One of the things about finding yourself somewhere either side of 40 and suprised to find that you’re not a mother, is that you probably spend a fair amount of time wondering how the hell you ended up here.
You mentally playback your life from that first boyfriend onwards and reconsider every decision you made, every relationship that didn’t feel right, every opportunity you walked away from, the pregnancies you terminated, the morning-after pills you took – all those those missed opportunities that just ‘didn’t work out’. Seen through this unpleasantly nauseous wrong-end-of-the-telescope viewfinder, you wonder how all of that led to, well, this…
And then, you start to consider that perhaps those female friends of yours that you secretly joked about as boring and unambitious… those ‘Doris Day’ throwbacks married before 30 and pregnant soon after… and suddenly you realise that the joke’s on you. It seems, from where you’re standing, that they were a lot more clued-up than you gave them credit for.
Why did they make motherhood a priority and you didn’t? Why did you think that having a family was somehow just going to ‘happen’ to you one day, like going to France? How come nobody warned you that if you didn’t get your act together and ‘settle down’ you’d wake up an old maid? And that once you hit your mid-thirties, suddenly the guys all seem to be going out with women five years younger than you…
How you laughed about the term ‘old maid’! Such an antique term, like something from a Jane Austen novel. Not so funny anymore, is it…
So, how did so a smart, intelligent, funny, good-looking, kind, decent, well-travelled, hard-working, well-educated, cultured, liberated woman like you end up this way? Why wasn’t your biological clock more of a Big Ben and less of a whisper? And why didn’t you clock all this sooner…
But let me ask you this… when you were a little girl, did you dream of becoming a mother?
Did you play with your dolls and change their nappies? When you first fell in love, did you immediately start imagining having his baby? Did you pick out baby names when you were in your early 20’s and write them in a special book? Did you buy and save baby clothes for ‘that day’? Did you love babies, and love being around your friend’s babies?
Well, I didn’t. I thought babies were dull. I told my husband before we got married that I didn’t want children, and I believed it at the time. They only became interesting when I wanted to have one, but only as a vague sort of concept. And even then, I didn’t find other people’s babies all that interesting. I love my nephews, neices and god-children, but I didn’t find them fascinating until they were about two-years old.
Fast-forward almost 18-years since I first started trying for a baby with my then-husband. We never conceived, and I’ve never had a child. Unexplained infertility, they called it.
But it’s only recently that my grief over that has eased enough for me to reflect on one of the reason why I was never baby-crazy in my teens and twenties: thinking about motherhood reminded me of my childhood.
And having narrowly escaped that by the skin of my teeth, somewhere inside me there is a template that says that’s what childhood is. And I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, and I definitely wouldn’t wish it on my own child. My own mother’s childhood was pretty grim too, but her generation didn’t have easy access to contraception.
But it’s not just a tough childhood that might have contributed to a chary view of motherhood: for those who grew up in a ‘perfect’ family, chances are it was ‘perfect’ because your mother made it her life’s work. And if you were an ambitious, canny girl you might have looked at what her life entailed and thought… I’m not sure I could ever sacrifice myself the way she did. Sometimes perfection can be as much of a deterrent!
Contraception allows us to make conscious choices, to plan when we have our children. However, perhaps it also enables us to make unconscious choices that keep deeper fears at bay. I talked to a woman recently who is childfree by choice, and she said that she’d always known that she didn’t want kids. She told me that her mother was a single mum and that it had been a really hard struggle and that it wasn’t something she’d ever want to put her own children through.
She didn’t seem to notice the glaring contradition in her statement: she’s not her mother. She has other choices.
There are women who are adamant that they don’t want children, they never have and they never will. Fair enough you’d think – yet they seem to get a disproportionate amount of vile attacks for their choice. I’ve written about this more fully elsewhere, particularly ‘When the mittens come off: childfree bating online’, so I won’t go into it here. I just want to be clear that I’m not suggesting that you should ask them to reconsider their ‘why’ – frankly, it’s nobody’s business except theirs.
But your ‘why’? Ask yourself this… were there children in your Wendy House? And if not, why not? As Hanif Kureshi, one of my favourite writers said:
We are all recovering children.
Every single one of us.
Jody Day is the Founder of Gateway Women(UK): an organization to support, inspire and empower childless & childfree women live fertile, passionate, meaningful lives. A qualified counsellor and training psychotherapist, Jody runs groups & workshops for Gateway Women, and also offers one-to-ones for women looking to explore issues around identity, maternity & fertility. If you would like Jody to speak at one of your events, or to write for your blog or magazine, please contact her on email@example.com