Charlotte Lucas Collins

Many of you are probably saying either “Who?” or “That name sounds familiar, but I can’t quite place it….” It’s from Pride & Prejudice — Elizabeth Bennet’s close friend Miss Lucas who marries the Bennets’ cousin Mr Collins. [I’m guessing that most of you are now saying, “Oh, yeah!!” And if you’ve never read P&P nor seen the movie… that’s just wrong. Mostly just kidding, but you ought to at least familiarize yourself with it, even if you never are able to quote large sections of it from memory.]

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Charlotte Lucas was 29 years old and was probably more or less resigning herself to being an old maid. It was not uncommon for girls to get married at 16 or 17 years of age, and most were probably married (or at least engaged) by 24 or 25, or else never got married, having failed “in the bloom of their youth” to catch a man. This was a pretty serious thing in those days, since women were almost always dependent on their fathers, brothers, or husbands in order to live and survive, unless they were working-class women (governesses, maids, etc.)

After Lizzy spurns the offer of marriage from her cousin Mr. Collins, who is the heir to her father’s estate, and is pompous and socially inept and pretty much a horrible match for her (except financially), Charlotte sets her cap for Mr. Collins and in short order is engaged to him. She has no aspirations of romance; her encouraging Mr. Collins’s attentions was solely mercenary. She wanted to be married, and in some ways, it didn’t really matter to whom, as long as it was someone who could look after her financially. And that’s just what she got. She was content with her choice.

Sometimes women make choices about birth that confuse and confound other women. Just as Lizzy did not agree with Charlotte’s decision to marry Mr. Collins just to be financially comfortable, many women do not agree with other women’s decisions on birth choices — whether that’s with or without an epidural, in the home or at a hospital, etc. Charlotte thought that Lizzy was foolish to refuse the hand of Mr. Collins who was respectable and promised financial stability, even though it would mean being married to a man she could neither love nor respect. Lizzy thought Charlotte was foolish to accept his offer of marriage, because it would mean being married to a man she did not love and could not respect, even though it offered her the stability and (relative) independence she sought. So, who was right?

Well, it depends on what your goal is, I suppose. Charlotte’s attitude was “a bird in hand is worth two in the bush” — she grabbed Mr. Collins more or less out of desperation; but she had no romantic aspirations, so it was enough. Lizzy wanted something different — although had Mr. Darcy not come along, she may have come to regret refusing Mr. Collins had she become financially unable to support herself (if her father had died, and none of her sisters married a man who could support the rest of the family). In that situation, even a Mr. Collins may have been “enough.” But as long as she had her hopes and dreams, she could not choose the path her friend chose.

Women who have difficulty conceiving, or perhaps have had miscarriages or stillbirths, may have different desires and wishes from those of us who have not experienced such negative outcomes. They just want a baby, and if that means the baby has to come out through their nose, they’re fine with that! “Who bloody cares about C-section or vaginal birth — I just want a live baby to take home!” may be their mantra. And I’m fine with that for them. I want something else, but that’s just me. Just as you wouldn’t want to be married to my husband, and I wouldn’t want to be married to yours, so you and I may have different desires and criteria for birth. That’s normal. “Different strokes for different folks.” I won’t get my knickers in a twist if you won’t.

Yes, I will still encourage women to have natural births. I see great value in them. But I don’t think badly of women who make different choices (as long as they are informed choices). I may not understand your reasoning, or may not agree with it, but that’s okay, because I’m not making decisions for you, and you’re not making decisions for me. There’s no point in fighting each other or disparaging one another. Live and let live.