Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash​​​​​​​

For some of us, the path to parenthood isn’t always clear-cut.

There appears to be a very real baby boom happening. The baby news among friends, peers, and National Health Service antenatal appointment stats in the last few months are all living proof. But the reality I live in, one where I am no more certain about having children than I was in my 20s (I’ve just celebrated my 36th birthday), means this steep change has brought my indecisiveness into very sharp, prodding, and uncomfortable focus.

And it turns out, I don’t particularly like confronting the decision, the biological or the societal pressures. Yet to not consider parenthood seriously feels like a risky game of spin the bottle. For starters, I don’t even know how fertile I am, but I don’t even think I actually want to know, because if it’s not at ideal levels, then it creates another layer of added pressure and panic.
• • •
Pandemic panic
Right now, my husband and I sit firmly nestled between two camps, one houses single friends nowhere near close to having babies, the other — all those in relationships who now have children. While year on year, the number of friends that are coupled up without children, sat with us keeps dwindling, and our day of reckoning seems to grow ever closer, tapping us on the shoulder.

After this year of all years, the compulsion to have children has been the furthest from my mind. The most unstable the global economy has been in decades, with varying levels of uncertainty faced everywhere every day, and uncertainty which at one point also loomed over my own job. So, can you blame me for deciding that a permanent decision, to invest considerable time and money into another human being for the next 20 years doesn’t feel like the safest bet?

It also isn’t helped by the reality that childcare costs are at an all-time high, so much so that most parents are forced to choose between quitting their jobs or working fewer hours which only exacerbates the issue.

The harsh truth is that our friends who have had children either live close enough to their parents to support with childcare, have moved counties (sometimes countries) in order to be so, or are financially blessed.

Financials aside, the pandemic also derailed our plans to go abroad. In 2020, we were due to go on the biggest trip since our Vietnam honeymoon, to Canada to visit friends we haven’t seen for three years. And the aim after that was to save for Japan. It’s not lost on me that we’re privileged enough to be able to count travel as an attainable life goal, but when the itch to explore is something many of us wish to scratch before ‘settling down’, having it ripped away then adds another mark to the still-not-ready column.
• • •
From realities to regrets
In the last few years, as a growing number of friends and peers have fallen pregnant, so too are the stories of challenging births shared. Oddly enough, these do not fill me with eagerness to get cracking in joining them, and in fact, leave me feeling worried that I’m far too selfish to put my body through the paces needed for a baby.

Unpopular opinion alert: I don’t know if I want to gain that stubborn weight and water retention, lose control of my bladder, or be quite literally torn apart for a baby. There, I said it. Writing this for all to see makes me feel like a villain. Because like Elizabeth Day so succinctly put it recently,

“… in our child-obsessed, parent-fetishising culture, you’re not allowed to say this without sounding like a monster; without sounding — and here’s the kicker — unmaternal.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m over the moon for our friends. But all of them — intentionally or not — have shared the honest realisms of parenthood either through anecdotes or, first hand as the full-on consequences unfold in front of me. Whether they are days out that have been derailed as one child decides today’s the day to test mum’s patience and take things to exciting new heights. To the challenges that come when baby number two arrives, and number one isn’t too happy about it, thank you very much.

I know people who have admitted they’re having a second child not just to keep the first child company, but to also take the pressures off them having to provide consistent, full-time entertainment to the first. And every one of them will understandably complain of the juggle and scramble with the day-to-day — the ferrying of too much to comfortably carry, leaving the house taking five times longer, and the process of doing so rarely being on their terms.

On the scariest end of the spectrum is the latest admission from someone who very openly and abruptly confessed she feels she’s made a mistake. She should have left more time. Explored ambitions and curiosities. Pursued more of the bucket list.

I’m definitely not overlooking the fact that this revelation will have been steeped in hormonal overload and sleep deprivation, but this confession is my idea of hell. It’s the stuff of my nightmares in which I look down and I’m very pregnant, but very not on my timeline. I’ve not planned for this. There’s not enough stability and this is going to go very badly for all involved.

And yet someone will always argue, isn’t the idea of growing old without anyone to carry on your legacy or take care of you at the other end, not scarier?
• • •
What comes first?
In the last 10 years or so, whenever I’ve uttered the words to a mother about my fears or doubts, I’ve received responses equating to, ‘Oh but the love that will wash over you’ or ‘Their perfection will make it all so worth it.’ that ‘it won’t matter to you.’ Will it not?
I’m pretty familiar with the articles, the passing comments, the books, and the revelations from many women that demonstrate they’re striving to be a mother and a woman. One who retains her sense of self — mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, professionally. A woman is a woman before a mother, after all. So, it stands to reason that it will matter to me.

The path my husband and I have travelled means we haven’t gone down linear career paths and we’ve always been keen to explore creative avenues along the way. And while we have time, we always toy with the thought of living abroad. We fully appreciate that we’re fortunate enough to face more options than our parents and our grandparents had — a menu of possibilities. So many options now that perhaps there lies the problem. Why have three courses when you could go dim sum? Are we ultimately then, victims of choice?
• • •
When indecisive, there’s no neat conclusion
In contrast to what I envisaged when I was younger, and despite what society will have us believe when it comes to making solid decisions as to who we are, what we stand for and how we’ll live our lives, the reality is different. Much like Authors Dolly Alderton and Caroline O’Donoghue recently discussed on Sentimental Garbage, we’re not magically ‘hit by a yes or a no’ when facing the decision to be parents.

Journalist Becky Barnes can testify to this, but has wisely contingency planned, freezing her eggs for the time down the line when it may be clearer to her. I know what you’re thinking, it sounds as though I’m not hot on the idea of kids and maybe I should realise I’ve confessed as much in writing and sharing this with you. But I can’t promise you that future me will feel the same. Just like I can’t promise future you will do either.

And yes, I’ve read the stories from the women who have changed their minds later in their lives and far too late. But being scared into making decisions rarely ends well.

So, right now, I’m choosing to ignore those ‘you-really-should-be-pregnant-or-trying-by-now’ adverts with their ovulation trackers that the algorithms carefully curate into my social feeds. And if you’re anything like me, I suggest you do the same too. Some things are best left simmering.
• • •
Originally published on Fearless She Wrote

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