‘Baby Hater’: You’re never your own person again
Comedian Joanne McNally is ‘80% certain’ that she doesn’t want to have children
Joanne McNally: never raises the subject of abortion, as though she doesn’t want to take on that responsibility
If Joanne McNally, the Dublin comedian, were to become pregnant next year, it would be known technically as a “geriatric pregnancy”. Such advanced maturity would be a sobering thought for any 34-year-old to consider, but the premise of McNally’s conversational documentary Baby Hater (TV3, Wednesday, 9pm) is that it is deeply unlikely to happen.
She doesn’t want kids and feels 80 per cent certain about it, keeping her brooding to thought alone. “Like, I killed a cactus,” she says to the camera, with her customary withering wit and eyes that flash wide. “That takes work.”
Still, the decision to have, or not to have, children is an emotive subject; one that every stranger on the internet seems to have an opinion about. McNally broaches her topic with a kind of breezy disinterest, but asked to write about her indifference to posterity for an online publication, she worries “about being trolled”.
Later, when she scrolls meticulously through her article’s stack of tut-tutting comments, as though drawn to their flame, she seems less indifferent to motherhood than hungry for material.
“Honestly I could listen to him all day because he’s very entertaining,” she says at the end of a Skype conversation with a similarly performative provocateur. The title Baby Hater, a wildly disproportionate slur for the contentedly childless, is also designed to goad tempers, but the show really doesn’t want to get in too deep.
One of the people McNally speaks to is the comedian Tara Flynn, who has been a vocal and taboo-shattering supporter of Repeal the Eighth. But for a show preoccupied with conception and choice, the subject of abortion is never raised, as though McNally doesn’t want to take on that responsibility either.
Instead, she canvasses the world for opinion, hearing from strangers and friends, none more endearingly than her adoptive mother. “It’s quite a hard route to take,” her mother advises. “You’re never your own person again.”
It can be hard to tell whether McNally begins to vacillate for our benefit (“Suddenly flash cars and designer handbags seem kind of empty.”) or if she is genuinely buffeted by competing sentiments.
The voice that most concerns her, though, is the most troublingly self-oriented. It belongs to an American woman, Victoria Elder, who speaks openly of regretting having her child. “She’s looking up at me with my blue eyes,” Elder recalls of her infant daughter, with an emphasis that implies her eyes had been robbed, “and I’m thinking I’ve made a horrible mistake.”
Joanne, for her part, is most moved by the implications of a fertility check: “I think it would suit me,” she says, with sincerity, “I think I would make a good mum.”
Thirty seconds later she says the precise opposite, capricious to the end. It’s as though her thoughts on the matter have turned into its own rollicking comment thread.
Faced with such a cacophony of opinions, this swirl of humanity, you can understand McNally’s dilemma. Who would want to add to it?