and a girl – he would have a vasectomy. They would take turns at tribulation, as they did everything else. Earning, cooking, bill-paying, hoovering, cleaning the lavatory.

When Tania was thirty-two it was no longer possible to deny that she was growing older, and that giving birth to a first child was no longer the simple matter it once would have been. And man’s procreative life, of course, goes on longer than woman’s, and male sperm, being recreated daily, do not grow feeble or tired, as do female eggs, which are laid down before birth and have to hang about for release – and the danger of having a baby with something wrong with it presumably increased with every year that passed.

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