My great-grandmother, having introduced her former beau to a suitable young lady, was wont to say of the resulting offspring, ‘I feel I brought those children into the world’.
History does not record what the suitable young lady said about that.
Which is to say that birth as a metaphor for anything that is not birth has never worked very well for me. It somehow manages to diminish both birth and work, and I am really uncomfortable with using it of my own projects.
I am not entirely sure why that might be. It’s not as if I am particularly squicked by the concept of birth – I spent my teenage years as unofficial chief proofreader for Midwifery Matters, and as a result I probably know as much as anyone who hasn’t actually been there and done it about the physiological, practical and political aspects of birth. I can tell you what ‘O. P.’ stands for both in the Latin and the vulgar. I can explain why a common party balloon makes a reasonable model for the uterus. I can talk about the importance of continuous one-to-one midwifery care. What I absolutely cannot do is apply this to my own work.
Possibly I’m too much of a literalist. Take my long-going novel, for example. I resist applying the birth metaphor to that, because I am irresistibly drawn to the conclusion that the pregnancy has lasted seven years but nobody actually knows whether the conception was successful. I end up wandering through the animal kingdom (‘Well, horses and deer and things are born and then stand up within a few hours, while human infants need intensive nurturing for years before one can safely leave them to their own devices. Birds lay eggs – which is the nearest thing to birth – but then have to incubate them for weeks…’) and end up concluding that the current project is actually a marsupial.
And, jumping back behind the metaphor to what I think is the intention behind the prompt, my most recent project, into which I put a huge amount of work and of which I am extremely proud, has the unedifying title ‘Private Contractors Database’. One can’t talk about ‘birthing’ a ‘private contractors database’ without falling about laughing. At least, I can’t. The metaphors that do spring to mind are building (largely, of recent weeks, in the context of Rudyard Kipling’s If: ‘If you can see the things you gave your life to, broken/And stoop and build them up with Sharepoint 2013…’) and transformation.
The Private Contractors Database wasn’t my idea. It already existed, in an embryo (ha!) form. My role in bringing it to where it is now was more like this:
My manager: Well, we have six white mice and a pumpkin. We need a coach. I want you to look into coach-building possibilities.
Me: No problem; let me think about it.
Six months later, after a lot of hard work (important point! ‘hard work’ is often a translation of ‘magic’) we have a coach.
This is all very interesting, because I had thought that the part of me that was a fairy godmother had packed up and flown off when I stopped temping. I’d been looking after other people too much; it was time for me to look after myself. (I have a feeling I’ll be writing more about this soon…) But I look at the projects that I’m working on at the moment, and I see: one is a quilt for a baby. One is a necklace to surprise a friend.
Even the novel is a coming-of-age present for some imaginary godchild, to tell them that, whoever they are, they are turning out exactly as they should be.