To have children or not to have children? That is the question.
Only it’s not as simple as that, is it? Not for all of us.
Some of us don’t have the luxury of choice – or at least we don’t have the choice to be a mum in the traditional way.
Many of us get to our late thirties or forties without a partner with whom to discuss creating a family.
We feel like we’re running out of time. We feel our choices are reducing in number.
Yes, we can still choose to freeze our eggs, or become a solo mum using a sperm donor, or use donor eggs, or adopt. But the choice that many of us thought we’d have – to have a biological child with a partner we love – is either no longer within reach or it feels like it’s slipping through our fingers.
That was the case with me.
My thirties flew by in a flash as I busied myself with a wonderful career as a foreign correspondent in Brazil and then political reporter in London. Suddenly, I was 40 with no partner and no children, wondering how on earth I’d ended up here.
Some would argue that I chose my career over a family, but it didn’t ever feel like I made a conscious decision, except for when I chose not to start a family at 26 with my then boyfriend.
Twenty years ago, motherhood was the furthest thing from my mind. Plus I wasn’t equipped – I had an eating disorder, a binge drinking habit and a penchant for high-adrenaline adventures. Nightclubs, not nappies, caused many sleepless nights and that’s the way I wanted it to stay.
At 43, I made a choice too, to commit to a relationship with a man who didn’t want to be a dad. I had options. I could have walked away and gone in search of someone else, and I did so a number of times, but I kept coming back because I wanted to be with him. We’re now in love and engaged.
Looking back, I wonder how much I really wanted to be a mum, despite periods of sadness and emptiness in my forties and numerous blog posts about my baby angst. My childhood experiences had almost immunised me against parenthood – it hadn’t looked like fun for my mum who brought two of us up on her own. A baby was a ball and chain, rather than a bundle of joy – that’s how I saw it.
More recently, I’ve finally come to understand that parenthood can be a fun and enriching experience, if an expensive one. It feels like I came to that realisation too late.
But today, in the middle of the first ever World Childless Week, I can write about not having children without crying.
I can look back over my life and the choices I did or didn’t make and somehow accept that it was meant to be this way.
And maybe I did make a choice after all. I chose to be in love first and foremost. I decided that a life-long partnership was more important to me than having a child.
Yes, many women get to have both but some women end up with neither. I had a chance at love and I went for it.
Of course, the questions are still there. What if it had worked out differently? And I can’t help but steal glances at all the delighted-looking parents with their delightful children and feel that they’ve got life right, while I’ve got it wrong.
But they are momentary thoughts – thoughts I’ve learned to dismiss as I try to concentrate on all the wonderful things I do have rather than on what I don’t.
I’ve also found that having a purpose in life – a wider goal – has helped with any lingering grief or sense of loss. I feel like I have lived this life for a reason and it’s now my heartfelt mission to use my experiences – the good and painful ones – as well as my gifts to benefit others.
My book, How to Fall in Love, charts my journey from singleness to relationship and aims to help others understand why they’re single and find a healthy relationship in time to have a family if that’s what they want, or to create wonderful lives so the absence of children doesn’t weigh so heavily.
My work isn’t a baby, far from it, but through it, I can impact others in ways I might not have been able to do had all my energy and time been taken up by caring for children. Yes, some women get to do wonderful work and have a family, but some have to give up one for the other.
I have a loving partner, a beautiful home by the sea and fulfilling work that, I hope, makes a difference to others. On the days when it feels like life isn’t fair or I’m doing it wrong, I remind myself of that.
This life isn’t the one I imagined for myself but I can find miracles in it, provided I open my eyes to them.