Have you ever had the feeling that your life looks nothing like you thought it would at this age or stage of your existence? Have you ever stopped, looked around and asked how on earth did I end up here?
Over the past few years, particularly since turning 40, I’ve had that feeling and asked myself that question a number of times.
In many ways, my life so far has matched up to my expectations: I have freedom, financial independence, a small property in London and a career many would classify as successful and some would call exciting.
I’ve travelled to far-flung destinations and lived in exotic climes and, as a journalist, I’ve had the privilege of reporting on some of the world’s biggest news stories. Today, I work for myself, writing for national newspapers and magazine and occasionally appearing on TV.
Yes, I do know how lucky I am.
In other ways, though, it seems there’s a big piece missing. At 42, I’m single, childless, living alone in a one-bedroom flat and wondering if I will ever have a family of my own.
No, I didn’t expect things to turn out this way.
Settling down and having children was never high on my agenda – at least not until my late 30s – but I wouldn’t say I consciously chose a career over family life. I just did what I thought was expected of me – I studied hard, got a place at Oxford University, travelled and progressed in my career.
The route I took wasn’t entirely conventional – I backpacked around the world until I landed in Mexico and found a job as a journalist – but the final destination was the same as many of my fellow 40-something, professional, single female friends: freedom, flexibility, home ownership and an impressive CV.
That all looks great on paper but none of us expected to stumble into what I call the baby gap – that period of uncertainty that kicks in when you become aware of your limited fertility and that continues until you know your time is up.
This, I’m coming to realise, can be an extremely tricky stage – a time when we’re bombarded with endless questions and faced with potentially life-changing decisions.
Do we test our fertility and find out where we stand? How do we keep the baby angst at bay so we can date sensibly? Do we freeze our eggs or find a willing friend with whom to procreate? When do we start thinking about sperm banks or solo adoption? And how can we get to a place where we can accept we may not become mothers – at least not biologically – but trust that will be OK?
I’m exploring all these questions and the choices made by women who’ve gone before us on this journey in a book I’m writing, called The Baby Gap, and I’ll be sharing some of my research on this blog.
But while I’m a seasoned journalist, this is much more than an academic exercise – it’s my life and my future too.