It’s been a long time coming, this post. I can’t count the times I’ve sat down to write it and not been able to find the words. Or rather, I can find the words – approximately 6 billion of them swirling around in my messy brain on a regular basis. I’ve just never been able to eloquently get them down on paper (well, on a keyboard!) in a format that makes any sense, so every previous attempt has been abandoned, or I’ve just resorted to re-sharing the one post where I felt like what I was saying made sense. I can’t guarantee this one is going to come out any more eloquently, to be honest, but I’m going to give it a good shot! So here goes….
It’s a question I bet all of you, if you are over the age of about 25, will have heard, I’m sure. An inevitability that comes with every milestone. Birthdays. Christmas. A new house. An engagement. A wedding. Home renovations. A Christening… If you don’t have children yet, you can bet your bottom dollar that when one of these things happens you are going to get that question again. So when are you going to start trying? Ooooh, making room for a nursery?? It’s going to be you next, right…? No one ever means to be mean or intrusive when they ask this question, but honestly, unless you’re a very close friend and happen to be in a private setting when this question is asked, there are very few honest answers that aren’t going to be horribly awkward. Because frankly, there are a million reasons why someone might not yet have started the process of procreating, many of which have been written about far more articulately than me by some of my favourite bloggers. My answer is a simple one, but almost impossible to succinctly explain to people – it just hasn’t happened yet.
Unlike many who equally hate being asked this question, my childless state is not due to a lack of desire to have one. Quite the opposite, in fact. I have always wanted to have children. More than just wanted, in fact. I simply assumed that I would. I struggled terribly throughout my youth to picture what my future looked like. I had no idea what I enjoyed, what I was skilled at, what I wanted to do with my career – and still do to this day. But one thing was always certain – I always pictured myself as a Mum. Maybe in some ways this is what has held me back from any serious career ambitions, because I felt so strongly that being a Mum was my number one goal in life that even early on I was advance planning for the fact that at some point I’d have to make choices about putting work or parental duties first, and despite the fact they didn’t exist yet, I’d already decided my main focus would be my children. Somehow, despite being a bit of a realist in all other areas, I have built this image of motherhood in my head to such a degree that I struggle to see anything else, and I can’t seem to break this belief that it is my sole purpose in life. Which is probably incredibly stupid and almost certain to lead to heartbreak and disappointment whether I end up having kids or not, but there you go – I can’t shake the feeling that this is what I’m supposed to do with my life, above all else.
Because it meant so much to me, I put it off. I made some pretty shoddy choices in my relationships throughout my twenties, and as much as that desire was there to settle down and start a family, I knew that none of those men were people I could consider raising a family with, and this was an experience I wanted to share with someone – I didn’t want to do it alone. And even if they were, I didn’t feel I’d done enough yet to make a solid foundation for a family – I wasn’t as financially well off as I wanted, I didn’t have a stable home and I still felt like a bit of an overgrown child if I’m honest. I wanted to do this so badly that I was adamant I would do it right. So I waited.
And then around 5 years ago, I thought my time had come. I was engaged, settled in a job, and feeling pretty happy about life. I was with someone who wanted to have children too, so the arrival of children in the near future seemed inevitable. But then things fell apart. I went through an incredibly traumatic year in my job – which ironically catapulted me into a far more successful career – which put a real strain on that relationship and suddenly gave me real clarity. There were cracks there that I’d previously happily papered over, that I wasn’t sure I was willing to accept anymore. We didn’t spend a lot of time together, and I suddenly started pondering what life would be like on my own so much with a newborn. I was the main income earner, he had a job he was incredibly passionate about but that wasn’t very lucrative, and he had no ambitions to try to climb the ladder any higher, so I was coming to the stark realisation that my wishes to spend time with my child would be hugely hindered by the need to make the money I felt we needed to give the child the start in life I wanted to. Then the deal breaker – when I tried to talk about my fears with him, the conversation went one of two ways. Either he told me to stop worrying about it because all would just work out and be fine, or he’d tell me maybe I needed to accept the fact that my wishes for motherhood were unrealistic and I should lower my expectations. Essentially, I realised that he wasn’t willing to compromise, unless that compromise came from me, so basically, despite me having spent the last few years supporting his dreams – which included moving to another country for a year – he wasn’t willing to do the same for me. I did not come first, and so I had to assume neither would our family, and so rang the death knell for our union. (Edit: reading that back it makes him sound like a terrible person. He isn’t, we were young and naive and clearly hadn’t spent enough time ensuring our goals were the same. It was a sad ending but not a bitter one) So I waited some more.
Fast forward to today, around three years after I called things off. I am in a very happy, stable relationship. We are busily renovating a beautiful home in the countryside. We do well at work and are comfortably off. SO WHY NO BABIES???? the world seems to scream at me everyday. Well, because it isn’t that simple right? You can’t call off a wedding in your thirties and dive straight into family planning with someone else. That shiz scars you. It is real life-questioning stuff. And I’m now 35, almost 36. The care-free assumption that I’ll get pregnant is no longer a reality. Time is against me and it might not be that easy. And this doesn’t feel like a nice place to be. Everyone around me seems to have children. The ones that don’t are all pregnant. The only friends I have of a similar age in the same situation are having a really rough time trying and seeing their battle first hand is terrifying for me. Because I know perfectly well that it might well be just the same for me. I can’t assume I will be a mum anymore, and the thought that I might have to find a new ‘purpose’ in life has honestly shaken me to my core. I struggle to care about my career. I feel equal parts thrilled and desperately jealous any time someone close to me announces a pregnancy. It feels so unfair to me that I wasn’t willing to jump headfirst into parenthood without making sure it was right, and now I have to accept that it might never happen – it feels like I’m being punished for wanting to do it justice. But if you dwell on things like that for too long they will break you, so instead I put on a smile and carry on. I hold out hope that there is still time, albeit not much. And I take pleasure in the beautiful babies and children I am lucky enough to have in my life, and I find a way to tell myself that if that is all I get, it’s enough. But it’s hard.
So if you plan on asking me when I’m going to have children anytime soon, you might want to ask whether you’re ready to listen to the 1500 words of emotional carnage coming your way! My advice though? Just don’t ask. If I have happy news for you, you’ll know.