I have written 196 columns for this newspaper and the two people always mention to me are 1) the article I wrote
The latter is an interesting one because most people in my life readily accepted my stance on remaining childfree… until I had a serious relationship.
It was as if everyone assumed that my decision wasn’t actually my decision, but something forced upon me by outside circumstances — ie, not having a man — and now that I had found a boyfriend, I would immediately change my mind and settle down to have dozens of children.
Coupled with the fact I’m now 34 — if one more person tells me that my fertility is going to fall off a cliff when I turn 35, I will have to murder them and no jury in the land would convict me — the message seems to be that I need to stop my play-acting and get a move on.
I always wondered if my biological clock would kick in at this age, and I’d start to have hallucinations of a dancing baby, a la Ally McBeal. It hasn’t happened. I don’t have any physical urges to procreate, I don’t melt at the sight of a new born.
Mostly, I worry about how infinitely breakable they appear and wonder how I can refuse politely when their parents insist I hold them.
But I have started to notice children more, pointing out adorable kids to my mother in passing, demanding cuddles from my friends’ toddlers as soon as I visit.
(However, I still notice cute dogs more, saying hello to all the Good Boys when I pass them on the beach, and I am much more interested in seeing pictures of peoples’ pets than their kids, so I’m not sure where that leaves me. Besides being determined to adopt a new dog as soon as possible, obvs).
I feel guilty writing this column because I don’t want to reinforce tired tropes — the ‘oh, you’ll change your mind when you meet the right person!’ nonsense because for the vast majority of women who don’t want to have kids, that is not the case.
They do not see childbirth as the single greatest thing a woman can achieve, and have absolutely no desire to become mothers.
That is their choice and it must be respected. But in my case — and that’s not the same for everyone — I want to be mindful that there is another person’s needs to consider now, and this decision will be a respectful conversation between the two of us.
I’m not even sure what having a child would look like for me but I know that I wouldn’t be able for what is traditionally seen as the ‘mother’ role; there would be no night feeds or school lunches, I would be the second number to phone in case of emergency.
But recently, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who works long hours and she told me of her devastation when her child pushed her away, saying “I want Daddy, not you”.
“Do you think working fathers feel the same when their children express a preference for the other parent,” I asked, and she shrugged.
“I don’t know,” she said. “But men haven’t been socially conditioned to believe they should be the most beloved parent, have they?”
I feel frightened of the idea that having a child might awaken all of that dormant conditioning, that it might change me in some integral way.
That I might find it difficult to hold onto my feminist principles in the face of a society telling me to be a mother means to sacrifice, to lose myself for the good of my child.
And, if I’m being honest, it just seems like such hard work. I like to sleep eight hours a night.
I need quite a lot of time to myself, and it’s easier to explain that to another adult rather than feeling as if I’m inflicting some primal wound onto an innocent child that will take years of therapy to unpick.
I can be quite selfish, in my own way, especially when it comes to work, and I’ve read too many think-pieces about how the greatest enemy to creativity is the pram in the hall to be able to fool myself into believing my career won’t be impacted at all.
And while this is a generalisation, I’ve noticed that older friends of mine who are childfree, couples in their 50s now, appear to have a far closer relationship than those who have kids, somehow more bonded because they belong only to one another. I think I would like that.
But then, I look at my relationship with my own parents, how much I love them, and I can’t bear the thought of not having that for myself. I think of my grandmother, in her hospital bed, and all of her children and grandchildren gathered around her, crying at the thought of losing her.
The profound impact she had, in what might have seemed from the outside like a small life. And I wonder — who will be there at my deathbed?
And is that fear really a good enough reason to have a child, as a guarantee of company in later life, the promise of someone to sit and hold your hand as you die?
I have my younger cousins, I have my beloved godson, I might have a niece or nephew someday. Surely, they will take care of me in my old age?
Given the fertility issues that seem to be plaguing many couples I know, what would be the guarantee that I could conceive naturally anyway?
And when raising a child to be a kind, decent human being is probably the most important and gruelling task any person can undertake, my ambivalence can’t be a good thing.
Surely, I should want it more than this?