Do you have kids? A question surprisingly, (or not,) asked a lot at work events or when meeting new people at parties. I’m sure people are just trying to make conversation and be polite, but it’s quite a personal, and often insensitive thing to ask someone on an initial encounter.
I’m an avid magazine reader and have read a lot of articles about women who don’t have children and there are always two angles: either the said woman has tried and failed to get pregnant for various reasons and can’t have children – truly heart-breaking – or the woman has proactively decided she doesn’t want to have them and made her choice – good for her. The other reason, the ‘not-as-easy-to-put-into-a-box’ one that I fall into and which I rarely see articulated is – it just didn’t happen for me.
As a teen I always said I didn’t want to have children too early. I knew I wanted to be a dancer and that a performers life was short, so in my head, I wanted to be at least 35. I also knew I wanted to travel, see the world and experience life first, and that I did, and I don’t regret it. I remember acutely the first time I felt my biological clock kick in, I was 33 and a colleague who was doing the same job as me had a baby. She bought her son in to work to meet us all and something just clicked, she looked so happy, content and full of love and I thought, yes, this is what I want.
I was in a not great relationship at the time, which went on for a lot longer than it should have done and I learnt some lessons, it finally fully ended when I was about 35. At that point, I decided to come off the pill and my Endometriosis kicked in with vengeance. I dated a lot, but nothing really stuck relationship wise and my health was not great for a very long time. In that period, I used to literally look at adorable children on a bus and feel my ovaries burn with longing and somehow I thought, eventually, it would happen.
But the clock was ticking. My career was definitely my focus, I think understandably in a second career, I was trying to prove myself and ‘catch up’ for time I thought I’d missed. I also think it’s a lot trickier for women to be vocal about wanting a family in the workplace and allowing the time for that to happen when you’re striving for success. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of companies that don’t support women in senior positions who want or have children enough. Once, quite a long time ago, I had a female boss say to me that she ‘would be devastated if a woman in a senior position said she was pregnant’, which made me keep completely shtum about my desire. However, I can’t solely blame work, ultimately, the onus was on me. I did seriously consider having a baby with a friend, but that didn’t pan out for various reasons. I thought about doing it on my own, but financially and support wise an impossibility, I know people say you can make it work if you really want it to, but in truth, I really didn’t want it enough to do it entirely on my own so I didn’t consider adoption then either, (though I would have done with a partner). And so, Father Time marched on and I did not reach a decision or find my life partner.
However, in the last few years, and as I approach my 45th birthday, I have become a lot more positive about my life. I was chasing something that might have been naturally unattainable anyway, (Endo can commonly cause infertility,) and not living for the day and enjoying what I had. I realised that if my life would be a series of what I had now – a career I enjoy, great friends, travel, fun times – was that really so bad, or could I continue to enjoy the life I had made for myself? Of course I could. The grass is always greener and a lot of my friends with children say they envy my life, the things I get to do and the places I can go without fuss, extreme diary management or babysitters to consider. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t give up their children for it, but it’s nice to hear sometimes!
I’m lucky to have some special children in my life, my niece is a dream, and although she lives in L.A. it literally makes my day when she wants to Facetime with me. I have two surrogate nephews who are my best friend’s children as well. I think I have a maternal instinct; I like to look after people and perhaps I will be lucky enough at some point to have a relationship with step children, but if I don’t, that’s okay too.
There are a lot of famous women who have seemingly fabulous, full and rich lives without giving birth to their own children; Helen Mirren, Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Gloria Steinem, Kim Cattrall, Ellen DeGeneres, Dolly Parton, Oprah, (just a few of my heroes!) The number of women not having children has doubled in the last generation to 18% of over 45’s, (in 2016 according to The Telegraph,) and I’m sure it will continue to rise, so I cannot be the only one for who this rings true and quite a lot of my friends are in similar situations.
There is still a sense for women that you’re not fulfilling your biological purpose if you don’t produce a child, or that you’re completely selfish which is so irritating. I think the 30’s is the worst time for women to encounter this kind of attitude and questioning. Men never get tarred with the same bafflement, incredulity or scorn if their sperm hasn’t produced an offspring. By the time you’re over 40, people tend to assume you won’t, so it does get somewhat easier I think.
I may have times in my life to wonder what it would have been like to have had my own family, or feel the longing I have sometimes had, though that truly is diminishing, but I intend to not look back with any regret and enjoy and make the most of my life and all that it brings me.