My life has always been so mapped out. When I was at school A Levels and university weren’t things to consider – they were clear cut roads to follow. No other options were offered, no need. Everyone I know went to uni. From there I did a PGCE, a masters, and went straight into a career I love. I feel really qualified and smart and all that crap and yet really I am clueless.
We are told we can have it all. We have it screamed into us that we can be career women and reach the stars, that we can match men pound for pound, that we can storm into male heavy environments and paint it lady friendly. We have equality acts to protect and support us. We have quotas and laws and countless other legislation that ensure our right to equal opportunities. As it should be. What we don’t have though is proper information about children. At no point has someone extolled to me the virtues of having a child or the massive minefield that is trying to fit everything into your life. No one has sat me down and told me how hard this feeling would be; this longing, aching to have a baby combined with the overwhelming, nauseating fear that I won’t be any good at it and that I can’t afford it.
We see celebrities having babies well into their late thirties and forties – what we don’t see is the IVF, medical interventions and pain that goes with that. We read about how Britain has one of the highest rates of older women with no children and about how we have a massive amount of women leaving it later and later until they try and get pregnant and then struggle, ending up heart broken and poor from expensive bouts of invasive IVF and hormone injections that have scarily low chances of success.
We are told to ‘work on ourselves’, to get on the property ladder, to reach dizzying salaries that mean fuck all when you retire alone and burnt out, we are too scared to move a muscle in our jobs for fear that someone younger, more qualified and more ruthless will come along and take our place. Our maternity packages amount to little more than a slap in the face and the cost of childcare is so prohibitive that having a child seems to be a luxury that only the very poor and very rich can justify. In London a nursery place starts at about £1000 a month. One of the best nurseries I have seen costs nearly £2000 a month. How is that do-able? Are my options literally work for nothing to pay childcare or give up my job? How is this progress for women? We offer them the world than snatch it away? Some sort of ironic payback – you have made your bed, now lie in it.
What is most confusing is that there seems to be this huge agenda at the moment to terrify women into pregnancy. Last night a programme about ‘leaving it too late’ was on. In a masochistic mood I watched it all – four women over the age of thirty were tested to see how fertile there were and three were found to have an incredibly low chance of being able to conceive naturally. THREE. The expert involved was literally telling these vulnerable women that they needed to think about having a child RIGHT NOW. Today in the Mail there is an article about a women who waited until her late thirties to have her first child and how given the chance again she wouldn’t do it; she feels like an old mum, she worries that she will miss large chunks of her childrens’ lives as they get older, she gets tired more easily than a younger mum etc etc. She wishes she had had children younger, in her twenties.
Thing is, it’s a trade off. Do we wait until we have the money and security though risk the chance that we fuck everything up by leaving it too late and then are shit parents because we are too old and tired to chase a football round the garden? So used to things going our own way and having a high disposable income that the whirlwind tornado that is an expensive child rocks us to our core? Or do we have children during our prime fertile years but find ourselves scrimping and living off baked beans to fund the cost? Combined my partner and I earn a nice amount; too much to qualify for any help with child care costs or credits or any of the other incentives the government offer and yet we live in London so the cost of living is insane; our rent could get us a mansion in a different part of the country and my travel costs could probably clear third world debt. This isn’t a self indulgent whinge; I love my life. I choose to live here, I choose to take the tube when there is a much cheaper bus a few minutes away as I would rather spend the extra hour the bus would take in bed and I choose to eat out, to shop – I feel like I have earned that right. I work hard, I earn my own money. Isn’t that what we were taught? That we can be independent women, do what we want and live how we want? So why now, after years of educating people into debt, encouraging people to live the high life and piss their money away is the agenda suddenly babies?
I have lost count of the number of magazines I have read that have had an article about this issue, lost count of the number of conversations I have had with my friends about the ‘right time’ to have children. I get it, my clock is ticking but what am I supposed to do about it? What kind of life could I offer a baby when my idea of thinking about the future is deciding what to have for dinner that night? I am one of countless women who have been mis-sold a lifestyle that doesn’t make sense. A foggy, hazy Cosmo, glossy life that is materialistic, shallow and leaves you feeling a bit numb. I am constantly afraid that the choices I make are wrong. I want to do a PhD – do I do that before having children? Can I afford to do it after? Financially and biologically? I would like to live in the countryside so my children will recognise a tree or two and sheep aren’t just rare creatures they see at London zoo – but my job here pays more than I could ever earn in the suburbs. What do I compromise on? A suggestion has been made that children get taught about fertility in school. Some people are arguing against this; saying it is scare mongering and pointless. I say fuck that; we need all the help we can get now and if we can teach children that there are other things in life besides a six figure salary to dream of and strive for then that can only be a good thing.